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Tips and Training for Startups and Entrepreneurs

The Startup Challenge is more than a simple pitch competition; it's an entry point into the community of photonics business development. Review the information and tips below to give you a head start in the pitch competition and the startup world.

The 2021 application cycle is now closed. Semi-Finalists will be notified by 5 January, 2021.

Practice your pitch before you arrive

Pitches will be judged on:
•  Pitch delivery
•  Quality of the business case
•  Quality of the financial case
•  Competitive advantage

Suggestions for the pitch

Oral pitches for both rounds of the Startup Challenge can be no longer than FIVE MINUTES each. In 5 minutes, presenters need to cover the problem that they are solving, the customer for whom they are solving this problem, and why the customer will care that it is being solved. Most pitch coaches recommend employing a narrative structure to tell this as a story rather than using a lot of bullet points and dense slides. Narratives have an introduction to the protagonist (you and the team), the conflict or problem, some moments showing how the problem is solved, and a resolution which includes your vision for the company. With only five minutes, you have to grab the attention of the judges and hold it. Personal stories about why you are the person to solve these problem are the way to do that.

Pitches can be supported by a powerpoint or PDF slide deck. However, presenters often focus too much on the information in their deck and not enough on the messages they are sending. When it comes to pitch slides, less is more. Slides that are overly complicated to follow or busy with information distract from what you are saying. Avoid large movies that may not load and loop or lots of animations that add noise. Keep it simple.

Your pitch deck should not be your technical talk.

You may structure these pitch deck slides as you wish, however consider referencing the lean business canvas for topics areas. For example, here is a common structure for a quick pitch deck:

  • Slide 1: Vision / Elevator Pitch / The Problem
  • Slide 2: Team and Company snapshot
  • Slide 3: Customer Profile / Traction / Validation
  • Slide 4: Market Opportunity / Revenue Model
  • Slide 5: Financials / Go-to-market strategy

Longer pitch decks are also acceptable. See this example of an 11-slide deck.

Finals pitches must be made live and in person at Photonics West by the applicant or a team member named in the application. After the pitch, judges will have about 5 minutes to ask the presenter questions. Audience members may not ask questions during the pitch sessions. 

View previous winners' pitches

One of the best ways to prepare for the competition is to view past winners and their pitches.


Online training and onsite training at Photonics West

Applicants to the Startup Challenge are invited to participate in a series of webinars to help prepare them for the competition and ongoing life as a successful company.

Online training includes
•  Storytelling for Entrepreneurs
•  Creating Opportunities for Customer Discovery 
•  Finding Investors and Funding 
• Financial Benchmarks for Photonics Companies
•  Use of Funds - Representing Company Milestones to Investors

Applicants selected to pitch at Photonics West are invited to a Venture Summit that includes a Investor roundtables, networking, and help refining their business plan. More details will be available on the Entrepreneur program webpages.

Pitch Clinic training includes
•  Business plans: from beginnings to exits
•  Representing product-market fit
•  Identifying decision-makers critical to your success

A networking lunch and additional industry programming will serve to introduce you to the right people to help solve your startup questions. Representatives from IP Law, finance, marketing, partnerships, and capital funding are looking forward to learning about your plan and answering your questions about creating a successful venture.

Other resources

•  Business Model Generation: A handbook for visionaries, game changers and challengers.
•  The Business Model Canvas (PDF)
•  I-Corps Toolkit: provides you with tools, templates and materials
•  Steve Blank's Lean Launchpad Course: a comprehensive starting point