The dos and don’ts of pitching to an accelerator

So, you’ve asked yourself the four questions that every entrepreneur needs to think about before pitching to an accelerator and now you’re ready for the next step: actually pitching your startup. But again, before you start obsessively working on creating that “perfect” pitch deck or doing power poses in the mirror to feel more confident about pitching to a panel of judges, there are two more questions that you need to ask yourself to make sure you’re delivering a strong pitch.

But before I share them with you, I would like to thank Willie Elamien, Managing Director of Flat6Labs Cairo, once again, for letting me interview him and helping me share these invaluable insights with you. The ultimate aim of these two articles is to help entrepreneurs in the MENA (and beyond) optimize their “accelerator hunting” and pitching process, so they can secure the financial support, networks and mentorship needed to continue expanding their business.

Question #1: What three things does an accelerator look for in a startup pitch?

Three things that accelerators look for in a startup pitch


1) A solid founding team

The most important thing about any new startup or concept is the team leading it. What is their experience? What is their vision? Do they understand what it takes to build a company from scratch? If an entrepreneur can demonstrate that they have a team with a diverse set of skills,  relevant experience and passion, they have a higher chance of being selected to join an accelerator. No accelerator is interested in a “one-man show.”

2) A thorough understanding of the problem and solution

Have the team identified a real need or just invented a problem, when in fact there isn’t one? Is their solution a good solution for that need? What evidence have they got for that? However, being able to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the problem and an effective solution isn’t the only thing that entrepreneur needs to be able to do. They also need to be able to think about the “big picture.” How big is the problem that they’re trying to solve? Is the problem they’re trying to tackle only limited to a city or a country or is it a global one? Generally speaking, investors and accelerators tend to be more interested in startups that have aspirations for regional or global expansion.

3) What makes you different from the competition

When an entrepreneur is pitching, it’s not enough for them to know their own startup inside out. They also need to know who their competition is and be able to convey how they’re doing things differently. This is particularly important in the MENA region, where there seems to be a whole world of “me too” startups. Therefore, an entrepreneur’s ability to highlight why others who have attempted to tackle what they’re doing have failed or how their unique selling point differentiates them in the market becomes very important.   

Question #2: What are the three most common mistakes that startups make when they pitch their ideas?

Three most common mistakes startup making when pitching an accelerator

1) Not practicing their pitch enough

Have you ever attended a pitch where the entrepreneur read off the Powerpoint non-stop or they nervously fumbled through their presentation? I have and it usually doesn’t bode well for the entrepreneur, because it conveys a lack of preparation. At the end of the day, pitching is all about practice. Entrepreneurs need to know their slides inside and out, so they never look at the screen. Although it may be difficult at first, it becomes easier after pitching again and again and again. In addition to feeling more confident, another perk of committing presentations to memory is that it allows entrepreneurs to maintain eye-contact and be more engaging for their audience.

2) Giving unnecessarily long answers in Q&A segments

When it comes to the Q&A part of a pitch, entrepreneurs should try to be brief and to the point when answering investors’s questions. In many cases, less is more. With that in mind, entrepreneurs should try to answer the questions that they receive during Q&A segments in as few words as possible, so they can listen to the next question. The more questions that entrepreneurs can answer the better, because it gives them an opportunity to clarify any questions or concerns that the panel or the audience might have regarding their startup.

3) Trying to mislead their audience

Nobody expects entrepreneurs to have encyclopedic knowledge or to have a “perfect” answer for every question that a potential investor may ask, but this doesn’t give entrepreneurs the license to “bedazzle” the truth. Although this should go without saying, entrepreneurs should never try to lie or massively oversell their startup to an accelerator or an audience, because they will see right through their act and then the entrepreneur will lose the most valuable thing of all: their trust.

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