Project Olympus at Carnegie Mellon University helps student, faculty, staff or alumni that has an innovation or idea that they'd like to commercialize take that idea to market.
In working with people who are often new to entrepreneurship, Kit Needham, Assistant Dean for Entrepreneurship Initiatives and Director of Project Olympus at Carnegie Mellon University, says something they've got to practice before seeking their first investment is their pitch.
"We work on their pitches; that they make very clear concise, 'Here's the problem I'm solving, here's my solution, here's why it's different, here's where I'm going to make money and here is maybe a potential exit,'" Needham says. "And we train them on doing the pitches multiple times."
She also has other experienced investors and entrepreneurs listen in — for instance, Ilana Diamond, managing partner of 412 Venture Fund, who founded Alpha Lab Gear and led Sima Products Corp. for nearly 20 years.
Needham says it takes a clear, concise pitch when presenting to investors, but just as important the entrepreneurs need to be able to field questions.
"My experience is anybody can give the pitch," she says. "You're in control the of the slides. You know what you're going to say. You rehearsed it. Where they lose it is when the Q&A comes up. So, anticipating in advance what they might be asked and having a quick way of answering it — or how to answer questions you don't know the answers to. So, there's a lot of things that we can teach them on that end."
As an investor in Blue Tree Venture Capital as well as 412 Venture Fund, Needham says she wears the hat of an investor as well as a coach when working with those trying to get their ideas off the ground. That sometimes means delivering news that's tough to hear.
"I would just say as an investor, here's what I don't see," Needham says. "And this is what I need to see in order to be able to say yes."
She says she's been a member of Blue Tree since it was an angel group, an experience that was invaluable because she was a member of the screening committee where she heard companies give a 15-minute pitch and 10 minutes of Q&A. Afterward, she and the other investors would decide whether to invest or not.
"For so many of them, it's not a no, but there is something that was missing or something that just was not clear in the presentation," she says. "And then occasionally, we have this, This is just not something we want. We try to screen them out beforehand so we don't get that often. But usually, what influences 'no, not now' that's more of a presenter issue. It might look good on paper, but you realize this person will never be able to raise funds, never be able to track customers or whatever."
Needham spoke on the Smart Business Dealmakers Podcast about the areas where fist-time entrepreneurs stumble when seeking their earliest funding rounds. Hit play to catch the full conversation.