During the weekend, I was given the opportunity to attend a startup pitching event.
The NUS 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Conference (GEC), albeit being of a smaller scale than similar events, saw the coming together of prominent Venture Capitalists (VCs) in Singapore, as well as distinguished entrepreneurs.
The 3rd to 6th of January saw participants being mentored in their core skills such as business development and growth hacking. And the fifth and final day of 7 Jan saw the event’s culmination in a pitching competition to 4 judges, each distinguished VCs in their own right.
It was an exciting moment for me as I was still a fledgling in the startup scene and had yet to attend a formal pitching event.
The second round of excitement came when I found myself in the first row at the World Cup, with the rising hubbub of the people sitting around me.
I could distinctly make out nervous laughter, interspersed amongst excited twitters as participants talked about everything except for the event. And when the judges entered the room, it was as if the sound had been drained from the room, as a instant silence blanketed the space.
The tension was palpable, and it only started dissipating after the judges themselves had settled down.
For those who have yet to attend a pitching event, it plays out remarkably similar to project group presentations in university and polytechnics.
Participants were given a scant 3 minutes to distill their ideas and synthesise it into a presentation stunning enough to blow the judges’ minds. After which the team would have to field questions from the judges and the floor.
So why was I, a non-entrepreneur, attending a startup pitching event in the first place?
Here’s what I took away from the event, and why my attending it further cements the idea that all budding entrepreneurs need to attend a pitching event.
1. It’s About Networking
Pitching events bring you face to face up-close with some of the most established people in the industry, where the shared space provides a wealth of opportunities to meet the people with whom you may not share a team, but you may share other common interests in.
It is also a chance to pick the brains of the authorities of the industry, and discuss what worked, as well as what did not.
2. It’s About First Failures
No one ever believes that they’re ready, but attending a pitching competition is more than just about striking that metaphorical pot of gold. Or even potentially embarrassing yourself in front of your peers.
As painful as it was, I watched young startup teams get shot by reality doses by the judges, who, in tactful words, explained how the ideas had simply left them wanting.
The threshold for the first step is always the hardest.
I believe that startups are built on equal parts reality and idealism, but in the worst case scenario, the latter trumps the former. It can be difficult for teams to come to terms with that on their own, which is why this first step – the presentation, is highly crucial in its educative value.
3. It’s Also About Self-Validation
Out of the 7 startup teams that presented, there were only 2 that stood out to me as holding strong promise, and this was reflected in everyone there who were listening.
I do not speak less of the other teams when I say this, but the nature of competitions are such that as we share vicarious joy in, we also take pride in the congratulatory validations for our ideas, and the lesser acknowledged understanding that it was better than others.
A Personal Highlight For Me
Out of the 2 teams that impressed me, one stood out for a very singular reason – that the presentation was managed by a single person in the team.
For reasons unknown, the rest of the team was unable to make it. As such, the 3 minute pitching saw one rather diminutive female helming the stage all by herself.
What impressed me the most about Dael was that although she was clearly nervous about fielding the questions, she steadily pulled through them one by one, and was receptively humble to learning suggestions, a statement I cannot claim to be the same for some of the other teams.
It’s Not The End
At the end of the day, it was Impressive Team #2 – Team Charma – who walked away with both top prizes – the IBM Innovation award, as well as the Grand Champion award.
While this might appear almost biased to some, it was difficult not to acknowledge the team’s efforts and their inspiring goals for social enterprise.
Unfortunately, we might not be seeing the Charma startup anytime soon in Singapore, as the team intends to concentrate their efforts in Australia.
After the session broke, it was photo-taking and saying goodbye to the judges, who before they left, (somewhat) consented to posing with their souvenir bouquets.
The Singapore Startup Scene Is A Tough Nut To Crack
… was the main takeaway I got from the entire event.
The presence of multiple incubators, and the fervent race towards starting up, can appear to budding entrepreneurs as a threshold almost impossible to break through. I attended this event with the mindset that the local startup scene is on a fast track to hitting saturation. And although this belief had yet to completely overturned, what I saw during the event demonstrated that people still have so much more to offer.
While I may not be joining the bandwagon myself anytime soon, there is no place more exciting than right here, in Singapore, right now.
Many thanks to the NUS Enterprise team for allowing me to attend the NUS GEC 2017!
Featured Image Credit: Samantha Tay / Vulcan Post