The power of the one minute pitch

Anti-theft backpacks, secret hampers full of goodies that can be delivered anonymously to someone you care about, and a team of inventors bringing children’s imaginary machines to life. These were three of the businesses presented during the Virgin StartUp One Minute Pitch Competition at Virgin Disruptors 2016.

Here’s what you can learn from reading this article:

  • Why pitching competitions can help put you outside your comfort zone
  • Why the art of pitching is as much about listening as it is speaking
  • Why practising one minute pitching can help you when it comes to having meetings with the right people

Seven entrepreneurs took to the stage out of a total of more than 60 entrants. They each had a minute to sell their product or concept to the audience. The pitchers included Will Adoasi, owner of watch brand Vitae London, and Piet Grymonprez, co-founder and CEO of My Machine.

We caught up with the curator of the competition Emma Gibbs and Virgin StartUp's lead advisor and entrepreneur-in-residence, Jonathon Spanos, after the competition to talk about why pitching is healthy for the entrepreneurial mindset and how the art of the one-minute pitch can benefit approach to business.

It’s a contact sport

"Being an entrepreneur is a very lonely business," says Spanos. "It’s a bit like a contact sport. If you’re not bouncing yourself and your ideas off each other then it’s very hard to get ahead."

Virgin StartUp holds monthly meetings where business owners and entrepreneurs being funded by the organisation are given the opportunity to pitch to audiences of more than 100. Spanos adds that the meetups are also the perfect space to share experiences, whether they’re of success or failure. Taking part in such events is "a good habit to get yourself into, especially if you’re more of an introvert".

Gibbs agrees and says that entrepreneurs and business owners are used to putting themselves out of their comfort zone, so pitching competitions should be seen no differently: “They’re just another way to push yourself further.”

Building your tribe

As well as bouncing ideas around, competitions offer the chance to build your tribe of people – something which Holly Ransom, MC for the Virgin Disruptors event, alluded to. "You need people around you who can recognise when you might need to some assistance," says Gibbs.

A tribe acts as support mechanism, adds Spanos. "If you can’t ask them questions, then who can you... it’s going to make it more difficult to take the business idea to the next stage and scale."

It’s not all about you

When you’re networking and trying to find the people who can get you places, it’s easy to fall into the trap of getting in faces and wanting to tell as many people as possible about the idea you have. As obvious as it sounds, says Gibbs, sometimes it’s just a case of taking a step back and listening to others. Even if there’s isn’t anything you can take away and immediately apply to your own business.

“Part of being innovative and a disruptor isn’t necessarily about talking; it’s about observing and taking stuff on board that two days, five days, 10 years down the track might spark an idea that really works.”

Nailing the top line

When starting out, entrepreneurs and business owners are used to selling in a long-form format, says Gibbs, where they can give a full background of themselves and history of their business or product. Pitching in a very short period of time, however, forces yourself to nail the top line.

"It means you have to just get up and do it, rather than overthinking it. It’s a great way to crowdtest the idea really, really quickly."

Spanos adds that being able to stand up and pitch succinctly shows quick thinking and improvisation, qualities needed for when "you get stuck in a room [with executives], and you don’t have your laptop there, or Powerpoint slides," or any other aid to refer to.

It needs to be more than abstract

The beauty of the elevator pitch can also be its downfall. Gibbs says that people can make the mistake of thinking an idea that hasn’t been formalised is worthy of pitching.

"Ideas in abstract form are great, but only a starting place. That’s not something you can get up and pitch as an action."

Any idea still needs both knowledge and experience in order for it to feasible, adds Spanos.

Not fearing failure

Both Gibbs and Spanos believe that you shouldn’t let nerves hold you back from pitching. Fear of failing is prerequisite to be an entrepreneur.

"We’ve all got a sense, no matter what industry you’re in, no matter what you’re doing… a sense of being a fraud," says Gibbs.

If you joined us in London and would like to share your highlights and how you've been inspired to make a change in your world, drop us an email on with the subject Virgin Disruptors 2016.

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