Entrepreneurial Spark – Life’s a pitch

This week I completed Entrepreneurial Spark’s  Acceler-8 TM Start-up Bootcamp.  Note the trademark.  The trademark implies a confidence, an unwavering certainty, that the program will be successful, globally recognised and copied.  A useful metaphor then, for Jim Duffy, and the E-Spark’s team’s, entrepreneurial mindset.

Entrepreneurial Spark’s proposition is a deceptively simple one.  Teach Scottish start-up business founders to:

  1. Think and act “entrepreneurially”.
  2. Teach them how to pitch their business

There’s much more on offer than that.  There’s support, advice, networking, access to individuals like Sir Tom Hunter, and Lord Willie Haughey, there’s free office space, everything you need to bootstrap a business.  But it always comes back to entrepreneurship, the pitch and the individual.  Get that right, they say, and success will naturally follow.

I’ve been involved with E-Spark for around 10 months now.  As a natural cynic and know-it-all I was happy to take Jim’s free office space, I grudgingly attended network events, inwardly cringing as people stumbled through their pitches, but slowly, something started to change – I got it.  Not overnight, not immediately, but I started to see the point.  I saw the change in people and their businesses.  I got what E-Spark were doing.

King of the Pitches

At E-Spark there is an unrelenting focus on pitching – the Elevator Pitch, the 3 minute pitch, the 10 minute pitch, pitch it and they will come, you get the idea.  But of all of them, the Elevator Pitch is King.

Initially I railed against the idea that you could boil a business, any business, certainly not our business into a 60 second sound-bite.  But the power of the pitch, it’s evil genius, is to force you to strip out all the fluff and identify and focus on the core central pillar of your business.

The exercise may make you realise that you don’t have a core, what you thought was important isn’t, it’ll make you understand what makes your business tick and what numbers are important, it will make you realise a dozen things.  But through constant refinement you get to that core central pillar.  Congratulations, you know your business – everything else will flow from there.

A fine line between confidence and hubris

If there’s a criticism to be levelled at E-Spark it’s that it may lure the unwary into the belief that a slick pitch, and a confident demeanor is enough to get by.  By forcing people out of their comfort zone and to be competitive, there’s a danger that from the outside looking in it appears like an extended episode of the Apprentice.

There’s been a number of occasions when I wished someone had thought before opening their gob, or acted with a bit more humility.  One particularly unedifying moment, during Bootcamp, had 3 people scrambling for a tenner.  Which led to a spate of people trying to outshine and be noticed more than others.

Confidence and knowing your business are key, but arrogance and showing off will make you look like a fool in front experienced business people.

Frequent reference to the Founder’s Dilemma – a Hobson’s Choice of Cash versus King was presented as the only possible reasons for starting a business.  I’d argue both are side-effects of success, and believing-in and selling-others-on your vision.

In the long-run, however, these are minor criticisms regarding what is a truly revolutionary concept and program.  In fairness you’re encouraged to question and disagree with what is being presented.  Additionally the program includes checks and balances in the form of the formidable enablers – who provide advice and guidance to keep you focussed and on track.

Winning

E-Spark has been inspired by, and modelled on Boston’s Babson College and the  Mass Challenge program where businesses pitch for a prize fund of $1million.  Incredibly, in less than 18 months the E-Spark team have managed to set-up a similar sized pot of cash and competition in Scotland know as the Edge fund.

This summer 16 out of 18 winners, of which we were one :-), had come through the E-Spark program.  E-Spark businesses have created more than 50 new jobs, since the program started.  Irrefutable evidence that the program works, and is making a real difference to the Start-Up scene and the economy of Scotland.

Anyone who is thinking of starting a business is Scotland would be crazy not to join the program.  The support, the energy, the network and the enthusiasm of all involved will get your business soaring.  There’s a mantra that is frequently seen and heard in the office that sums it all up.  If you’re starting a business in Scotland – GoDo at E-Spark.

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