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How I Bootstrapped My Company Through Pitch Competitions

Starting a business can be both thrilling and daunting, but there is nothing more fulfilling than bringing your dream to life. While so many entrepreneurs have a passion for their business, funding is often the biggest obstacle standing in the way of getting a startup off the ground. When I was starting out, I knew that I needed to take control of raising funds while raising awareness for my company, which led me to enter pitch competitions. These competitions vary in size and business type, but they are always a great opportunity to sell your company, showcase your vision and highlight why your company will make an impact.

Over the last couple of years I have participated in nearly 10 pitch competitions including Startup Toronto and Fierce Founders. Some I walked away from with hard-earned cash, others left me with new insights and growth opportunities. Whether you’re just getting started pitching your startup or looking to enhance your presentation skills, here are a few lessons one startup founder has learned along the way.

Always be on the lookout for the next competition

There are so many opportunities to help raise funds and interest for your startup. Google search is your best friend, but it’s always important to leverage your network and contacts to keep up with new competitions. With more and more opportunities popping up every day, you may have a connection to someone who has insight you don’t and they are instrumental in making sure you don’t miss one. Groups on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook are also great resources to find relevant opportunities that may not have been on your radar.

Enter every and all competitions you can find (within reason)

While it can be frustrating entering competition after competition, it’s really the best way to hedge your bets. These opportunities are a numbers game and while you won’t win them all, certain competition criteria, format and panels may fit better with your company than others and you will never know until you give it your best shot. I’ve been a part of so many pitch competitions and while some went better than others, I’ve consistently represented my business to new audiences and event won $25k through the Spark! Ignite Pitch competition.

That being said, it’s still important to weigh the pros and cons and make sure the competition is the right fit. It’s important to think critically about the investment (your time) versus the potential prize. Many pitch contests require substantial time investment through different levels or rounds of competition; this can be very time consuming, so make sure it’s worth it. Additionally, some opportunities offer in-kind prices (which can be great), but ultimately cash is king for an early stage startup.

Content is important, but presentation style is key

It’s not a secret that what you say during a pitch is important, but if you can’t get your point across in a dynamic way, you won’t be able to sell it. Presentation skills are of the utmost importance and if you’re not comfortable on stage, chances are you won’t be taking home the top prize. Devote some time to honing your speaking skills and consider working with a speaking coach. After I launched Healthy Pets I started working with Barry Kuntz and he’s proved invaluable! The tips, tricks and feedback a professional can offer give you an added advantage in selling yourself and your company.

As nerve-wracking as public speaking can be for some, I have found it to be a key part of funding my company and I’ve come to really enjoy it. In addition to the tips and tricks I’ve learned through my experiences, the most important thing to remember is to enjoy it. Even if you don’t win, pitch competitions are an opportunity to improve your skills and you never know what connections you will make. If all else fails, bring your dog as a prop because everyone loves cute dogs and Bo has definitely been the perfect sidekick for me.

Emma Harris is the CEO and founder of Healthy Pets, Canada’s first telemedicine platform for pets with video chat.

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