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March 17, 2020 | Tom Ballard

We just participated in our first virtual start-up pitch competition

Have you ever participated in an online, YouTube-delivered pitch competition? Well, we had not until yesterday when we had the opportunity to join slightly more than 200 people for the “Startup of the Year Virtual Pitch Competition.”

We thought it would be useful to see how smoothly such an event might go in light of what may become more of the new normal, at least in the short-term and possibly longer. For a first-time effort from the organizers, I thought it was pulled-off very well.

Originally scheduled as a live event during the annual “South by Southwest” (SXSW) mega-conference, it was one of the early casualties of the coronavirus pandemic, but the sponsoring organization – Established LLC – decided to proceed with the competition in an innovative way.

“This is our first-ever virtual pitch competition,” said Frank Gruber, Co-Founder and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Established. He hosted the nearly three-hour session from somewhere in Maine with 28 judges and the presenters located around the country.

As a side note, some of our readers will recall that the “Startup of the Year Summit” was held last fall in Memphis.

We thought it would be insightful to see firsthand how such an event would work, regardless of the platform used for delivery. Also, with so many people hunkered down these days in their homes, we had a blank calendar and the time available to participate as an observer.

So, how did it go? I was impressed.

  • The video quality was excellent.
  • Viewers came from around the country as well as international locations like Beijing, Munich and Paris. Within the U.S., start-up hotspots like Austin, Boston, Boulder, Denver and San Diego were represented along with communities like Little Rock, Minneapolis, Traverse City, and Virginia Beach.
  • Fourteen start-ups pitched. Austin and Washington, DC had the most companies – four each. Gruber noted that “we don’t usually have this many companies from Austin,” but SXSW contributed to the representation when decisions were made for what was to be a “live” competition. He said the level of representation will be more geographically balanced as Established does more virtual events.
  • Beyond Austin and the Nation’s Capital, no other community had more than one representative. The 14 pitches were obviously pre-recorded, but the Q&A was live with the company representatives joining from wherever they happened to be located yesterday.
  • Gruber received proposed questions for the Q&A via the Chat feature of YouTube (see screen shot here).
  • With all of those moving parts, there were only a couple of technical glitches. The event started a few minutes late, but have you ever attended a pitch competition that did not? After the first pitch, there was an audio problem hearing the first presenter during the brief Q&A session. It took a few minutes to resolve.

Who won? of Indianapolis captured the “People’s Choice Award,” while Jeenie from Washington, DC won the top prize in the view of the 28 judges. The pitches are available at this link.

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