Connections were the focus of Cleantech Open Northeast’s 2018 ‘mentor mixer’, hosted by Pepper Hamilton on May 23. While founders of startups concentrated on meeting the right mentors to maximize their development in this year’s program, the structure of the event enabled them to pitch their ideas to a variety of listeners in two different formats.
The event in New York was the second mentor mixer in two days for Cleantech Open Northeast. On May 22, a similar event was held in Boston, which was also well attended.
The evening began with an introduction by Tim Hoffman, Cleantech Open’s NYC metro director. It was followed by timed, one-minute pitches describing the startups’ proprietary services and technologies. This segment of the event was new, and it extended the emphasis on pitching. Many of the founders at the event took advantage of this opportunity to present their ideas to mentors in a formal context before meeting with them individually.
While some presenters sounded like old pros, others were far less practiced. However, even relatively inexperienced speakers were rewarded for putting their best foot forward. Mentors reacted to the quality of a solution and its ability to gain a foothold in current markets more than to a speaker’s delivery. When asked which pitches they preferred, mentors chose those speakers who had communicated outstanding ideas clearly enough to demonstrate their marketability. It was important to describe a technology or service concisely and to outline a value proposition as well as an addressable market, but there was no need to have the best speaking voice or most confident manner in order to interest listeners in a venture.
Presenters discussed a variety of cleantech solutions, such as data sensors that help connect renewables to the grid, energy-efficient clean water solutions, environmentally friendly chemicals produced from recycled byproducts from the oil and gas industry, and foldable paper cups that eliminate the plastic waste of disposable lids.
The Cleantech Open accelerator is host to a wide variety of startups in 2018. Assisting them are Cleantech Open’s volunteer mentors who represent areas including technology development, marketing, legal services, investment, as well as the customer perspective. In addition to startup teams and mentors, the evening’s attendees included interns, who are an integral part of the program in New York. These volunteers were able to meet the startup teams and staff for the first time on Wednesday. Help from Robert Parker, NYC deputy metro director, was key to planning the event.
The remainder of the night was devoted to rounds of ten-minute meetings between founders and potential mentors that resembled speed dating. In this format, there was additional time to communicate the inner workings of a technology, but it was important to tailor the pitch to an audience of one individual. Mentors all appreciated a well-rounded product or service, but they prioritized specific pieces of pitches based on their backgrounds.
Catarina Carvalho, who focuses on sustainability at Columbia University, and Karen Spiegel, proprietor of Karen Spiegel and Company Marketing, were looking for pitches that identified a specific problem and solution. Brandon Tarbert, VP of Business Development at Qi Venture, preferred founders who had identified a target audience. He also prioritized those that had pilot projects in the works or were offering an improved version of a technology that had already proved viable in the marketplace.
A point of agreement among mentors was that entrepreneurs should be brief when summarizing a highly technical product. When pitching in a short format, their advice was to avoid discussing the specific workings of a technology. Instead, highlight its application and impact.
“[Entrepreneurs] need to be able to tell someone like you or me who isn’t intimately familiar with the technology and processes what it does,” Tarbert explained.
“Don’t go into the details,” Carvalho added. “People cannot connect easily with how you do it. What is it used for?”
The time allotted for one-on-one meetings was lengthened this year, and informal networking time was kept brief. After about an hour of meetings, entrepreneurs and mentors had been through six or seven rounds and had developed a sense of which partnerships might prove beneficial. At the same time, this year’s founders left the venue having given multiple pitches, which will hopefully enhance their presentation strategy as they move forward with the 2018 accelerator program.
The evening concluded on a high note, with lots of enthusiasm for the potential of the founders to develop their ventures through the Cleantech Open accelerator.
By Elise Baker on in Northeast