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Entrepreneurs hit the mark with potential investors at StartUP FIU’s first Pitch Day.

By: Jane Schreier Jones

Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur and you have five minutes to pitch your idea to dozens of potential investors, an idea you may have been working on for a year or more. Go! 

Entrepreneurs got to participate is this high-stakes situation at the first “Pitch Day” event presented by StartUP FIU, held December 2, 2016, at the Modesto Maidique campus of Florida International University (FIU). StartUP FIU is a collaborative initiative for FIU students, faculty and early-stage startup entrepreneurs across South Florida.

“More than 30 angel investors and venture capitalists were on hand at Pitch Day to consider the presentations from the StartUP FIU entrepreneurs,” says Robert H. Hacker, co-founder, and director of StartUP FIU. “The presentations were on-target, exciting, and done very well. Each entrepreneur also fielded questions from the investors.”

The entrepreneurs were members of Cohort 1, the inaugural class of The Empower Accelerator, StartUP FIU’s comprehensive, 14-week program to develop scalable traditional and social entrepreneurship ventures. The program provides coaches, skills training, advisors, access to speakers, cutting-edge workspace and a wide range of additional resources to first-time as well as more accomplished entrepreneurs.

“Prior to Pitch Day, I had only pitched my idea to potential customers — not investors,” reports Jason Dettbarn, founder, and CEO of Addigy, a cloud-based IT Management platform for managing Mac computers. “Through StartUP FIU, I learned tons about pitching to investors. In fact, the presentation I made was at least 80 percent better than the one I started with, thanks to the input I got from my mentor, classmates, and others at StartUP FIU. When it was time to make my pitch, I was relaxed and comfortable.”

With his presentation, Dettbarn made an impression and is in continuing talks with a member of the Keiretsu Forum, a global angel investor network at the event.

“Our entrepreneurs were given a proven presentation template to make sure they nailed all the initial information investors need to go to the next level,” says Hacker.

Nineteen entrepreneurial enterprises were members of StartUP FIU’s Cohort 1, ranging from beekeeping and honey business to a virtual reality system for the physical therapy industry. The Empower Accelerator curriculum takes the entrepreneurs through a comprehensive and in-depth analysis and development of their entrepreneurial idea.

The first four weeks of the curriculum deal with proof of concept, problem and customer value. Weeks five through seven help entrepreneurs define their competitive advantage, solution and customer value (CVP). During the final six weeks, entrepreneurs delve into refining their business model and their financial model and learn to pitch to investors.

Fourteen of the 19 teams were able to use Pitch Day in December to try their new skills. (The other five will participate in the Spring 2017 Pitch Day event.)

“Companies or individuals selected for each cohort bear no costs for The Empower Accelerator program, and retain 100 percent of the equity in their venture,” says Emily Gresham, co-founder of StartUP FIU and AVP of Research in the Office of Research and Economic Development, FIU. “We welcome everyone from a student testing an idea, to an accomplished academic researcher or the owner of an operating company. Our goal is to provide the necessary support to bring dreams to fruition.” 

“On a scale of 0 to 10, I’d easily give The Empower Accelerator program at StartUP FIU a 9 or a 10,” says Anthony Leon, one of the founders of Bid Aero, a secure marketplace for aftermarket aircraft parts. “The staff didn’t waste our time; rather, the information was on target with what we need.”

Leon says the in-depth program prepared his team for Pitch Day. “Engineers and developers don’t make the best public speakers, but somehow we learned how to present ourselves and our idea well,” Leon says. 

At Pitch Day, following the presentations and the question-and-answer periods, the entrepreneurs got a chance to interact socially with the investors.

“For these entrepreneurs, this might not have been their first pitch, and it probably won’t be their last,” says Hacker. “One pitch doesn’t lead to an offer.  But the feedback we’ve gotten from investors who participated — a fairly frank group — has been very positive.”

Twenty-two companies have been selected to for the second cohort of The Empower Accelerator program which starts Januarys 31st, 2017. For more information on StartUP FIU and their accelerators and incubators, Visit startup.fiu.edu.