Are you here to win? Or are you here to play?
Just as we separate fun vs. competitive sports leagues, ensure that both get the support development and enjoyable experience they need and desire, we need the same with startup pitch competitions. Market viability is the scoreboard – and for many, these are the points that matter. But many real-good competitive startups are getting their pitches ignored and going elsewhere, as the more feel-good, social impact startups are being rewarded and sweeping the limelight.
The reality is that PITCH competitions have drifted away from their mission.
Instead of encouraging entrepreneurs to pitch ideas that are viable, have growth potential that amounts to meaningful contributions to the local economy, Pitch Fests have become more and more entertainment venues, to draw crowds, promote and bias for social impact, whether it’s viable in the market or not.
This is bad for local economies for multiple reasons:
- Resources (cash, support, and attention) are being denied to viable market startups – and given to the highest-risk, lowest-gain, idealistic concepts.\
- The feel-good winners are given resources, placed into accelerators and co-working spaces with other startups, receive advice and mentorship that is subsidized by other startups having to pay EVEN MORE for the privilege.
- Experienced Startups move out / graduate from shared spaces faster when they find themselves collaborating/distracted by non-market focused startups. Startup centric co-working spaces are run like gyms, and the members sign up on the premise of quality of the others in the room. If you water down that quality, you decrease the value, and smarter players will look elsewhere, which means the smartest aren’t collaborating/helping to foster a good entrepreneurial ecosystem.
- This chases the smart people out of the local economies and encourages the brain drain. Smart people leave to better environments that are market-focused
- You’re not teaching the younger generation of entrepreneurs how to be viable in the real world, you’re rewarding performance art.
- Organization runners, often non-profits are effectively politicizing competitions for social impact, which tends to make for a more entertaining pitch, as there is less boring business stuff involved.
- It violates the missions and promise made between the public and nonprofit entities – that claim to be focused on growing the local economy. They are actually making matters worse.
Bottom Line – Sucking resources away from viable market ideas is bad for the local economy and entrepreneurial community. Those not focused on competitive market viability in startup pitches are missing the point.
What I wrote above stated is really polarizing. It will piss off many and excite many more.
It’s critical to bring into light, and call mission-alignment into question when it comes to this topic. And I think it’s far more important to give voice to market viability than be polite and give participation trophy resources and denying those who are truly seeking to build viable market startups.
I could drop the mic here and walk away, as so many other entrepreneurs do when they do the mental math int their communities, but this is a solvable problem.
How We Can Fix It
STEP 1 – CALL OUT THE MISSION DRIFT AND CHOOSE YOUR LEAGUE
It’s time that everyone involved, every governmental agency and nonprofit to choose their lane and be held accountable for their mission. They need to be called to the matt on this like yesterday or 5-6 years ago.
Are you in it to win it and support economic vitality, business and talent retention in your community?
Are you looking to get attention and build an entertainment industry around wantrepreneurship, social impact, and creating more nonprofits?
One is obviously easier than the other. But eventually, you run out of taxpayer dollars, corporate contributions, and other people’s money if you don’t retain a robust business community to support the programs. Less and less of the economic powerhouses in your community are buying the performance art of wantrepreneurship and they’re going elsewhere (THE BAY) to get the real deal!
There is a place and mix of both, but you need to choose your lane and publicly honor it.
STEP 2 – CREATE LEAGUES – MARKET FOCUS VS SOCIAL GOOD
SOCIAL GOOD – The Feel Good League
You are in the feel-good league if…
- you’re an angel investor who likes higher risk, lower market viability ideas because they change the world for the better MORE than you care about market viability.
- You have a startup that has a potential to change the world for the better, and you’re more focused on that mission, and getting the message or idea out, and using whatever model might support you.
- Your deck is all about inspiration, emotional appeal, not market opportunity
You judge a startup pitch based on above all else:
- Was this show amazing and entertaining?
- Would seeing this idea thrive in the wild make me and others around me feel good regardless of the costs, risks and model?
MARKET FOCUS – THE Real Good League
You are in the real good league if…
- You are a corporation seeking to innovate by partnering with the right startup that can help your company grow.
- You are an Angel Investor, VC, or PE or another firm looking to add growing financial investments to your portfolio
- Your deck tries to be captivating, but is focused on illustrating the business opportunity and clarifying the bets you’re making, what you’ll need to succeed, risk and rewards
You judge a startup pitch based on these 2 questions:
- Will this Startup model work in the REAL market, and how can it grow?
- Would I seriously consider, investing some of my retirement savings in this idea?
Suddenly, things just got real… right?
Suddenly, all those votes at so many pitch competitions shift, when you view a startup pitch through the lens of your own dollars and livelihood and market viability.
This is different than what pitch competitions are encouraging right now.
THIS IS THE WAY IT SHOULD BE.
Competition matters. Market viability is the scoreboard. This is the most important lens to look through when voting ANY kind of support for local startup pitches.
Supporting Market viability in entrepreneurship is CRITICAL to supporting ALL of the ideas and organizations and a GROWING ECONOMY.
In summation, It’s time to divide pitch competitions into feel good vs. real good – and focus support on market viability and growth.
As a connector, enabler, and advisor to startups, I will continue to primarily support to organizations focused on market viability with my dollars and time – and it’s sad, when there are so few market-focused organizations to choose from. This is a factor in what is hindering economic growth in countless communities across the country.
Feel free to comment.