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Swimming with the Sharks

I had the pleasure of judging the 3rd Annual Shark Tank at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) on Thursday, April 21. The event is more of a pitch competition versus the pitch to get a “shark” to invest in your company model they use on the actual television show Shark Tank.  As judges, we we asked questions investors would ask, offered advice, and hopefully gave the entrepreneurs some things to think about or do to get their businesses to the next level.  Once everyone pitched and answered questions, we had to pick the winner.

Every competition is different. Some have very specific guidelines and some it is purely based on each judges’ own opinion. This event charged us with picking the best pitch.

One would think the best idea would win. It did not.  The winning pitch was a good idea, with an entrepreneur who had really thought things through.  He had numbers, he had plans, he had done research, he had a mock up of his product, and he had a good presentation.  He also was able to answer the questions we asked.  For the most part, he did everything an entrepreneur needs to do to launch a company.

After the event, we always host a post party at our office.  This was the first year the student entrepreneurs were invited.  Each one asked for advice. Here are some of the things they walked away with:

  • Never say, “There is no competition” – there is always competition!
  • Do the research – this can be daunting, but it is imperative that you do the research.
  • Understand the numbers, your financials, your market, what it is going to take to build your product.
  • Have a plan: Know how you are going to acquire users. Know how you are going to market your product. Know how you are going to go from concept to booming business.
  • Make sure you can discuss each of those plans.
  • If you don’t know the answer, say, “I don’t know, but I will get the answer and get back to you.” Once you set off an investor’s BS meter by making something up, they won’t listen to anything else you have to say.
  • Test your props! If your product is supposed to stick to a wall, test it and make sure it does, in fact, stick to that wall!
  • Be coachable! Investors like entrepreneurs who can take criticism/advice/words of wisdom in a gracious way.  Those who stick their fingers in their ears, and sing, I can’t hear you, typically don’t make it very far, or if they do, it probably wasn’t as quick or as painless as it could have been.

All in all, it was fun to be back on campus where I spent my college years. And, as I looked around at all of the students, I can’t help but wonder if my 20-year-old self would have had the courage to pitch in the Shark Tank. I guess we will never know, and I will just continue to support the ones who do.