Friday, April 18, 2014

My First Pitch Contest: Merrimack Valley Sandbox

by Leanne of Loomination

In early February, I applied for the Consumer Ideas Pitch Contest at the Merrimack Valley Sandbox. It was an easy application - about a dozen not-so-easy questions to answer on an online form. I wasn’t sure my craft business was what they were looking for, but I knew some other craftspeople who had done it, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.

They chose about fifteen businesses to participate in the pitch contest. Each business would set up a table for the networking portion of the evening and seven would pitch their ideas. There was also a wild card selection - a name drawn from among the remaining table presenters who would be invited to pitch on the spot. 

Handwoven Throw Rug in Process

The next week there was a workshop at the Sandbox on pitching our ideas. About five of us participated and I was very impressed with the other businesses. Everyone had wonderful ideas and they were all great at speaking about them. We were given a worksheet which described the five points the judges would be scoring on in order to select a winner. I left feeling inspired, if a bit overwhelmed.

The pitch contest, scheduled for the following week, was snowed out. More time to work on my pitch, right? More like, more time to psych myself out. I was having trouble coming up with all the information I needed to cover the five points and decided not to go for the wild card. I decided that I would present my business at my table, listen to the other pitches, but I wouldn’t put my name in the hat. One step at a time!

My usual table display

On the day of the pitch contest, my table looked great. I’ve set up for literally hundreds of craft shows, so making a good display comes naturally to me. As I was networking, people kept telling me that they couldn’t wait to hear my pitch. I explained that I was just a table presenter and wasn’t pitching. A few people asked why I wasn’t trying for the wild card. I didn’t really have a good answer for them. “I’m not really ready,” was the best I could come up with, which sounded lame, even to me.

As we watched the pitches, I was amazed. The ideas were all equally innovative and interesting, but the presentations were all so different. Some people were really confident presenters, others were nervous and kept losing their train of thought. I have serious stage fright and while one part of my brain was saying “I’m so glad I’m not up there,” another part was like, “I could totally do that.”

As it turned out, only six of the seven presenters had been able to make it that night, so they were choosing TWO wild cards. Only a few of the table presenters had put their name in the hat, so they all had really good chances of being picked. It was mentioned several times over the course of the night that wild cards had won prizes in the past.

Double Infinity Scarf, one of the pieces I brought to the Pitch Contest

As the first wild card was presenting, I decided to throw my name in the hat. I figured if I did it, then at least I would feel like I had put in the effort. A phrase I’ve heard repeatedly is that people tend to regret the things they didn’t do, rather than the things they did. I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity and regret my choice. It’s not like they were going to actually pick me.

They picked me!

The good thing about presenting on the spot is that you have no time to get nervous. Seconds after they called my name, a microphone was in my hand and I was up there talking. I hadn’t practiced my pitch, but I had spent a few hours on the worksheet and knew what I wanted to say. I know I missed some things, but I did the best I could.

As the judges went out to do their deliberations, people kept congratulating me on what I great job I did. I was still in shock. I knew that words had come out of my mouth, but I couldn’t remember what they were.

A few minutes later, the judges were back and the prizes were being announced. They announced third prize first and….

I WON! Wow. Five. Hundred. Dollars!

Left: My BIG check! Right: The judges, including BH member Diane Ivey. Images from

I really can’t describe how wonderful I felt. The best feeling was that I had gone up there, taken a shot, and done it - seized the opportunity.

Since the pitch contest, I have had some amazing opportunities. I was the featured entrepreneur at one of the Sandbox’s weekly Entrepreneur Meetups and have appeared on the Friends of Kevin Radio Show. I’m also working on my application to the summer Accelerator Program (due May 1!), which helps early stage businesses through workshops and mentorships.

What’s the next step for your business? Have you worked with any small business centers or entrepreneur programs?

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