ASES-MQ Pitch contest - Image by Mike Catabay copyright MQ

How to win a student pitch contest: lessons from Macquarie’s Startup Pitch competition

10K up for grabs and 7 teams of aspiring entrepreneurs competing for judges’ attention. Not a scene from Shark Tank, but the Macquarie Startup Pitch Competition. What were the factors that gave the winning team the edge?

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ASES-MQ Pitch contest – Image by Mike Catabay, Copyright MQ

Supported by ASES Macquarie and Office of the PVC Learning and Teaching, Macquarie students submitted their start-up ideas, and then took them on a journey through several workshops and personal mentoring. The big ‘finale’ was the night when contestants pitched their ideas in front of audience and answered judges’ critical questions.

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ASES-MQ Pitch contest – Image by Mike Catabay, Copyright MQ

The ideas ranged from ‘modest’ projects hoping to provide a small service to international students, to big-scale plans to revolutionize the online shopping experience.

All the teams went ‘all-in’. They had excellent slides and one even had a working prototype, which the audience gladly tried.

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ASES-MQ Pitch contest – Image by Mike Catabay, Copyright MQ

But interestingly, it was the most ‘humble’ idea from Unpack 42 (selling packages with household goods to international students, which will help international students to settle in their new ‘homes’ quicker) that won by a landslide. Why was that?

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ASES-MQ Pitch contest – Image by Mike Catabay, Copyright MQ

In my opinion it was probably because:

  • they had modest, but believable goals
  • they knew the market.
  • they didn’t aim to solve an unsolvable problem, or disrupt a big industry.
  • they were looking to carve out a small niche in the market they know very well (university students) and this made it more tangible and believable.

There may be a good lesson in this for future teams and mentors. Look close to home. The chances are, you might have a better insight and a more authentic solution for a ‘small’ rather than a ‘big’ problem.

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ASES-MQ Pitch contest – Image by Mike Catabay, Copyright MQ

When watching the pitches, I couldn’t help but admire how passionate, engaged and really, really motivated the students were. I also kept wondering whether there was something that unit convenors at Macquarie could learn from the energy of this event.

Sure, not all of us have 10K to give out, but, from talking to the contestants, money was not the main gain, or even the main motivator. Students enjoyed the excitement of coming up with an idea, doing research on competitors and learn how to present their ideas in a professional way. Contestants also told me that listening to Q&A of other teams was very valuable.

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ASES-MQ Pitch contest – Image by Mike Catabay, Copyright MQ

Stay tuned. In my next post, I’ll share some ideas of how to make in-class presentations more ‘pitch-like’ (passionate and engaging).

Written by Olga Kozar

Olga Kozar

After completing her PhD in the Department of Linguistics, Olga joined Learning and Teaching team. She is passionate about educational innovations and good teaching. Give her a shout if you’d like to talk all things learning and teaching.

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