Techstars' Eromosele on what makes a perfect elevator pitch

FinTech Magazine speaks with Techstars' Glory Eromosele about honing your pitch to investors and how the fundraising environment is changing for startups

As the economic outlook gets bleaker, it’s only natural for investors to become more cautious. That means it’s the perfect time for budding entrepreneurs and founders to brush up on their so-called ‘elevator pitch’ – the 30 seconds or so that you get with a prospective big backer, client or other useful contact if you both happen to be confined together in the same small space.

We spoke with Glory Eromosele, Senior Ops Associate at Techstars, a role where she gets to support founders and startups daily. Techstars is the world’s largest pre-seed investor; its accelerator portfolio has an all-time market cap of nearly US$100bn.

What’s the key to devising the perfect elevator pitch?

As someone who regularly works with founders in our Techstars programmes, I can tell you that the key to devising the perfect 30-second pitch lies in practice, practice, and more practice! The goal of the perfect elevator pitch is to deliver a concise message that leaves your listener wanting to know more about your startup, and as a result, leads to the next meeting. To achieve this, the focus must be on the problem you solve, the unique solution you offer, and the impact it can make.

The perfect elevator pitch not only conveys your value proposition but also sparks curiosity and creates a connection with your listener. Distilling all that information to the bare essentials of an elevator pitch requires constant iteration based on feedback. The more you pitch, the more you learn what works and what doesn’t. This constant iteration is what produces a strong elevator pitch.

Do these off-the-cuff scenarios really still happen for founders in today’s digital age?

Absolutely! The concept behind the ‘elevator pitch’ is more than just taking an elevator ride with an investor. It is about being prepared to take advantage of any situation that presents itself. As a founder, you never know when a small window of opportunity might arise to make a meaningful connection with a potential investor, partner, or customer – and being ready to articulate your proposition concisely and persuasively is crucial.

Additionally, crafting and practising an elevator pitch serves as a valuable exercise for founders to distil their value proposition, refine their messaging, and gain clarity on the core aspects of their business. So whether as a means to seize a quick opportunity, or an instrument of business clarity, the ability to effectively and clearly pitch their idea anytime and anywhere is a valuable skill for founders to master.

A lot of due diligence goes into investments and acquisitions nowadays. Is the elevator pitch still necessary, or is it becoming redundant?

The elevator pitch becoming redundant? Definitely not! The purpose of an elevator pitch is not to seal the investment, it is to land the next meeting. Today's business landscape is very competitive and fast-paced. This means it has become more important than ever for founders to know how to capture attention and make a memorable impression. The elevator pitch serves as a concise and compelling introduction that allows founders to quickly convey the essence of their business value proposition and pique investor curiosity. A well-honed elevator pitch is a message to your investors that says, ‘hey! I’m the needle worth picking up from the haystack’. It is an entry point that opens the door to further investment discussions.

Even during the due diligence process, an impactful elevator pitch can serve as a guiding light that keeps investors engaged and focused on the unique aspects of your venture. The elevator pitch alone may not guarantee an investment deal, but it sure serves as a powerful catalyst for initiating deeper discussions and generating investor interest that can ultimately lead to successful investment or acquisition.

How important do you think accelerator and incubator programs can be as a springboard for startup success?

I cannot speak for every accelerator and incubator programme, but vetted programmes, such as those offered by Techstars and a few other accelerators, can be incredibly impactful for developing startups. They offer a unique ecosystem that combines mentorship, resources and a supportive community, providing startups with the tools they need to thrive. By participating in an accelerator or incubator, startups can gain access to a network of experienced mentors, industry experts and investors who can provide invaluable guidance, support, connections and feedback. Additionally, the structured curriculum and intensive learning environment can help founders refine their business models and strategies in a fast-paced setting. Many founders are able to achieve in weeks what they could not in the months prior to joining such programmes.

Another great benefit is the opportunity to forge relationships with fellow founders. This creates room for collaboration, knowledge-sharing and mutual support. At Techstars for example, we cater to almost every stage of the pre-seed founder's entrepreneurial journey. We have community programmes such as Startup Weekends designed to bring founders with like minds together and kickstart the ideation phase. We also have Founder Catalyst programmes that kickstart the growth of early startups, helping them define their value proposition and positioning them to be investment-ready for our Accelerator programmes.

A good investor can be the difference between floundering or flying.

What advice do you have for startup founders wanting to get more mentorship who don’t have access to an accelerator or incubator programme?

There’s always something we can do, wherever we are. For founders who want to be mentored but have no access to an accelerator programme, the best advice I can give is this: 

  • Tap into your existing network: Look within your current network for individuals who have relevant expertise or experience in your industry. Reach out to them, explain your situation, and kindly request their guidance or mentorship. You might be surprised by how willing people are to help when approached with genuine enthusiasm and respect.
  • Seek out local entrepreneurial communities: Explore your local startup ecosystem and join entrepreneurial communities, co-working spaces or business incubators in your area. Attend meetups, events and workshops to connect with like-minded individuals who may be willing to offer mentorship or introductions to potential mentors.
  • Utilise online platforms: Leverage online platforms specifically designed for mentorship, such as LinkedIn's Career Advice feature, or mentoring platforms like MicroMentor, SCORE and ADPlist. These platforms connect entrepreneurs with experienced professionals who are passionate about mentoring and helping startups succeed.
  • Participate in startup competitions: Engage in startup competitions and pitch events. These events often attract seasoned entrepreneurs, investors and industry experts who can provide valuable feedback and mentorship. Even if you don't win, the networking opportunities can be invaluable. 
  • Join industry-specific forums and communities: Look for online forums, discussion boards or social media groups dedicated to your industry. Participate actively, ask questions and seek advice from experienced professionals and successful entrepreneurs who are passionate about sharing their knowledge and supporting startups.
  • Become resourceful and self-directed: take advantage of the vast wealth of resources and education available online such as blogs, podcasts, webinars, and books authored by successful entrepreneurs. Continuously educate yourself and seek out thought leadership in your industry to gain insights and inspiration.

Do the current economic circumstances affect the investment landscape for founders? Are things going to get harder?

It is normal to expect the terrain to get a little stiffer for founders. Uncertainty and market volatility make investors more cautious and selective in their investment decisions. However, challenging times can foster innovation and new opportunities. There will definitely be a lot of hurdles to cross, but founders who can demonstrate resilience, adaptability and a strong value proposition have the potential to attract investors even in the midst of these difficult economic conditions. To achieve this founders must focus on refining their strategies, building stronger networks, differentiating their offerings, exploring alternative funding sources and maintaining financial prudence.

For us at Techstars, despite the economic downturn, we remain committed to supporting and investing in exceptional founders. In fact, Techstars has been recognised as the most active seed investor in the first quarter of 2023, according to a recent Crunchbase report. Our portfolio companies have also continued to secure funding successfully. Rangeforce and Seldon, two companies in our portfolio, recently secured US$20 million each in Series B funding. They are part of a long list of successful Series A and B raises from our portfolio in the second quarter of this year alone. These examples demonstrate the potential for determined founders to still access venture capital by embracing innovation, meeting market demand, and delivering customer value regardless of economic conditions.

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