Liz Gasser is vice president of business operations for Qualcomm Labs (@QualcommLabs). Follow her @LizGasser.
Incubators are a great way to help accelerate your early-stage business. And luckily for you, they are springing up all over the place.
You should know that there are short- and long-form accelerator programs, and nearly all of them have an involved application process. Most of them are also oversubscribed.
Qualcomm Lab’s incubator initiative, QualcommLabs@EvoNexus, sees quite a few applications. Since kicking off this collaboration in mid-2012 with local San Diego incubator, EvoNexus, the pair have jointly screened over two hundred applications. Taken together with the experience of working with internal startups at Qualcomm Labs, we’re learning a lot about what works, and what doesn’t, when pitching innovative new businesses.
Here are a few tips to help you get through the initial screening process and land that all-important pitch with a selection committee.
Dot your “I’s” and cross your “T’s.” This is going to sound extremely basic (so please don’t be insulted) but follow the instructions carefully and answer all the questions. An admission cycle can have hundreds of applications, and no matter how cool your idea, missing pieces (such as the lack of an executive summary, or failing to answer questions about your competition) doesn’t exactly shout “Pick me!”
Hone your elevator pitch. You have less than 5 minutes—and probably more likely 2 minutes—to capture the imagination of your reader. Make your opening words count. Tell why the world shouldn’t go on another minute without your product. And please take note: Explaining your business as the combination of two existing successful concepts (e.g., “We’re Pinterest meets Salesforce.com”) only begs the question of why your two comparison companies don’t just expand their markets and put you out of business.
Know how to describe yourself. While your business is second nature to you, it is coming at the reviewer cold. It is okay to assume we are completely ignorant of the value you provide to the world, and explaining it in simple, jargon-less terms doesn’t take away from the genius of your concept—it helps us understand. Try this exercise: For [your customer], who needs to [the need your product meets], we provide [your solution/product], unlike [your competitor], our product/solution [the stuff that makes you great].
Show and tell. If you have an application or prototype, and the application form or requested materials permit, then show it off. Not every reviewer will make it to your website or download your app, so bring it to them. Screenshots/photos and even short videos can go a long way.
Be honest about your experience level. You always hear that team and track record matter to investors. They do, but not every great idea from a young innovator comes with a storied team and prior exits. What is key is demonstrating that you truly understand the value your solution can (and does) bring to the world. If you have experience in the space you are going after, or the problem you are solving, play it up. If you don’t, then get some. Find advisors who do know the space and get them to give you feedback. Also, get out and talk to your prospective customers. Saying you’ll engage with them when you launch is not an option. If you don’t have a product yet, at least invest time to talk with potential users, interview them, and understand their pain points. Show them sketches, mock ups, you name it. This all goes an awfully long way.
So, to all you entrepreneurs out there: You are trying to change the world, and all of us will benefit when you do. If you are thinking of using an incubator to help get you along the way, spending a little bit of time upfront perfecting your message can go a long way!
For more insights and advice for entrepreneurs—as well as a look at amazing inventors and up-and-coming companies, check out our Entrepreneurial Invention issue, including our video profile of Las Vegas' Downtown Project.
This article is commissioned by Qualcomm Incorporated. The views expressed are the author’s own.