Five Qs: Lauren Bigelow of the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition

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In its fourth year, the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition — aimed at nurturing entrepreneurial activity among startup entrepreneurs  — will be held Nov. 12-14 in Detroit at the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit, the Guardian Building, and the Max M. Fisher Music Center. Marketed as the largest business plan competition in North America, with more than 50 businesses competing for $1 million in cash and in-kind awards, the contest brings together international firms and collegiate students to pitch their ideas and network with investors. (An international business must agree to move to Michigan if they are one of the top three prize winners). Lauren Bigelow, executive director of AMIC, spoke with DBusiness Daily News about making the most of a pitch and how and why the public should get involved.

DBDN: What tips do you have for companies pitching their ideas to investors and venture capitalists?

LB. Like any good speech, know your audience. Be succinct in your language. Researching them ahead of time, knowing what they like and don’t like, using their current portfolio for business metaphors, and showing that you know them and have done research on them is critical. There are people who send out information to hundreds of investors who may not be in their field. Respecting everybody’s time and making sure that your message is clear is absolutely critical. Even if they don’t invest, venture capital is a community. If they think it’s an interesting company or technology, they will pass it along. Focus on the message-driven part of your business if you’re raising investment capital.

DBDN: What are your essential rules for a great pitch?

LB: Enthusiasm is probably number one for me. It’s important to inspire confidence and to explain how people are going to make money from this. It’s great that the technology is going to save a life or save a river, but at the end of the day, the investor really wants to know how it is going to make them money.

DBDN: Do you have any insight about what investors will be looking for from entrepreneurs?

LB: Investing in a company is very much like a relationship or a marriage. At the end of the day, the investors need to have an internal rate of return that’s good. They are looking for increasing revenue and increasing profits. In terms of what they’re interested in, there are a number of different firms across Michigan in varied industries. That’s why we did the eight different sectors of the competition (advanced materials, advanced transportation, alternative energy, information technology, life science, medical devices, next generation manufacturing, and products and services), to put on display the different industries in Michigan that have great entrepreneurial work in them.

DBDN: In what ways can the public benefit from attending the competition?

LB: If they are interested in starting their own business or in getting investment capital for a business, this is incredibly educational. If they’re in the maker/tinker community, they get to see new products and technologies. Tony Scott, now the CIO of VMware, has done everything in the corporate world. He’ll be the keynote speaker. He is such an incredible wealth of information.

DBDN: How can competitors and aspiring entrepreneurs make the most of this event?

LB: They can come and watch the pitches. Listening to the questions the investors ask, listening to the back and forth and what they focus on is fascinating. There will be a lot of opportunities for networking. Seeing people and getting to know them a little bit better, at the student level and company level. It’s an opportunity to meet people who can fund or mentor you. The people who have participated have seen great value in it.

For more information about the competition, visit acceleratemichigan.eventbrite.com.

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