Winning pitches: research the judges to narrow down on the right message

Illuminum Greenhouses is a successful agritech business in Kenya. One of the keys to getting funding for the company was applying for grants and contests regularly. As a result, over time they’ve learned how to pitch better by tailoring their message to the judges of the competition or grant.

We caught up with the founders during The Africa Prize For Engineering Innovation to learn how they get into different support and funding programs. Their co-founder Brian Bett started with a fundamental piece of advice:

“Let the guy who is good at pitching do the pitching. You don’t have to share every task.” - Brian Bett, co-founder of Illuminum Greenhouses
##The Right Pitch Person

Brain’s referring to his co-founder, Taita Ng’etich, who’s a big supporter and organiser of startup events, and known around Kenya. Taita is the face of Illuminum, and was one of the strongest presenters in his Africa Prize cohort.

Their clear separation of roles helps them both focus and work to their individual strengths. Taita can confidently and calmly deliver Illumium’s message on stage, a skill he’s been able to develop by focusing on it over time. But when it comes to what Taita says, that’s a team effort. Taita and Brian both know that being the face of Illuminum can’t be misinterpreted as being the sole founder of the company. There’s a balance and understanding that must be carefully crafted.

But winning pitches is about more than simply having the right team member to present.

##Pre-Pitch Work

“It’s not just pitching. Applications, research, see who the audience is. We look at the profiles of the judges, the type of event. The background work is a lot, because you will adjust your pitch to suit the judges.”

Before Taita heads out for a pitch, he has Brian’s support. They’ll research their evaluators on Google and Linkedin, looking for clues on what aspects of their message to emphasise, and which to drop.

“You’ll get a panel which is tech savy, we’ll stress the development, automation, you’ve done no harm, not lied, it’s just seeing this one is a lab tech, some might be social impacts, so you make sure your pitch stresses each aspect.”

Taita knows that tailoring his pitch to his audience makes them more likely to succeed. That’s why he and Brian spend the time to do this pre-pitch work carefully. Then, once they understand their audience, Brian helps Taita practice and gives him feedback on his pitch. A few rounds later, Taita’s ready to go.

The result is that Illuminum’s presentations are simple, clear and concise. There’s no gimmick in Taita’s presentation style - he just comes across as really knowing what he’s talking about. But it all starts with the right attitude, focus, and plenty of preparation.

For a more general overview of pitching, check out our lesson on How to Pitch Better.

Taita this is good since also in my team am like the lead pitcher
thank you on the tip of first knowing the judges. Because i dont usually do it but understanding what am pitching about is important forexample if emphasis is on social impact or technology its self etc.
the only issue i have is that some times you get to know the judges the day of pitching so how do you get to handle this then and this happens alot in Uganda where Judges are changed in the last minute

We’ll cover this as part of the Africa Prize training next month in Kigali, but the short answer is: google and linkedin!

From their career history, you can learn a lot about them, and make educated guesses as to what’s important to them and how they’ll scrutinise you. If they share anything on social media, that usually reveals any agenda they have, so you can make sure to mention anything that supports that agenda.

Last minute changes to judges - what I’ve seen (and we encourage in the Africa Prize) is that there’s usually a time before the pitching starts where people are mingling. That’s the time to go say hi to the judges and simply ask them about themselves. Again, a quick web search of their name on your phone might give you some clues to start a conversation with them and get them talking, but any way to get them talking about what they’re doing now, or their experience and advice for you, will reveal a lot.

I’ll ping Brian and Taita to see if they might have more advice to add here.

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