One of the most enjoyable experiences in your early startup life is joining a startup competition. By throwing yourself in front of the “lions” you are forced to make your story perfect and improve your go-to-market strategy. As a winner you usually walk away with some cash, but the PR value for your startup is in many cases priceless.
Also if you don’t win – and most startups don’t win! – the practice of pitching, the jury feedback you receive, the connections you make at the event and the motivation to be even better the next time are very good reasons to join again.

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An excellent moment to join a startup competition is when you already have a product/market fit (a real solution for a real problem), a strong team (teams typically are more successful in business than one person startups) and some traction (for example, letters of intents, lots of visitors on your website, maybe even sales). You do not need to have your product or service completed yet, but you need to have more than just a good idea. Everybody has ideas, only a few people are able to actually execute it. So, see my suggestions below and make it real!

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1. Make your pitch real and personal
Be authentic: do not play a role, be yourself as the “in the spotlight” version of yourself. So not use obvious tricks. The audience and jury want to connect with you and your story. Also, express very clearly why your startup and the solution you pitch is relevant for the audience and jury.
There’s plenty of information about pitches available online, but moreover I recommend you to practice at every possibly occasion. Many competitions offer pitch training: take this opportunity!

2. Show what you’ve achieved so far
After a great idea and a great story, it is time to become real. What are your achievements in the startup? The type of achievements you have to show depends on the type of startup competition. Early stage competitions can be satisfied with a great idea and thorough market research, for other competitions you might need to show harder results. For example: did you run successful prototype tests, did you maybe raise money already, how seriously interested are your prospects? If you have a patent tell in which countries it is accepted, if you have customers tell what they pay, etc. These are just some examples of convincing the jury that you are more than just a dreamer alone.

3. Show what you’re working on now
Past results are great, but if you didn’t make real progress ever since, you still have a weak case. So, what are you working on now? What is your go-to-market strategy? Where do you plan to get the funding that you need? It is also a great moment to put emphasis on your team: teams with people with complementary skills are more successful (and the opposite is also true unfortunately).

4. Be honest about the challenges
If running a startup was easy, everybody would be doing it. Good entrepreneurs are good in managing risks. Don’t be blind for challenges, but address them and show the strategy how you will try to tackle the challenges. If your weakness is in selling, create a sales team. If you do not have a track record, find an industry leader who wants to be the ambassador of your startup. You don’t have to be the solution for everything, but at least you have to start looking for a solution.

5. Show what you will do with the prize of the competition
The jury likes to see that the award money will be well-spend. What milestone can you reach with the money? In the past I could finish a prototype and file a patent application with award money. I told this to the jury in advance, combined with the real and concrete steps for this.

6. Take the jury’s feedback serious
You don’t need to have an answer for every possible question. Do not blindly start defending yourself. Listen to the reason the jury member has for a certain question. Repeat when you’re not sure if you understood the question right. For example, in one of the competitions that I joined a jury member was very hard on our market strategy. Instead of fighting him, I asked and got a better strategy from him for free. Of course, rehearse the most frequently asked questions, but always stay open for valuable feedback too.

After the competition
You won the startup competition? Do not fall in love with yourself: the award is just a great step forward on the long and difficult road to business success. Use the media attention and prize money wisely, but most of all keep building your business!
Also, at the later (commercial) stages in your startup you should not want to put time in these competitions anymore. Simply because with the same time you can have bigger (financial) results by selling to customers or making strategic partnerships.
Concluding: startup competitions can be a great kick start, but they should not be your end goal!

About this blog that I wrote for Startupper.gr
Benno Groosman MScBA is an experienced entrepreneur and in the Netherlands he has won 8 awards with his previous startup. Benno is the current Entrepreneur in Residence at Orange Grove. You can meet him at startup competition The Squeeze that will take place March 10 at Orange Grove, Athens.
This blog is translated in Greek, you can read the Greek version at www.startupper.gr.