The most basic formula for telling the story of your innovation is the problem-solution narrative. Entrepreneurs are problem solvers, but they need to strategize to battle competitors and to weather the risks inherent in starting a new venture. Vision and mission statements are crucial to planning a venture. Vision statements are broader than mission statements. Entrepreneurs can set attainable goals with the help of the SMART goals framework. All of these tools—vision statements, missions, and SMART goal formulation—help build on the venture’s origin story and serve as a general and specific organizing narrative.
This section outlined the importance of conceptualizing and communicating your venture in narrative form. Not every startup venture is a fairy tale, but if you can recognize and apply trusted story formats, you can help establish prominence for your brand, your products, and their specific features. Eventually, your story might be the genesis of a corporate narrative if the startup grows to become one. There are advantages and disadvantages to crafting stories. The advantages are that stories help you communicate the problem your innovation addresses, the solution it offers, and its market need. The disadvantages are that a story can create the fear of missing out in consumers and can set unattainable, rigid goals that can cause you to miss key factors in the venture’s development.
A pitch is a request for support, either financial investment or some kind of support. A great pitch takes into account the intended audience and the goal of the talk, and prioritizes information accordingly. In other words, it answers the questions Who? (Who are we pitching?), What? (What are we pitching to them?), and Why? (Why are we pitching: What is the “ask”?). Once you establish these elements, you need to develop a professional pitch deck and include engaging materials that share your passion and communicate your vision. Your pitch should paint a picture of a successful product or service delivering strong returns for investors or for those who choose to work for you or do business with you.
This section offered an outline of elements for a professional pitch deck and provided a few details about what ought to be included. Pitches may vary in length and should take into consideration the demands of contest rules and the quirks of potential investors. That said, there are elements that almost every pitch needs to include, and they are presented in the approximate order in which they might appear in your pitch deck. In general, you should cover all elements of the pitch as outlined here, but the level of detail may vary based on the audience. The entrepreneur should ask the key contact what specific area(s) she should cover so as to make the best impact.
We also discussed crafting different pitches with different senses of vision in mind, which can be particularly helpful post-pivot when an organization has a product but needs to adjust it to target new markets. Finally, we looked at the elevator pitch, which is miniature version of your more complete professional pitch and an introduction to your vision. The pitch before the pitch, if you will, should be clear, concise, and catchy—enough to get an investor’s attention without driving them to hop off the elevator.
Protecting your intellectual property is something you must plan for as an entrepreneur. In crowded marketplaces, small innovations or variations on a theme might be difficult to patent, and the process takes time; thus, not every product or iteration needs to be patented. Investors are often more interested in the potential of a leader and team than the potential of an idea. With that in mind, the protection of an idea shouldn’t supersede building a great team or pitching your idea widely enough to tap into appropriate funding channels.
A patent can protect your intellectual property. Other protections are nondisclosure agreements, work-for-hires, and noncompete agreements. If someone breaks a contract, your only recourse is through legal channels. It is better to conduct thorough research to be as confident in your team as possible before you share your ideas, designs, and prototypes with those who will be helping you make your innovation a reality.
Entrepreneurial learning comes from seeking feedback on your ideas from potential customers and investors. Feedback on your pitch itself can help you refine how you present those ideas.
Pitch competitions may be global, national, or regional in scale. There is no single model for a pitch competition, but teams can prepare based on the terms that organizers set forth, and they can anticipate the need to demonstrate key core elements including value proposition, marketplace and competition, funding strategy, brand, and team. Winners of pitch competitions would do well to examine any contracts they must sign before accepting cash awards or investments; some deals are structured unfavorably for the entrepreneur.
If you lose a pitch competition or contest but enhance your network of contributors and collaborators and/or find a mentor, it has been a successful early effort. Consider developing your collaborator network while still in school using social media tools and entering into college competitions, some of which are listed in this chapter.