How to Design a Winning Conference Pitch Fest

Meetings Memo Associations Now May/June 2019 Issue By: Samantha Whitehorne

Ready to launch your very own Shark Tank? Here are six steps to take to deliver a successful pitch competition at your conference.

More associations are bringing startups and investors together at their annual events for Shark Tank-style competitions, but the International Society for Technology in Education was ahead of the curve: It launched its own Pitch Fest six years ago.

Angela Price, ISTE’s senior manager of corporate relations, says Pitch Fest still requires a significant amount of work and planning. She offers this advice to those considering a pitch competition for their own event:

  1. Build in development time. In the beginning, there’s a long list of decisions to be made, Price says, including deciding how startups can apply, determining eligibility requirements, setting the rules, and coming up with a plan for promoting the event.

  2. Determine your selection process. The most time-consuming task is selecting finalists. For that, Price has outside help: The Pitch Fest’s sponsor supplies volunteers from the startup community who sift through the applicants and choose finalists.

  3. Do your research. Once finalists are chosen, “you have to do your due diligence,” Price says, and research whether the applicants have accurately represented themselves. Occasionally, she has encountered larger, established companies misrepresenting themselves as startups.

  4. Plan onsite logistics. “During the event, there’s a lot of juggling,” she says. “You need an emcee and someone to run the time to make sure that those pitching don’t go over their allotted time.” ISTE’s Pitch Fest allows five-minute pitches with two minutes for judges’ questions.

  5. Know your voting method. You want a voting method that is accurate and user-friendly—and one that has gone through extensive testing ahead of time. At ISTE, Price says the audience texts votes, which are combined with the judges’ votes.

  6. Offer a worthy prize. ISTE traditionally awards the winners a booth in the following year’s expo hall and a corporate association membership. “The real draw for participants is the exposure that startups get for their companies to ISTE’s audience of 18,000 attendees,” Price says.

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled “Winning Pitch."]

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now in Washington, DC.