Britain’s biggest small business competition

August 26, 2014 10:12 am The UK Domain

Getting the wheels in motion for a new business can seem like a daunting task: there’s plenty to think about and much to learn, from pinning down a business name to getting your head around the mechanics of setting up a website. Yet if your idea is viable and you’re passionate enough, these challenges shouldn’t deter you.

For those who are serious about setting up a business but need a bit of help along the way, there is the option to pitch your idea to potential investors and experts. Britain’s biggest small business competition, The Pitch, offers the opportunity to do just that.

Dan Martin, editor of and founder of The Pitch, explains how the competition started and the potential opportunities it offers to budding entrepreneurs.

What inspired you to start The Pitch?

“Believe it or not, the idea actually came about by accident. In 2008 we sponsored a very small local design festival in Bristol. We realised we needed to find a way to promote the event so we had a brainstorm and came up with the idea to start a competition that allowed people to pitch their ideas to us in a similar way to Dragons’ Den.

We started from humble beginnings: in an old industrial fire station, which didn’t look too dissimilar to the Dragons’ Den set-up (minus the piles of money on the judges’ tables). At first it was mainly students who entered but it soon gained momentum and started to attract entrepreneurs from across the UK.”

What’s the purpose of The Pitch?

“Some small business competitions just offer simple award ceremonies; we want to offer more than that. We provide practical benefits to those who need it. The whole purpose of The Pitch is to empower those with great ideas by giving them the chance to connect with business experts and gain advice throughout the process. It’s free to enter and even those who don’t get involved can benefit from the advice in our blogs and toolkits. We work closely with our experts to ensure all the articles and pieces within the toolkit are relevant, offering practical tips and advice. For those who do take part we offer support at every touch point during the competition.”

Who can get involved and what’s in it for them?

“Anyone who has a business idea and businesses that have been trading for less than three years can apply. We do get people who enter who don’t even have a website. They literally just have an idea on a piece of paper. Those involved have the chance to make invaluable connections by networking with other businesses, our investors and experts as well as the opportunity to win our prize package and be crowned The Pitch 2014 Champion.”

What part do the sponsors play throughout the event?

“A big part. The sponsors really are key to what we do. It’s not just about promotion; they don’t just stick their logos on our website, they actually play an important educational role. We choose our sponsors very carefully to ensure they are relevant to the audience so that they can offer advice from their years of expertise.

We also want the sponsors to get as much out of the experience as the participants do, so we make sure they are involved in every step of the competition, from supplying content for the online toolkits to attending the bootcamp sessions to meet the contestants and give them expert advice. Some of the sponsors have come back for more over the past few years, so we must be doing something right!”

Who are the judges and what’s their role in The Pitch?

“The role the judges play is crucial. Using their years of experience and skills they review each and every entry in detail so that we can pick the cream of the crop. With so many innovative ideas coming in, this job is by no means easy. The panel is a mix of sponsor representatives and independent investors. Their expertise ranges from successful serial entrepreneurs to seasoned investors and accountancy gurus.

One of our judges, Karen Darby, who has set up a number of successful businesses, has supported The Pitch since 2009 and for the past three years she has very kindly provided a year’s mentoring to the overall champion.”

You have now shortlisted your top 100 entries. What was your criteria for selecting the lucky 100?

“The main criteria is that the entrants must have a viable business idea, be passionate and show commitment. This year we added an optional video element to the application process. This allowed the contestants to include a 30-second video clip, which we strongly advised them to do. Many of our judges say that they invest in the person not just the idea, so this element has been a great way for the judges to get to see the personality behind the business.”

The next stage after the shortlist is announced is bootcamp. Is it as daunting as it sounds?

“No, there’s no sergeant major barking orders. It isn’t military but it is tough because it’s an intensive day full of various sessions and activities to get involved in. Our coaches will run sessions on how to deliver the perfect pitch and practical advice on how to write a digital marketing plan. At the end of the day, participants have 90 seconds to pitch their idea again in front of a camera. There will also be tasks for them to complete based on what they have learnt at bootcamp. This might sound daunting to some, but if you’re serious about your business you have to be prepared to be put under the spotlight; we know the people we have shortlisted are capable, we just want to help them to refine their ideas.”

When is the final and what should the finalists expect?

“After bootcamp, the judges will revisit each entry and pick 30 to go through to the final round. The final takes place in Bristol on 23rd October. Each finalist will pitch in front of a live audience to compete for the title of The Pitch 2014 Champion! The final will also offer contestants the chance to network with peers, get exposure to investors and expert judges, attend expert-led workshops, and hear real-life case studies.”

What will the winner get out of being crowned champion?

“There is a huge prize package worth thousands of pounds up for grabs. For a start, Karen Darby will once again be offering her services as a mentor for a whole year to the lucky winner. They will be allowed a minimum of three face-to-face meetings with her and unlimited contact over email and phone. We also have an array of goodies from our supporters such as a tablet, accountancy help, PR consultancy, free IT support for two years, two years of internet security services, £250 worth of minicab journeys with Minicabster. The list goes on… ”

Entries for this year have closed but you can keep up with The Pitch 2014 events by following @The_Pitch on Twitter and joining in the conversation using #ThePitch14.

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