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Winning hackathon pitches

Published on Oct 14, 2014

🛫4 mins to read

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Winning hackathon pitches with UX

Last weekend, I was invited to mentor participants at Yale health hackathon on user experience. I had a great time being among high energy entrepreneurs wanting to change the landscape of medicine and technology. Being on the other side of the event, I had the opportunity to converse with the mentors and judges on what they are looking for in pitches and presentations. The below is a compilation of tips that were the most common and surprisingly, most overlooked.

If you are an entrepreneur in New Haven working on startup ideas, you might want to consider some of these pointers.

I am sure you would want to be counter-intuitive and not follow the herd. However, if a particular domain is in trend and VCs around the world are pouring in money in that vertical, that is your cue. This domain has been validated across the world and would be a great starting point for you to look at innovating within that space.

There is absolutely no question that wearable tech is the next internet of things

Some of the winning ideas were based on wearable tech. It was exciting to see innovation happen. Trending ideas are closer to execution and commercialization.

2. Talk to your users

Talk to actual users. If you are making assumptions about people willing to put down money for your product or idea, it makes a compelling case to have that assumption validated atleast by a few. Most times innovators are like artists. They can get so consumed by their craft, that they lose focus on the purpose of its very existence. Consumers. Make sure people you think will buy from you are interested in what you are building.

Hopefully, you have a clear idea of your target audience. Talk to a minimized sample of that group. Get interviews, get testimonials or call up people and talk to them. This helps in figuring out the real pain points of existing solutions. This will help you position yourself uniquely in the market.

3. Focus on business

While presenting an idea to VCs or a panel of accomplished judges, don’t spend too much time on the details of “how” you are solving the problem. Spend more time on the “why” you are solving a problem. Most investors trust your research. They don’t bother with the sources as long as you convey that you did your due diligence.

They also trust that you will be able to build your product through to completion. They don’t want to be sold on whether or not you are the right candidate to do this.

What they want to hear is why it makes business sense.

  • Market size
  • Target population
  • Growth
  • How soon can you get the product out?
  • What is the possibility of someone copying your idea?

Giving them numbers to answer these questions gives them more confidence about the viability of your product.

4. Coordinate your presentation

Every member in the team should not get to present. Choose the one among you that has the best capability to present and stick with that one person. Sometimes, the rest of the team does not even have to be on stage. Most teams had 5 minutes to pitch and this was done deliberately.

Common problems include

  • Sending the wrong presentation out
  • Naming your presentation “team name pitch deck final actual really final”
  • AV problems
  • Switching laptops in between to show a different part of the presentation

Another great tip is to have a single point of contact who would take questions and direct it to the right person in the team. Instead of having everyone in the team jump in and answer the question, one person is designated to take questions and then point out who is best suited to answer that question. Working in teams, everyone gets a part that they know more than others in the team.

Also, please don’t get defensive about your idea when questioned.

5. Narrow the scope

Ideas tend to flow when brain storming. You could start with a potentially simple problem and come up with overwhelming, gigantic and awesome solutions that might never hit the ground. It will sound awesome on paper and could be possible to execute. But what people are looking for is the most distilled, narrow-scope version of your idea.

The atomic version of it.

This version needs to make for a good business. You could always scale it up to other avenues and make a big difference, but does is this core idea viable enough?

Your idea should be phased in incremental steps of scalability but the most basic version of it is what you will present. Narrow your focus to what can be done immediately and how you can get this product out there as soon as possible. That will give you a major competitive edge over others.

6. Use UX principles

Being a UX consultant, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between how the teams’ pitches were built and how we build actual businesses with our clients.

Some of the best pitches I have seen are actually stories. Use story telling effectively to instill empathy and show the need for your idea. One of the teams did a real good job at this.

Use user personas and user interviews help validate your idea and help you narrow your focus as you develop the idea into a full-fledged product.

While pitching, you want to present the idea to suit your audience – the investors and VCs. Show them the aspect of your idea that they want to know most about.

The more I think, the more I realize that:

UX helps connect you and your idea to the bigger picture and prevents your from being consumed by your craft.

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