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UCSB To Host Challenge for Young Entrepreneurs

MIT Enterprise Forum of the Central Coast is hosting an Elevator Pitch Competition tomorrow night at 5 p.m. in the Corwin Pavilion, featuring two-minute business pitches from entrepreneurs.

Prospective businessmen will deliver their practiced pitches to the corporate members of the MIT Audience Forum, which includes representatives from CapoSonic, Deets Inc., Fire Swing Studios and many more. The event will be moderated by TMP Program Manager Mike Panesis and selected judges will choose winners for the Ready for Launch and Reach for the Stars Awards.

According to Ventura Ventures Technology Center Executive Director Joseph Briglio, the fast-paced event teaches its competitors to develop quick, effective pitches but may not be the most practical for explaining the full extent of a project.

“Micro-pitch, or fast pitch competitions, are more about salesmanship … while the New Venture Competition is about salesmanship, content, and value,” Briglio said in an email. “It depends on what your goal is — micro-pitches are fun, creative, and perfect for those with ADD (me). However, NVC style competitions provide way more value for potential investors since presenters offer much more detail and content.”

Cydia Vice President of Business Development Patrick Dietzen said the program can be a reality check for a business idea before it goes into full production.

“For students new to entrepreneurship, I would highly recommend doing both programs as each will provide you with different skills,” Dietzen said in an email. “Being able to deliver a compelling elevator pitch is a very important skill to master and will make it much easier to get in the door with investors. It also allows you to do a quick sanity check on your business idea. If you can’t put it into a simple and compelling elevator pitch that will get a positive response in two minutes, then perhaps you are better off pursuing a different idea before writing a whole business plan for a bad one.”

Dietzen said the micro-pitch does have its limits and those honing their business skills should always be ready for the investors who want more details.

“Demo days at accelerators now have investors hearing dozens of micro-pitches per hour,” Dietzen said. “It’s really hard to evaluate the merit of a business concept in just a couple minutes and especially when hearing lots of them at once. Investors need to talk to the entrepreneurs after these events and learn more to have any idea what’s going on.”

According to Dietzen, business proposals that may be weak overall can still shine in the context of a brief overview while others may flunk the micro-pitch but merit a closer look from investors.

“It’s possible for something to sound great in a micro-pitch, but upon close inspection you realize the concept just won’t fly. There are certainly some high-tech concepts that are hard to explain in a micro-pitch. These companies may serve niche markets no layman could possibly understand quickly, but may end up being total gems,” Dietzen said. “I would not necessarily give up just because an initial micro-pitch at an event didn’t go well, but would carefully look into why it did.”

Past NVC competitor Nicolai Safai, a fourth-year biopsychology major, said the pitch is a realistic representation of the amount of time an entrepreneur may have to get their ideas across in real-life situations. Safai said the skills will prove helpful if the competitors dually participate in the New Venture Fair.

“When we were semi-finalists, the last teams were selected at a New Venture Fair, which was great practice for everyone,” Safai said in an email. “Some people who might not have otherwise practiced ‘pitching’ got a chance at sales. On a person-to-person basis, I think this was very educational as well as fun. On the other hand, micro-pitching will give teams with one very good salesperson a better chance [and] also [give] teams with a balance of both ‘introverted’ and ‘extroverted’ members a better chance. And usually, I’d say that successful teams are composed of both introverts and extroverts.”

Briglio said the new competitions and events put on by UCSB are important as the business environment has shifted in recent years.

“Times have changed,” Briglio said. “College grads do not have the same opportunities that their parents had when they graduated. Instead of facing unemployment, waiting for a job or taking up a part-time job that doesn’t provide purpose/substance, I think programs that assist students with building entrepreneurial skill-sets so they can create their own job is key for the day and age we live in.”

A version of this article appeared on page 3 of November 13th, 2012′s print edition of the Nexus.

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