Women@Work

Perfecting your business pitch is key to success

Posted Feb. 11, 2013, at 2:08 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 11, 2013, at 2:33 p.m.

In Maine where skyscrapers are scarce, an elevator speech had better be quick and to the point. Ding! The doors open, and if the pitch isn’t finished, there goes another prospect.

Blame it on elevators, bitlys, or attention deficit. Whatever the reason, a quick, clean, lean business pitch can make or break a start-up enterprise in a snap.

This art of developing the perfect elevator speech is covered in most business planning classes – including at Women, Work, and Community. Yet in the last couple of years, there have been increasing numbers of pitch contests and shark tanks that many budding entrepreneurs don’t always know how to handle.

One organization is taking on the challenge of moving women entrepreneurs beyond the classroom and initial sales, and providing some real world experience. That organization is called Women Standing Together, or WST, a Portland-based nonprofit now in its sixth year.

“Our purpose is to provide a supportive community for women entrepreneurs and leaders who are interested in growing professionally and finding a bolder voice,” says Program Director Kristin Chase Duffy.

That bolder voice is what gets the oil, and in this case a woman entrepreneur into one of WST’s roundtable brainstorming entrepreneurship luncheons. Calling All Female Entrepreneurs, slated for Feb. 13 at the Cumberland Club in Portland, is the vetting process to get a foot in the door towards a chance for more entrepreneurial growth. Unfortunately, the event is full, according to WST’s website.

“The Calling all Entrepreneurs event is longer than an elevator ride, but the idea is the same,” Duffy says. “We liken the concept to speed dating.”

The way this works is a dozen women entrepreneurs will each spend 10 minutes sharing their business highlights, a key opportunity, and/or challenge with four to five WST members who are successful business owners and community leaders. The entrepreneur will then have 15 minutes for an interactive discussion with those advisors.

“The goal is to support the entrepreneurs however they need — serving as a sounding board and giving input on a specific business issue, connecting them with resources, or inviting them to present at a WST quarterly lunch where they have the opportunity to present and get feedback from 35 to 45 WST members.” Duffy calls this luncheon presentation a second date.

Additionally, entrepreneurs who present at the quarterly lunches are paired with advisors who work with them leading up to and beyond the luncheon session. “Ultimately we want to connect entrepreneurs with resources and networks that will help businesses grow and solidify success,” Duffy said.

In preparation for Calling All Female Entrepreneurs, Women, Work, and Community and KeyBank sponsored business coach Mandy Schumaker’s workshop called “The Wind-Up: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Pitch Your Business,” which took place Monday morning at United Way Greater Portland. Schumaker developed her workshop last year after noticing that many entrepreneurs did not know what a pitch was, or how to begin.

“They stood off on the sidelines observing others, not feeling confident on how to put one together,” Schumaker said. “Many of those who did get involved in the contest didn’t always understand what to present, and would take nearly their entire time telling the story or background of their company, which left no time for their ask or feedback from the panel of judges.”

Duffy agrees. “At our events, we often have entrepreneurs who use most of their time telling their story. While the stories are fabulous, they lose valuable time. Mandy’s prep program will help them get the most out of the roundtable sessions on the 13th and prepare them for other opportunities to pitch.”

Cyndi Prince, owner of LooHoo Wool Dryer Balls knows firsthand what getting the mentoring of WST can do for a business. Prince, a WWC New Ventures graduate, presented her product at the WST vetting process two years ago, and was selected to give her product presentation and business challenge at the WST brainstorming entrepreneurship luncheon last year.

“My entire experience with WST has been incredible,” says Prince. “There are so many amazing women in the group and they are so dedicated to supporting you and your business. I came away with pages of ideas and I still refer to those notes on a regular basis.”

Gigi Guyton is microenterprise coordinator for Women, Work, and Community covering Cumberland and York Counties. Her office is in South Portland, and can be reached at 799-5025, or by email at gigi.guyton@maine.edu.

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