SXSW Pitch 2021

Award programs and pitch competitions have something in common. They are great ways to garner more visibility for your business. Winning drives more visibility for your company. More visibility drives potential customers, partners and, maybe even funding if you are a startup. But how do you win?

SXSW Pitch is one of the world’s largest startup contests. Some of the world’s most exciting, innovative, and cutting-edge new technology will be presented March 18-19, 2021 as part of the SXSW Online digital experience.

To date, more than 550 companies have participated in the SXSW Pitch events – many, many more applied. Eighty percent of the participants received funding and acquisitions of participating companies were in excess of $7.6 billion. Among the participants are some names you might recognize, including: Klout, ICON, Hipmunk, Wildfire, TubeMogul, Siri, Foodspotting and Tango.

I’ve been on the SXSW Pitch Advisory Board for several years. In addition to pushing (sometimes begging and pleading) for local companies to apply (OMG, the benefits) I’m also involved in the judging. It’s my job to review dozens of applications, visit the websites, view the demo videos and provide feedback for every startup that took the time to apply. Usually the first round of judging takes place over Thanksgiving. (It’s always fun to try to fit in reading more than 100 applications with cooking a turkey and hosting family from far and wide. This year we didn’t have this issue as the timeline has altered and judging concludes this Wednesday.

Once the judges are done, our scores are aggregated and the applications get sent on to the next round. Without giving away anything confidential, I’d like to share ten observations and suggestions that could prove helpful to people applying for this and other awards program in the future.

  1. Please answer the questions. ALL the questions or at least MOST of the questions. And, if you are going to go to the trouble of applying, please answer the questions that are asked. (I.e. Not some other seemingly random question.) If a question isn’t relevant, tell me why.
  2. Be clear about who your product is for and what problem it solves. Tell me a story
  3. Don’t just salt your application with VC-ready buzzwords. If you are going to tell me you use Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning in your solution, tell me how and what these technologies do. And, please, no one really needs the AI-powered ice cream maker. (Hyperbole? Yes, but not as far off as you would think.)
  4. When you are applying to one of the largest and most prestigious global startup events, give ample thought as to how your product is going to change the world. Now, include that information in the application.
  5. If you want to win awards and pitch at big events, you may have to think a little differently about the make up of your team. If it is up to me, I am going to pick the diverse team of founders over the team of five white guys every time. That diverse team brings in different perspectives and areas of expertise and may be better positioned to win in the marketplace.
  6. I have more than 100 applications to judge. Make sure you give me the right link to the right website, in the right format so the link actually works.
  7. I have more than 100 applications to judge – part 2. Don’t make me sign into a password protected, 2-factor authentication site that requires a verification email, just to see your site.
  8. I have more than 100 applications to judge – part 3. Instead of making me try to figure out how to use your application, make a video and give us a link.
  9. Get someone (outside your company preferably) to review your submission before you apply. Do they understand what you are trying to say?
  10. Have someone proofread your application. A second set of eyes on such an important document can only help!

To sum it all up – there is a real value in applying for pitch contests like SXSW but you need to take your time and assemble a winning application.