Rob Poleki

Rob Poleki

Idaho entrepreneurs need capital to grow, and pitch competitions can be a valuable funding source for many reasons. Aside from winning cash prizes, entrepreneurs can gain visibility and make valuable connections with investors and fellow business owners.

It can be life changing to participate in a pitch competition and I speak from firsthand experience. After inventing the self-cleaning Washie Toilet Seat, I won the 2019 main pitch competition for Boise Entrepreneur Week. The $20,000 cash prize funded my first run of inventory and helped take my business to the next level.

If you’re considering participating in this year’s Boise Entrepreneur Week or other pitch competitions, I learned many valuable lessons you might want to consider.

1. Concisely describe your product and its unique value proposition

You’ll typically only have a few minutes to make your pitch and describe your market opportunity. If you need more than one or two sentences to explain your product, you need to go back to the drawing board. Keep things simple and use sound bites — short, catchy snippets of speech — to make it easy for your audience to instantly understand your value proposition.

2. Promote your personal brand

You’re not just selling your product — you’re also selling your credibility as the leader of your company. Many companies have failed because their ideas were poorly executed, so you need to convince investors that you are the right person to launch your product.

Because I served as an elected official before founding Washie, my background was unusual for an entrepreneur. But it was still relevant because it gave me experience managing employees, budgets and public events. Emphasizing these points helped me stand out to the judges.

3. Engage your audience and speak authentically

Some entrepreneurs make the mistake of memorizing their script and not engaging with their audience. If your pitch sounds robotic or you don’t connect with your audience, you won’t be memorable and your ideas could be overlooked.

When I prepared my pitch deck, I made sure every slide had an anecdote, quip or story to keep the audience hooked throughout my entire presentation. For example, my opening line was, “My background is in politics, but I left the political world to start a company in the restroom industry. It’s the same crappy business.”

4. Leverage your supporters and mentors

Remember, your friends and family members are invested in your success. Before competing, I practiced for weeks in front of my three children. They provided feedback that helped refine my ideas and build my confidence.

Many pitch competitions will also assign mentors to event finalists. Take advantage of their expertise and don’t be afraid to ask “dumb questions” if something is unclear. As a former city official, many business acronyms were jargon to me, so I spoke up to clarify a few key points as I developed my presentation.

5. Master the art of storytelling and develop your own style

When preparing for Boise Entrepreneur Week, I looked up other pitch competitions and tried to mimic past competitors. It didn’t work for me because copying someone else’s style came across as inauthentic and it wasn’t showing my true personality. I pivoted and decided to adapt — rather than imitate — elements I liked from other presenters. By developing my own style, I built my confidence and came across as a more relatable presenter.

If you’re eager to prove yourself in an upcoming pitch competition, you’re in luck. Boise Entrepreneur Week — taking place from Oct. 18 to 22 — is giving away more than $100,000 through its pitch competitions. Additionally, this year’s winner will compete for $50,000 in the third season finals of "2 Minute Drill." Applications are being accepted online at VentureCapital.org or boiseentrepreneurweek.org until Sept. 7.

Pitch competitions are an invaluable opportunity to finetune your messaging, gain visibility and build strategic connections. Thorough preparation could allow you to reap considerable rewards and obtain the kickstart you need in the startup world.

Rob Poleki is the CEO and founder of Washie and the winner of Boise Entrepreneur Week’s 2019 main pitch competition. He can be reached via email at rob@washietoiletseat.com.