If the odds of success were stacked against Daniela Blanco, she didn’t get the memo.
Blanco fled Venezuela after the country’s economic collapse. While pursuing her Ph.D. in chemistry at NYU, she entered a prestigious international pitch competition and won first place, taking home the $100,000 grand prize.
Blanco is one of several student entrepreneurs featured in Own the Room, an uplifting and inspiring documentary on Disney Plus. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Blanco and award-winning filmmakers Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster, who call their documentary “A love letter to entrepreneurs and small business owners.”
Their pitch tips are invaluable for entrepreneurs, leaders, or business professionals who need to express their ideas clearly and convincingly.
1. Share personal stories.
Daniela began her winning pitch with a personal story. “My name is Daniela Blanco. I was born in tropical Venezuela,” she began. “I was four years old when I told my mom that I wanted to do science, but the good kind of science, the kind of science that helped people.”
Blanco told me that when she pitches potential investors and partners for her startup, Sunthetics (a renewable chemical company), they’re not just interesting in the technology. They need to believe in the person they’re backing. “To sell yourself as an entrepreneur, you need to show people the numbers, of course, but also tell them why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Blanco says.
After explaining the technical problems of creating materials like nylon sustainably, Blanco offered the solution her company is researching. She returned to the story of her mother to end the pitch on an inspiring note.
“I don’t feel discouraged by all the challenges that I’m going to face. Without realizing it, my mom taught me exactly how to be an entrepreneur: she always encouraged me to find my purpose. She was always a perfect example of determination, and that is how, as a female engineer, entrepreneur, or immigrant, I keep fighting for my dream. Whatever comes next, I know that, just like my mom, I am unbreakable.”
The judges, along with everyone in the audience, applauded and rose to their feet. In ten minutes, Blanco had won them over.
2. Express your big idea in one sentence.
Regular readers of my column or books know that I’m a big believer in condensing your idea until you can express it in one short sentence.
Filmmakers Costantini and Foster say, “If you can’t summarize your idea in one line, you need to practice more. One line shows that you have a clear idea of what your business is and what you hope to accomplish.”
Although Blanco’s technology is complicated, her mission (and her pitch) is simple: “My mission is to make the chemical industry more sustainable.”
Give your audience the big picture in one sentence before diving into the details.
3. Practice like a performer.
Costantini told me she was shocked at the amount of practice the finalists put into their 10-minute pitch. They rehearsed on planes, in hotel rooms, and hallways. “The thing I learned is that there is a lot of preparation that goes into making something look effortless,” says Costantini.
Practicing a presentation like a theatrical performance will give you confidence and calm your nerves before the main event.
“Nobody else in the room knows that you’re nervous if you don’t let them know it,” says Blanco. “With practice, you can take your time and walk into the room like you own it.”
For Blanco, practice has paid off. Her company, Sunthetics, has raised more than $400K in funding, thanks in large part to pitch competitions.
“I have found that, especially in science, the most important part of communicating your idea is to make it so simple that you can talk to anyone about it,” says Blanco. “It’s a common mistake to think that the more complex, the more complicated you make something, the smarter you’re going to sound. That’s not true. People only get behind what they understand.”
Blanco’s right. You can have a great idea, but the secret to turning that idea into a reality is to convince others that it’s a great idea.