What Does It Take to Win the Rice Business Plan Competition?

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Check out the team from Brigham Young University, the first-place winner for the 2015 Rice Business Plan Competition:

KiLife Tech and their product, the Kiband, made a strong impression on the 275 judges. The end result?

Triumphing over 41 other competitors, they received over $500K in cash and prizes.

Note: is a well-known fact that much of the reward from the Rice Business Plan competition involves in-kind donations and services, such as legal guidance, patent services and other attractive entrepreneurial advantages. So, the award was not 100% cash…but still, some things are more valuable than money to a growing start-up!

What can we identify in this 15-minute pitch, as evidence of the team’s expertise? Here are three key elements that stood out for me:

  • Handling Humor: The two lead presenters begin with a joke, as Zack contrasts his bumbling dating life with his partner, Spencer Behrend – the family man with four kids. Humor is a double-edged sword, and being able to handle it effectively (especially in a high-stakes pitch like this one) is impressive. And, at 6:32, even the CTO gets into the act, as he introduces himself with the classic line, “Are you ready to talk nerdy with me?” Their self-effacing humor seems to play well (check out the joke at 8:10). However, playing for laughs can be a slippery slope if it’s not handled correctly. These guys seemed to hit just the right notes, and the audience responds very well.
  • A well-oiled machine: even with the significant video slip-up at the beginning, the team is unphased. We can’t see what’s in their video, but I imagine it to be impressive and illustrative of the product. (Why? Because I found another KiBand video on YouTube here – and the production values are pretty high). Teams have to be prepared for technical hiccups, it’s a fact of life that technology can befriend or betray a presentation – you have to make sure that your story is stronger than your electronics. Slides and videos need to be simple and powerful – especially at this level in the competition. Overloading the audience with bullet points and minutiae actually detracts from the story. It’s a counter-intuitive interpretation of the saying, “The devil is in the details”: If you focus too much on the details, or deliver the wrong details, your presentation is going to hell. Resist the devil and he will flee from you: the simplest message is the strongest. Parse out the most compelling details for the presentation, save the rest for the prospectus, and have the numbers on a appendix slide if you think you will need them. But the pitch is the place for the story to engage; the numbers are a “tell me more…”
  • Social Impact – the appeal of the product is universal; everyone wants to keep their children safe. And the scenario – of a kid lost in a crowd – is an instant hot-button, labeled “FEAR”, for any parent. The clear IP protection explains the barriers to entry, leading into a market penetration strategy. The team doesn’t rest on the universal appeal, or the size of the multi-billion dollar market: they move into trial info and continue to enroll the audience in the dream.
  • Where Are the Financials?: Note how the team focuses on the narrative, not barraging the judges with numbers. The story is the story – the team doesn’t seem to fall into the trap of letting the numbers speak for themselves. Of course, they never do. Numbers support the story. Investors (and judges) are captivated by the story – which is supported (not dominated) by the numbers. The way that the market has responded is not exactly quantifiable – but referencing the Consumer Electronics Show, the excitement of kids who have worn the product, and the potential for licensing carries the narrative – and entices the judges to use their imagination.

For more on Kiband’s story, see the origin story video featuring CEO Spencer Behrens. Or visit their website at http://kiband.com

About the Author

SEC Pitch Competition Winners with Chris WestfallChris Westfall is the US National Elevator Pitch Champion. He has coached clients onto Shark Tank, Dragon’s Den in Canada, and Shark Tank – Australia. He has coached the winners of the following national and international competitions:

Recognized as the MBA Communicator of the Year, at the top-rated school for business communication skills (according to The Princeton Review), he is an award-winning MBA instructor at a top 20 business school, and a former board member for the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas at Dallas. He is the publisher of seven books. Follow him on twitter @Westfallonline

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