Designing a Pitchfest for Your Event

Author: Barbara Palmer       

Pitch Fest

The International Society for Technology in Education launched its own Pitch Fest five years ago. (ISTE photo)

More organizations are bringing startups and investors together at their annual events, but the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) launched its own Pitch Fest five years ago. 

Those who stand in the spotlight at the annual Pitch Fest and those who vote on their pitches from the audience may be more interchangeable than most. A number of the startup founders who have participated in ISTE’s Pitch Fest have been teachers “who saw a need in their classroom and figured out a way to fill it,” said Angela Price, ISTE’s senior manager of corporate relations.


Angela Price

The Pitch Fest already was underway when Price arrived at ISTE three years ago, but it still requires a significant amount of work, she said. Convene asked Price to talk about the nuts and bolts of planning the event, for those who might be considering launching a pitch competition of their own. Here’s what she said to keep in mind.

Development Time: In the beginning, there’s a long list of decisions to be made, Price said, including deciding how startups can apply, determining eligibility requirements, setting the rules, and coming up with a plan for promoting the event.

Selecting Finalists: The most time-consuming task is selecting the finalists from the submitted applications. For that, Price has outside help. The Pitch Fest’s sponsor supplies volunteers from the startup community who sift through the piles of applicants and determine the finalists.

Research: Once a group of finalists is chosen, “you have to do your due diligence,” researching whether the applicants have accurately represented themselves, Price said. Occasionally, Price has encountered larger, established companies misrepresenting themselves as startups, she said.

Coaching: ISTE provides coaching for the selected finalists. “There’s a big difference between making a pitch to venture capitalists,” Price said, “and to end users.”

On-Site Logistics:  At the event itself, “there’s a lot juggling” to be done to make the pitch competition run smoothly, Price said. “You need an emcee, and someone to run the time to make sure that those pitching don’t go over” their allotted time. The ISTE Pitch Fest is organized around five-minute pitches with two minutes for questions from the judges.

Voting: When planning a pitchfest, you’ll also need to figure out how the audience will vote, Price said. At ISTE, the audience texts votes, which are combined with the judges’ votes.

Prize: Although prizes vary depending on who is sponsoring the Pitch Fest, ISTE traditionally awards the winners a booth in the following year’s exhibition hall and a corporate association membership. The real draw for participants, Price said, is the exposure that startups get for their companies to ISTE’s audience of 18,000 attendees.

Experimenting: The Pitch Fest is all about new ideas, and last year, Price and her colleagues decided to replace the live Pitch Fest with a virtual one. They videotaped the finalists’ pitches and made them available on monitors in the Startup Pavilion and invited visitors to the ISTE website to vote online.

It’s not an experiment that ISTE plans to repeat, since the virtual pitch competition got less attention than the live one. “Maybe if it was a smaller conference, it would have worked,” Price said. “There’s a lot going on at our conference.”

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