Launchpad competition blog - David Gammon

03 Jun 2016

Lord Alan Sugar has recently been appointed as the government’s 'Enterprise Tsar’ to encourage more young people to start their own businesses. He reports that 800,000 jobs could be created if more young people chose entrepreneurship. Clearly this shows that there is a significant untapped potential from entrepreneurial talent that, if unlocked, could further benefit and enrich our economy and society.


However, the skills vital to entrepreneurial success, such as basic financial acumen, networking and management skills are not currently part of the school curriculum. These abilities must often be acquired outside of formal education. The Royal Academy of Engineering’s Launchpad Competition is about helping ambitious young entrepreneurs realise their ideas and achieve commercial success. The winner of the competition will receive the JC Gammon Award in recognition of their excellence and potential in engineering entrepreneurship and innovation.


The JC Gammon Award includes a ‘no strings attached’ cash prize of up to £15,000.  During the time it takes to convert an idea into an investable proposition the entrepreneur often has to give up part-time work; a cash prize can come in very handy indeed during that boot-strapped lean start-up period!


As well as - or perhaps, more importantly than - the cash element, the JC Gammon Award winner also receives membership of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Enterprise Hub which connects them to world-class mentoring and business advice from industry leaders, as well as networking opportunities with leading UK business angels groups, serial individual angel investors and other early stage specialists.


Last year’s winner, James Roberts from mOm Incubators Limited, developed an innovative portable inflatable incubator that may significantly reduce premature baby death in remote rural areas and developing countries. He is in the process of closing his first external equity funding round. Other finalists included the inventor of a compostable tent targeted at the festival market and a remote gas monitor that notifies people their supplies are low via a smartphone app. Applications for the 2016 Launchpad Competition are open until the 16 June, and I would urge anyone aged 16-25 with a great idea for a technology business to apply.


One of the areas we see that young entrepreneurs need the most support with is on pitching to potential investors – an activity that can be rather daunting. I have been listening to entrepreneurs pitch for over a decade and hope the following tips will help give you an edge:


1) Rehearse


Practice your pitch again and again and know your subject matter inside out. If you are asking for investment, then your audience will expect you to be an expert on it, to be confident about your knowledge, and to show some passion for the field. Be honest too; don’t try to bluff your way through. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s ok to say so. Offering to find the answer and email the questioner later shows commitment and a genuine interest in self-development.


2) Make yourself presentable


This sounds obvious, but make sure you are as investable as an individual as a business proposition. Someone who has taken care to dress smartly gives the message that they take similar care with their business practices and financials - something investors want comfort on before parting with their money.


3) Be realistic


Be sensible about your own worth and valuation. Don't compare yourself to the most expensive company in history and expect to achieve the same result. Often a unique and impossible to replicate set of circumstances has contributed to their success. The investors will immediately dismiss anything that seems like inspired guesswork. It is far better to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way round.


4) Don’t just broadcast


This is often forgotten and many people get stuck in ‘transmit’ mode when pitching. Yes, it is important to ensure you’re giving investors all the information but it is also wise to show interest in them. If you find yourself talking to an investor you don’t know about, ask which companies they have backed in the past, or if they have any expertise in your field.


5) Learn from others


Never see your business or idea as a finished article, and be open to suggestions. You’d be amazed how often an insightful comment can change the direction of a business for the better, or an outsider’s perspective aids in uncovering hidden flaws in your original plans. After the pitch, it does no harm to ask how you can improve it. That way, if you’re not successful in securing funding, then you have still got something valuable out of the experience - and improved your chances for the next time.

Related

Business plans, table 2

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