Skills every aspiring entrepreneur must master

By Ione Villegas, Innovation Coast Staff Writer

If you want to succeed in business, you must learn the art of the elevator pitch. Whether networking at an industry event, attending an entrepreneurship conference or striking up a conversation with potential customers, there are ample opportunities to share your story.

Think of an elevator pitch as a conversational icebreaker that succinctly articulates your company vision, describes the opportunity in the marketplace and provides an objective solution – all within a limited timeframe. In the digital age where consumers’ attention spans have been reduced to eight seconds, brevity is key to getting your message across. Entrepreneurs who master the elevator pitch have an advantage over their competition.

For the past 40 years, Patrick Rooney has advised, coached and mentored would-be entrepreneurs, and experienced the highs and lows of developing (and sustaining) various business ventures. He said entrepreneurs sometimes fall into the trap of approaching an elevator pitch like they are trying to "sell" something.

"An elevator pitch is not a formal presentation like a sales pitch," said Rooney, lead principal consultant at Coastal CXO, a consulting firm specializing in supporting small and midsize companies. "The goal of an elevator pitch is to deliver a short message that garners enough interest to generate a second, longer discussion."

 Writing and practicing an elevator pitch organizes your thoughts and hones soft skills – a combination of interpersonal social and communication skills – that help you project the right image.

"An elevator pitch is an important exercise that trains entrepreneurs to bring their message into focus by understanding what they have to offer," said Rooney, who is also a business consultant at CO:LAB. "Survival is what separates people earning a paycheck from those who must find customers to sustain their businesses. As an entrepreneur, you have to do some extraordinary things to survive."

Contests like the 2017 Innovation Awards provide training ground for entrepreneurs to fine-tune their elevator pitches for a competition where it can really pay off. With more than $250,000 in cash and services up for grabs, the Innovation Awards can be a launchpad for business growth. This year, the contest is open to veteran-owned businesses, and entrepreneurial community college or university student teams. Don't miss your chance, the deadline to register for the contest is today at midnight. Register at awards.innovationcoast.com/register.

To give the next startup generation a head start, the College of Business at the University of West Florida is offering elevator pitch seminars, culminating with an Elevator Pitch Contest event on March 25.

Dr. Robert Perkins, an assistant professor of management in the College of Business at UWF, said more than 60 percent of students hope to own their own business someday.

"There is a well of creativity in our student population," he said. "They have ideas, but don’t know how to get them off the ground. The seminars and Elevator Pitch Contest provide students with the mental framework they need to make it happen later in life. These lessons will make them more competitive in the business world where an entrepreneurial mindset is required."  

 UWF students are learning that a good elevator pitch takes planning and practice to deliver it quickly, on the spot and under pressure. Perkins said there are several things to consider before writing an elevator pitch:

  1. Develop framework for success – The three areas to articulate in an elevator pitch are your vision for the company, how your brand and values differentiate you from top competitors, and how your team's skill set will make it happen. If you can get those things across in your pitch, you are in great shape.
  2. Champion your brand – Companies that think about their brand from day one do better because they are focusing on customers. If you don't stand out from the crowd, no one is going to be aware of you or buy your product.
  3. Learn from the pros – There is no shortage of supply of online videos showing the right way to deliver an elevator pitch. Perkins recommends watching Jane Chen's TED talk, titled "Embrace."
  4. Enter elevator pitch contests – Practicing your elevator pitch is important, but so is getting feedback from experts. Research has shown that advanced training can increase the success rate of a business from 50 percent to up to 70 percent. Whether you are involved in a student startup or are a budding entrepreneur, there are pitch contests available to give you the practice and coaching you need.

 

To register for the Innovation Awards, go to awards.innovationcoast.com/register.


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