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Rock Your Hackathon Pitch

By Melissa Sassi posted Mon June 21, 2021 07:46 AM


Pitching often remains an important element in any hackathon. It’s an opportunity for you and your team to strut your stuff. As the Chief Penguin of IBM Z – Student & Entrepreneur Experience, I am also the Global Head of the IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator. Why does this matter to you? I have the wonderful opportunity to review thousands of pitches per year from early-stage startup founders and students hackathon teams.

I transitioned my career to one of social good where I partly give credit to the hackathon team I created and led during my tenure at Microsoft that ended up growing to more than 50 people worldwide.  I can proudly say that my hackathon project called Devices4Good revolutionized device giving at Microsoft across the globe after having an opportunity to pitch to Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO. We won first place in the Inspired Me category worldwide out of 4,000 teams. How’s that for some bragging rights?!

Want to learn how hackathons can help boost your experience on your CV and help you prepare for the future of work? Check this livestream out with our very own Shari Chiara from Call for Code!

All hackathons I have ever taken part in or organized required a pitch presentation and/or live pitch; therefore, it’s an important element for taking home prizes offered by hackathon organizers. I have taken my skills and knowledge across the startup and student hackathon ecosystem and created a cheat sheet to help you rock your pitch presentation.

A pitch is a brief, visually engaging presentation that gives your audience insight into your hackathon project, and serves as an important element of taking home a prize. It also helps prepare for a life of entrepreneurship or intrapreneurial thinking.

Write the Best Problem Statement Ever

Start with your problem statement. What’s that big, wicket problem you have identified and are trying to solve with the solution you have created. Be sure to be concise and specific where people can understand the problem you are solving easily. Plan to solve one problem. Include data to back up that your problem is sizeable enough to be addressed, and this may include percentages or volume or financials. Be data driven where you include evidence that the problem exists, check the source to avoid conspiracy, don’t’ get caught up in media misinformation or disinformation, and ensure your data is reliable, credible, and reputable. Perhaps try persuading and influencing your audience via a real person or actual scenario that demonstrates the impact it has on a specific community and/or the world. It should include five question words, including what, who, where, when, and how.

1.       What is the problem exactly?
2.       Who exactly has the problem?
3.       Where exactly does the problem exist?
4.       When does the problem come to life?
5.       How exactly does the problem impact others?

Think about the Motivation behind your Project

Think about the power of storytelling where you leave your audience feeling as if you are the only one or team to solve the problem you have presented. Emotionally connect to them and with them as if you are bringing them along your journey. It could be something you have faced personally or someone you know.

Build a Diverse & Inclusive Team

Diversity and inclusion are two keys to your success throughout life, including your hackathon, as your team should be reflective of your audience. This includes different backgrounds (technical and nontechnical), ages, expertise, abilities, and the like. You should also think about the key roles that individuals play across the team where they are also brought to life and participate in the pitch presentation. I am a big fan of also interviewing subject matter experts and/or inflicted individuals throughout the life of a hackathon to ensure you truly understand the problem and have created solutions and actions that truly incorporate the insights of people beyond the hackathon team.

Feel the Product or Service

Introduce your amazing solution to the world, while also demonstrating that your team is THE ONLY TEAM to solve the problem. Again, emotionally connect them to your team, your solution, and truly bring it to life for the judges. This may include a live demo, video, or pictures to illustrate the solution or proof of concept.

Bring the Short-Term Roadmap to Life

Focus on what you would deliver in the first six to twelve months, while demonstrating the key features and benefits of your solution. Showcase your tech chops by reflecting upon the code that will be shared and consider including your architectural diagram as part of your submission. Think about a quick overview of what would be coming in version two of your solution should you carry forward bringing it to life post-hackathon. I’m a big fan of breaking down the roadmap into quarters with key milestones. Again, focus on version one or you will end up being everywhere and nowhere, which will lead to what I call the spin of creating nothing. This same advice applies to the world of startups.

Ensure there’s Product-Market Fit

Tie your solution to the problem statement while demonstrating that your solution actually solves the problem you identified, people are ready for your solution, and are willing to pay money for your product, service, and/or solution.

Rock the Competition

Highlight the other solutions or alternatives that exist for your target market, audience, or potential client base. This may include direct or indirect competitors. Know your competitive set and showcase your understanding. Consider how you will compete by knowing their failures, successes, features, benefits, and why your solution has better product-market fit or is a more viable solution compared to the competition.

Create Buyer Personas

Understand how your solution addresses the wants, needs, aspiration, and pain points of your target market. This means incorporating design thinking into the mix, which is essentially empathizing with your audience by talking to them and with them, as you should be customer centric in everything and anything you do. Again, empathize with your audience. How? Interview them. You can easily Google buyer persona templates and find loads online.

Showcase your Market Size

What’s the total addressable market and what do you think is achievable? Put this into financial terms. Include the demographics of your customer, geography of focus, and include a testimonial from a potential customer who might be interested in using your solution should you bring it to life. If you have time to build the solution for a hackathon, can test it out with people, and get some quotes…even better. Include a picture or a video with the quote. Again, bring it to life through storytelling and emotional connection.

Highlight your Marketing Tactics

Describe how you will reach your customers from a marketing perspective, which may include activities such as influencer marketing, ads, print, events, affiliates/partners, email, word of mouth, social media, events, and the like.

Showcase your Desire to Do Well & Do Good via your Business Model

It’s possible to make the world a better place and gain revenue. Don’t forget this. Describe how you will make money and what you expect that revenue to look like exactly.

Ask for Investment

Don’t be afraid to ask for something to bring your hackathon project to life. You will never get a no if you never ask the question. Be realistic and consider what’s required to make it happen in the short-term. Don’t worry about going too big. Make the ask and let the cards fall where they may.

Close & Captivate your Audience

People remember how you start and end. Reemphasize your key points and open the floor for questions if you are in a live pitch scenario.

Best of luck with your hackathon project and keep rocking! Did we miss anything? Let us know via the discussion tab. Used this as a guide for a hackathon project? Tell us how this helped you via the discussion tab.

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Your Chief Penguin

Melissa Sassi
Chief Penguin
IBM Z – Student & Entrepreneur Experience