Last night’s MIT $100K Pitch Contest boiled down to 12 teams, 60 seconds each with $5,000 on the line, and a slew of superheroes, ranging from Spider-Man to Wonder Woman. “Each one of you brings super powers that can change the world,” said contest organizer Katja Schurtenberger, looking out over the crowd of anxious and antsy, ready-to-pitch entrepreneurs.
The contest marked the first of three for the MIT $100K, which is broken down into stages: Pitch, Accelerate and Launch. The Pitch puts 12 semi-finalists to the test, giving them only 60 seconds to convince the judges of their idea. None of the teams knew they were pitching until moments before they were called to the stage, yet the most convincing walked away with $5,000 and renewed confidence to, hopefully, enter the winter’s Accelerate Contest.
Before pitching, however, keynote speaker Rahim Fazal, founder and CEO of social media platform Involver—recently acquired by Oracle—had some eye-opening advice. “Your idea sucks,” he said, later admitting that while your idea might not suck entirely, customer feedback will force it to change and that you need to feel comfortable iterating.
The quip was only the first thing Fazal said wished he knew before starting a company after business school. His other tips followed the lines of:
- Choose your co-founder like you’d choose your wife or husband.
- The first 10 hires are the most important, because “the first 10 set the tone and set the culture.”
- The best product does not win. What “wins” is execution, meaning distribution, customer acquisition and “making dollars.”
- Don’t worry about the exit. Build lasting value instead, because “if you do that, your exit will take care of itself.”
- If you’re the CEO, “Everyone will hate you,” because “you are responsible for everything, but control very little.”
- One day your classmates—the ones trying to convince you to become an consultant rather than an entrepreneur—will be calling you for a job. Why? “Because some of the world’s greatest problems are solved by entrepreneurs.”
And the teams who pitched set out to prove just that. They were critiqued by a panel of judges, which included: Fazal; Ric Fulop, general partner at North Bridge; James Geshwiler, member of CommonAngels; Steven Saunders, vice chairman of the patent practice group at Sunstein; Matt Weiss, business designer at IDEO; and Joe Chung, managing director and co-founder of Redstar Ventures.
Prior to pitching, Schurtenberger reminded the finalists, “Forget for 60 seconds your idea sucks, because if you don’t believe in it, why should we?” After all, the crowd was responsible for dishing out a $2,000 Audience Choice Winner, which went to Joshua Adler of “Moses Membranes,” a nano-graphene water purification technology.
Adler also walked away with another $2,000 for coming in second place, just ahead of “BlueLight,” a social enterprise with plans to launch in Colombia that uses the power of micro-layaway and micro-franchising to help low-income households acquire durable goods, pitched by Manoah Koletty.
Andrea Colaco of the MIT Media Lab won the judges over, though, with her proposed, already prototyped mobile 3D camera called “3dim”—promising Microsoft Kinect-like technology for mobile phones. As a Media Lab student, Colaco admitted her team is made up of PhD students who are used to seeing numbers and specs, not telling a story. She crafted her story perfectly, however, and walked away with $5,000.
Yet, to Colaco, the story isn’t complete. “Not until you see the final product.” Walking out, audience members were already buzzing about that hinted at final product. And if first place wasn’t enough, hopefully these overheard words are: “I’d probably buy one of those.”
For a peek inside the Pitch Contest, superheroes included, check out the photos below.