Seconds to Success
By Jessie Fredlund ’07
You’re just getting
started in your career. You dream of owning your own business
but for now you’re working in a low-level job for someone
else. On your way back to the office from a coffee run, you
meet a potential investor on the elevator who has lots of
money and an open mind. You decide to grab the opportunity
to tell her about your business idea and get her excited
enough to invest in you.
You have 90 seconds.
That’s the hypothetical
challenge faced by participants in this year’s Elevator
Pitch Contest, an annual event coordinated by the Women and
Financial Independence (WFI) program that gives students
exactly 90 seconds to sell their business idea to a panel
of judges. The winner of the contest will receive a cash
prize as well as a chance to move on to a regional competition
held in April by the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation,
with more money at stake.
Now in its fourth year,
the Elevator Pitch Contest has expanded to include a workshop
series in the weeks leading up to the March 6 competition.
Last week, through
WFI’s lunchtime workshops, students learned about “Conceiving
the Idea” from James Theroux, of the Isenberg School
of Management at UMass, Amherst. This week, Susan Jaye-Kaplan,
of GoFit, Inc., a Springfield organization that provides
health and fitness opportunities to economically underprivileged
youth and women, spoke to students about preparing the
pitch. Jaye-Kaplan included
her story about a very successful pitch she once gave to
the sports apparel company Reebok International.
Finally, on March 6,
contest participants will pitch their ideas to judges and
audience members in 90 seconds or less, also at noon in the
Neilson Browsing Room. The event is open to the Smith community.
The winner of the contest will receive $100 and the chance
to move on to a regional competition on April 25, where students
from 13 area schools will compete for a $1,000 prize.
Elevator Pitch contestants
will be judged on the feasibility of their ideas and on the
convincingness of their pitch, said Susannah Howe, assistant
professor of engineering, who helps coordinate the event
and will serve as a contest judge.
engage the audience, they connect with them right away, they
are able to tell you clearly and concisely what their idea
is and they give you confidence that they’ll be able
to carry it out,” she says. What is most important
in pitching a business idea is “passion and enthusiasm,” said
Competitors are not
allowed to use note cards and may not present a business
they have already started. However, they will have complete
freedom to make up technologies and funding sources that
do not exist, as long as their ideas are plausible and well
Last year’s Elevator
Pitch Contest winner, Annie Parker AC’08, pitched her
idea for a development company that would make environmentally
friendly housing more affordable and more easily available.
While her idea was
hypothetical, it is based on ideas that Parker plans to implement
upon graduation from Smith. According to Parker, participation
in the contest gave her important practice in presenting
her ideas to an audience. This year, Parker will serve as
one of the contest judges.
The Elevator Pitch
Contest is sponsored by Smith and the Harold Grinspoon Charitable
Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic organization based
in West Springfield that aims to encourage entrepreneurship
among young people, promote literacy, and support young people’s
academic and leadership goals.
The Grinspoon Foundation
also funds the Entrepreneurial Spirit Awards, which provides
grant funding to support student businesses. In the past
three years, Smith students from a variety of majors have
won 16 separate Entrepreneurial Spirit Awards totaling $15,000.
In 2005, a Smith student
took second place in the regional Grinspoon Foundation pitch
contest. This spring, Howe and Parker have high hopes that
Smith can bring home first prize.