What Funding Meetings Taught Me About Startup Pitches
The day I decided I wanted to spearhead my own projects and watch things materialize from a mere concept, was the day I first discovered the world of venture financing. I was in high school. Business jargons didn’t hold much klout for me and I did not understand their relevance — in hindsight, all that business school has taught me has been to give me the vocabulary to articulate the things I thought made sense to starting new ventures.
I digress. Here at USC I run a $110,000 student fund that allocates funding to the 600-700+ student organizations on campus. While it’s not exactly venture funding (it’s really just accounting — reallocation of resources), I approach my pitch meetings with a similar professionalism that exists in the real world. Over the past year, we’ve heard over 70 pitches and financed about 50 of those. We have certain criteria for what my particular fund can finance and each board has a way of doing things. Overall though, all of our funds share a unified mission — of providing financial assistance to student organizations to push themselves to create value for their constituencies. Much like VCs assisting entrepreneurs in pushing themselves to do more.
So here are some points I would argue work (or at least, increases your chances of some positive remarks):
- Be professional. We are managing other peoples’ money and so we approach the job with a certain professionalism. Pitch meetings are not always black tie affairs but if you walk into the meetings looking like you don’t have yourself together, we are not going to be comfortable with you handling our money.
- Keep it concise. We give you 3-5 minutes to impress us — be prepared and allocate your time well. There is already a formal application process that happens before the boardroom pitch so don’t spend your valuable few minutes talking about the history of your organization. Give us the skinny and impress us with how effectively/efficiently you will spend the money.
- Track record. What have you done already? While the funding is not scarce, we do want to serve as many as possible. For that mission, we want to know that you have tried to raise funding for your event/project in other ways first. This shows us that you and your team are prepared and that gives us confidence that money will be well spent.
- Know your audience. For my fund (Discretionary Fund), I can’t finance certain things — off campus programming, for example. However, I can finance your big pricy venue rentals on campus for Cultural Shows — that’s a $2,000 – $4,000 check right there. Each fund serves specific niches, and if you come in not knowing the nature of the fund you are violating point 1: professionalism. Also, get to know your director first — working with the director, like working with the VC before the actual pitch, helps you to tailor the message more specifically to the people sitting in the room.
- Wow us. Over the year, we see so many pitches. As much as we want to give out as much money as possible (and in an efficient way), bring us impressive stories — it makes the experience a lot smoother for both you and the board.
Finally, a side point is to work with the fund for future events. Like in the startup scene, working with VCs to determine a structured roadmap for where the partnership will go is key to a successful consummation. Work with the fund on future projects — the directors go through the year and see a lot of pitches so they are experienced in noticing potential holes and ideas that hit the spot.
Most entrepreneurs will need to raise funds sometime in their career. For me, I thought it was so fascinating — to speak to Venture Capitalists who had immense experience as financiers and backers of impressive projects and people who had a similar mindset as I — we want to make things and we want to change things. We want to wake up in the morning and sleep at night knowing we have touched the hearts and souls of some people. Perhaps that is a little grandiose but that is the dream — for now and in the future, it’s to give the customer what they wanted and more.
We are here to serve you. Help us help you make an impact.
If you’re at SC and your student organization needs some extra funding, feel free to contact me discfund[at]usc[dot]edu for more information. Always happy to assist.