Competition Helps Entrepreneurs Improve Art Of Pitch

By Marco Santana
Orlando Sentinel.

Mike Mason’s 10-year-old daughter has learned a bit about valuations and investment rounds thanks to the television show “Shark Tank.” The program puts entrepreneurs in front of celebrity investors like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban in an effort to raise money.

But, in the real world, Mason says pitching a company is less about immediate gratification and more about patience.

“The reality is, you don’t get an immediate decision,” he said. “The pitch is just the start.”

Mason pitched his Orlando-based company Zentila at VenturePitch Orlando, which introduces startups to potential investors, about two years ago.

This pitch program does not create instant cash for entrepreneurs. Its value lies in providing face time with real investors as the chance to practice the art of the pitch becomes more and more important.

VenturePitch Orlando returns next month, with four companies expected to present. Organizers say entrepreneurs have told them the events are valuable.

“When you raise capital, it’s a long, rough road,” organizer Dennis Pape said. “You are making presentations as often as you can, wherever you can.”

A nationwide survey showed that Central Florida companies received nearly $62 million in investments during the second quarter of this year. Cloud-based document management company PowerDMS, for example, led with $5.3 million raised.

Experts say the repetition of a pitch can be crucial to startups trying to raise money.

Cari Coats, executive director of Rollins College’s Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship, said shows like “Shark Tank” have helped showcase just how difficult entrepreneurship can be. The trend also has helped highlight a new structure in raising money, one that formalizes pitches.

“They have become a very important, formal part of the process,” she said.

Jason Rottenberg of Orlando investment firm Arsenal Venture Partners shared some lessons about quality in pitching Tuesday at Rollins College.

During a workshop, Rottenberg warned those in attendance that pitching can be one of the most important aspects of entrepreneurship. The pitch often serves as a first impression.

“We will always remember you from that first meeting, for better or for worse,” he said. “So make sure you have really, really thought about that first meeting.”

The roughly 90-minute discussion revolved around examples Rottenberg has run into during his time as a venture capitalist and served as a way to prepare the entrepreneurs for their time in front of investors.

It’s a similar process companies heading to VenturePitch will experience. Since its debut in May 2012, the quarterly event has seen 44 companies pitch. Pape says the events average about 125 attendees.

Dan McGaw of Fuelzee says he continues to attend VenturePitch because of those connections, even though prizes offered at the event fall short of competitions that offer cash.

“But it’s serving a great opportunity and gets founders prepared to raise money,” said McGaw, whose startup Fuelzee matches consumers with gas stations offering deals. “You are pitching to actual investors.”

Mason said he has mixed feelings about raising money because it can take an entrepreneur away from the important task of meeting customers.

But the benefits he has seen with Zentila, a startup that uses technology to help companies save money on meetings and events, made his attendance worth it.

“Orlando so needed an outlet for entrepreneurs to get in front of investors,” he said. “These kinds of pitch events should be a part of any entrepreneurial strategy, if they are raising money.
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