It was a truly unique experience to be a fly on the wall at
yesterday’s mentoring sessions at SmartCamp Boston. Six startup companies gave six minute pitches
to a room full of mentors, venture capitalists, angel investors, academic
thought leaders, and industry experts.
Then the real fun began – critiquing them. The startups were eager for the feedback and
constructive criticism of the mentors, as they understood that certain aspects
of their pitches were not as strong as others. The mentors were very impressed with the
technologies that these startups had developed and were genuinely interested in
seeing them succeed, but they still had some brilliant coaching to give. So now I bet you’re asking, “Well, what was
- One of the common themes that the mentors
highlighted was the need for a storyline
to capture the audience’s attention. A
clear theme and captivating hook is always beneficial, even with a highly
- Venture capitalists will highly scrutinize your numbers, so be prepared to know them inside
and out and back them fully. If you
claim $1 million in revenue a year and say you have 5,000 customers, it takes
mere seconds for these experienced investors to say, “You’re telling me you make
over $16 a month per customer … selling paperclips?” Make sure your claims make sense.
- Another angel investor said he always evaluates
his investments by asking, “How is this
going to take over the world and how can this blow up?” Brainstorm ideas that mitigate risks and explore
- In one mentoring session, a startup was asked by
a mentor how many customers he had for a particular product. The startup defensively skirted the question
and ultimately never gave an answer.
This then happened three additional times. Finally, a mentor stepped in and said, “Listen. You
are doing yourself a disservice by avoiding answering the question. You sound unconfident in your answer. If the answer is zero, then say zero and we’ll
move on. We’re here to help you increase
- One mentor was the winner of a previous IBM
SmartCamp, and was back to offer his advice as a mentor. He voiced concern when a startup said it was
raising money to pay for additional data analysts on staff. He said, “Before you go any further, do you have a pipeline for your talent pool? Those people will be hard to find.” If your field
is highly technical, skilled analysts may be hard to come by.
- And the final piece of advice was: if you have a good product, don’t hold back
in bragging about it! A mentor told the young entrepreneur to begin
his sales calls by saying, “You know what?
My product is saving you a lot more money than I’m charging you. So pay
Ultimately, it was a lively day full of critical thinking
and unhindered mentoring sessions. The
missions of all six finalists aligned under one common theme: creating a Smarter Planet. The startups were appreciative of the
feedback offered by the mentors, and left feeling more confident in their approach
and more excited about the prospect of winning over the judges in the final
round. One of the finalists said it
best: “IBM said it was looking for the
next generation of analytics companies – that’s us!”
Michelle Purvis is an
MBA intern working with the Global
Entrepreneur Program this summer.