Silicon Beach Fest – L.A.’s SXSW?

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You get in an elevator and the doors quietly close behind you. As the elevator begins beeping at each floor, you look over to your left and realize the person standing beside you is one of the most prominent startup investors in your area. For a moment you feel the butterflies in your stomach, but within a second they are gone. You feel a rush of confidence come over you. Your nervousness is overcome by excitement; it is time for your elevator pitch!

(For anyone who does not know what an elevator pitch is, it’s quite simple: imagine you hop in an elevator in a N.Y. skyscraper beside an important person, and pitch a summary of your business or value proposition by the time you arrive at your floor somewhere near the top, approx. 30 seconds-2 minutes.)

Often, the first impression is all an entrepreneur gets for a scheduled meeting with an angel investor or VC. And that’s exactly the kind of first impressions that were created at Silicon Beach Fest‘s Startup Showcase in Santa Monica last week.

Silicon Beach fest logoThis was the second annual summer Silicon Beach Fest (SBF) in Los Angeles. Started by DigitalLA,  SBF is “LA’s original and largest startup tech entertainment festival, celebrating the burgeoning tech scene in Los Angeles.” Many people are saying, in a way, it is L.A.’s attempt at their own mini South by Southwest type conference. So far, considering SBF is only in its second year, it is attracting quite a bit of traction. And when you think about it, L.A. is the perfect place for convergence between technology and entertainment.

SBF was many months in the making, and I am glad to have been involved. Along with Sarah Miller, CEO of Axis PR and Entertainment, I organized and co-hosted the Startup Showcase, a pitch competition featuring 40 companies from all over L.A. competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and the first place title. Thursday’s pitches at  ROC (Real Office Centers) in Santa Monica featured some fantastic companies and the Top 10 went on to the finals on Friday afternoon.

Pitches were 3:00 minutes, followed by 2:00 minutes of Q & A. All of our judges offered very helpful and insightful feedback in between asking some challenging questions. But the intensity picked up on Friday, as some of the judges really tore into the companies and drilled them on specific points. Although the audience thought it was harsh, each of the presenters I spoke with said they were very thankful for all the feedback, including the critical feedback, as this was most useful.

In the end, when we tabulated the scores it was very close! Our winner of the Startup Showcase was DoubleBeam, a company specializing in mobile retailing solutions. Judges saw several characteristics about the company that they liked, but what stood out most is DoubleBeam’s ability for businesses to save money on POS transactions through e-check transactions, which are a fraction of the cost of traditional debit and credit cards. They save up to 75% versus credit transactions, and even 15% off debit transactions, which is huge for businesses, especially on a large scale.

Overall it was a great event, and we received a lot of positive feedback about the showcase and the companies. Silicon Beach Fest attracted over 3,000 attendees and featured more than 250 speakers on more than 60 panels in 17 themed tracks over the course of four days. SBF is very well positioned to become a SXSW in a league of its own. For a festival that is barely 2 years old, it is evidence of the tech/entertainment revolution that is already happening in Los Angeles all around us.

For any entrepreneur wanting to perfect their elevator pitch, go out and pitch at one of these type of events (contact me if you need some resources). It is the best way to see what works and doesn’t work. While there, connect with successful entrepreneurs and find out what has worked for them. *Just do not get caught up in the excitement of networking with no end-goal in mind. It is easy to hand out a lot of business cards and forget that meaningful connections are what really matter.*

Watch successful pitches, apply these learnings to your own, and practice repeatedly in front of others while getting feedback. This is the only way to hone yours. That way, next time you get in the elevator and (insert famous investor of your choice here) is standing next to you, you will see a smile on their face and a meeting in your calendar by the time you arrive and the doors open.


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