The Art Of The Pitch - Strategies to help women entrepreneurs secure capital to grow their business
Updated: Apr 29, 2019
Are you a woman entrepreneur with a dream who needs investment to make it happen? The reality is you’ll face more challenges in your quest to secure funding compared to your male counterparts. The good news is that knowledge is the first step to the success you desire.
Statistics show that male and female entrepreneurs do indeed fare differently when raising capital, observes Julie Ellis, Principal at Julie Ellis and Company, and co-founder of Canadian business success story Mabel’s Labels.
“There’s a huge opportunity to change that story,” she told the women gathered for the Pitching to Male Investors – Women’s Edition session at the Accelerator for Women in Entrepreneurship (AWE) series at Innovation Factory.
For insights to help women overcome those odds, Ellis was joined by Lily Lam, Senior Director Investment Portfolio at Ontario Centres of Excellence; Nicole Mortimer, founder of ZippyJamz; and Shann McGrail, executive director of the Haltech Innovation Centre.
All have experienced first hand, the challenges women entrepreneurs face when pitching for investment, typically to a predominantly male audience. In her role as a director at Angel One Network Inc., Lam actively encourages more female angel investors to come to the table – and works to help women in business overcome the biases and double standards in their way.
While every entrepreneur seeking investment must have a compelling business story and all the key components of a pitch deck (see graphic), presentation skills are also critical, Lam observed.
“It’s called a road show for a reason … There are things that can, in a subtle and understated way, hurt female entrepreneurs,” she noted, offering the following strategies for success:
Personal stories – a little goes a long way
Starting your pitch with a personal story is potentially risky. “I’ve had entrepreneurs spend way too much time on that,” Lam said. “You have to find a way to relate to your audience.” A better approach may be to depersonalize the story a little or to use examples or find other ways to engage the audience, such as asking, “who here has this challenge?”
To illustrate, Mortimer noted that when pitching her innovative ZippyJamz baby sleeper design, “all guys understood diaper changing” and any first impressions that her business was only a “cute passion project” were dispelled when they learned she had filed a patent, had been to China twice working with suppliers, and other details.
· Be conscious of nervous tics and avoid physical distractions - don’t play with your hair or fiddle with jewelry (especially if it’s noisy) or other items. Lam shared that she’ll hold a pen in her hand to control any physical tics.
· Speak slowly and confidently, and choose your words carefully, avoiding “filler” words and pausing periodically. Take control of the flow of dialogue.
· Own the physical space – one tactic to bolster yourself is to stand with your feet apart like an A-frame.
Dress for success
· When it comes to physical attire – your clothing and jewelry – conservative and professional is better (despite a general migration to more casual attire).
· “People with capital want to see you’re going to rise to the occasion,” Lam said. “Try to be your best professional self.”
Build a connection with your audience
· Strive to understand the mindset of prospective investors and prepare alternative pitch decks depending on the audience.
· Don’t assume audience members are experts in your area – provide the complete explanations a non-expert would need.
· Stick to your allotted time (if you’re given 15 minutes, speak for 15 minutes).
· Being thoughtful is more important than being ‘right.’ “At the end of the day, it’s not necessarily about right or wrong, it’s about a connection,” Lam said.
· Be clear about your aspirations – explain the big picture in terms of where you fit in the market. Think practical, dream big and “show both if you have it.”
· Answer the questions and be consistent in your answers.
· Be knowledgeable about the financial and transactional elements of the deal.
Practice, practice, practice
· Videotape yourself and evaluate what you see.
· Have someone else look at your pitch – does it flow well?
“The common theme is knowledge,” McGrail observed: knowing your numbers, knowing your path and knowing yourself so you can turn a negative into a positive.
“The only thing we can control is ourselves and delivering our best self,” Mortimer summed up.
“Like all skills, practice is key. When you’re sending yourself into a room – listen to what they’re saying and watch their body language and you can pick up what they are actually looking for; rather than go on autopilot and ram your ideas down their throat. Don’t just present, have an engaging conversation with your audience.
“Show them you are prepared and, if you know your numbers and know yourself, the right investors will come along.”