Another Pitch Competition

by: Grant Morris

I produce a radio show about New Orleans business. I know quite a bit about radio but not a whole lot about business. I mostly leave the content of the show to the host, Peter Ricchiuti, who knows an awful lot about business. I know that business is competitive, and that business people in New Orleans are wonderfully cooperative. So I have been mystified of late by the growing epidemic of New Orleans business-pitching competitions.

I suppose this all started out innocently enough with just one business pitch competition: the Idea Village’s Entrepreneur Week. This culminates in an American Idol style live show where finalists who have honed their skills in preliminary rounds, and preliminary weeks of grooming and mentoring, get $50,000 free money for the best business pitch. With an audience that has grown over the years and now numbers in the thousands, this is definitely the biggest business pitch competition in town. But it’s far from the only one.

Photo by Samuel Mann.

Photo by Samuel Mann.

This is not all of the other pitch competitions you could take part in right now in New Orleans: BioChallenge; Tulane Business Model Competition; Pitch it Loyno; Loyola Senior Pitch Night; DDD’s arts based business pitch; PitchNOLA; myriad Idea Village pitches that are part of Entrepreneur Week as well as the aforementioned Big Idea – Food Challenge, Coulter IDEApitch, Education Challenge, Power Pitch, Water Challenge, InNOLAvation, Women in Business Challenge; GreauxGNO; New Orleans Startup Fund (M-Power Nola, Capital Pitch); JEDCO Challenge; Tech Crunch pitch off; Launch Fest; Pitch It! The Innovation Challenge; Chaffee Entrepreneur Challenge. There are others, and quite a few of them.

When entrepreneurs come on Out to Lunch, or meet at other social gatherings, many of them know each other from the pitch circuit. They’re like standup comedians working the country’s comedy clubs running into each other. Like comedians, pitchers are performers. Although I might not know much about business, I know pitching is not it.

I’ve spent years pitching. Radio shows, TV, movies, and songs. I can tell you unequivocally, the pitch is far removed from the movie or radio show, and I’m sure if you’re a business person you could tell me that the pitch is far removed from your business. Being able to communicate what you are trying to do with your business is, of course, essential, specially to someone you’re asking to invest in it. But pitching is not your business. Pitching is sales. And there is no instrinsic reason a pitch has to be performance art or please a crowd who would enjoy a night at The Coliseum watching Lions vs Christians.

An enormous amount of energy and preparation goes into creating and rehearsing a good pitch to be delivered to an audience. There also seems to be quite a lot of preparation on the side of the people hosting the pitch. The hosts are pretty much always folks who have something to offer entrepreneurs: business schools or other organizations with valuable institutional business skills.

The people hosting the pitch genuinely want to do something for entrepreneurs other than stage a gladiatorial evening. To that end you’d think it would make more sense to use all of this energy in helping entrepreneurs in the many facets of their business in which they need expert assistance, not merely and repeatedly the art of pitching themselves.

Instead of investing hours of preparation for pitches, what if the entrepreneurs sat in a quiet office with the hosts and asked for advice in areas in which they really need guidance other than the art of pitching? Maybe young entrepreneurs  could benefit from some of the other three to four years’ worth of skills taught in business schools and MBA programs, and from the wealth of experience the American Idol style business pitch judges could bring to them.

Admittedly, a quiet consultative meeting is seldom as much fun as watching a comedian get a pie in the face or as dramatic as having someone declared “the winner!” But it just might spread the wealth and do some real good beyond a fun few hours that is, for most entrepreneurs, a disappointing, unhelpful, and disheartening night out.