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The ups and downs of idea pitching

Earlier this week (Feb. 13) students enrolled in the Bissett School of Business’ ENTR 4331 course were presented with a unique opportunity to meet and engage with innovators from the community during the third annual Evening with Innovators and Sweat Box Challenge.

Investors from the likes of Alberta Ventures, Inovia Capital, Yaletown Ventures, AVAC Ltd. and others were on hand to give students some valuable, real life experience and a chance to build their network.

Elevator pitch contest
MRU students network and practise pitching real members of the Calgary business community in the Sweat Box contest.

Students had 90 seconds to “sweat it out” in an elevator with an investor and deliver their best elevator pitches for immediate feedback.

“The students literally go into the elevator and we have an investor from downtown, a venture capitalist, who stands in the elevator with them and usually there’s another student with a flip cam videotaping it,” says Assistant Chair Entrepreneurship and Associate Professor at the Bissett School of Business Lauri Jensen.

“The students then have 90 seconds to make their pitch … basically the concept is a challenge to get the next meeting.”

The best venture pitches walked away with gold tickets and full marks.

Those who made solid pitches but needed a bit of work received silver tickets and those that really need to step it up were given a green ticket with a shamrock.

Those that didn’t make silver or gold were given the opportunity to retry their pitches before the end of the evening for a shot at redemption and a silver ticket.

Jensen says the students weren’t just thrown to the wolves for this challenge.

“One of the first assignments of this course is a log of inspired ideas. They have to come up with 100 ideas, which kind of freaks them out, and then they narrow it down to the one concept they are going to pitch in the Sweat Box,” says Jensen.

Building a network, selling an idea

Before the big event, students were already given the opportunity to interact with industry leaders.

“My existing students prepped in class for the Sweat Box with people from the community who came to the classroom to listen to their pitches just so they could practice,” Jensen says.

Preparation was one of the most valuable lessons that Jensen’s former student Christa Phibbs learned when she completed the Challenge last year.

Phibbs who is in the final year of her General Management degree at Bissett explained that the Sweat Box Challenge taught her a very different way of viewing both pitching and networking.

“It was very nerve wracking and exciting … and it pushes you to do something very uncomfortable,” says Phibbs who was given a golden ticket for her elevator pitch. However, it was the networking that she was most excited to take advantage of.

“Networking is really important in this day and age and I prepared for that more than my pitch as I’m currently looking for a job after graduation,” Phibbs says.

The Evening with Innovators and Sweat Box Challenge continues to provide opportunities for Mount Royal students to interact and network with industry leaders even after they’ve already gone through the experience once.

Interdisciplinary event

Jensen also points out that the exercise isn’t just for Bissett students.

“Anyone taking the course can participate in this event, you don’t have to be a business student,” she says. “The course is available to all students across campus.

Third year student Andrew Browne who is working towards his General Management degree with a minor in entrepreneurship earned himself a silver ticket, but took away a very different perspective.

“I got some good insight on how I pitch … but I think the more valuable part was looking at ideas more differently than I did,” Browne says.

“Thinking of the idea in terms of feasibility, scalability, basically taking it from a concept and making it into something workable, was a radically different way of looking at ideas for me.”

Fred Cheney, Feb. 16, 2012