Presented by Wells Fargo


Startup CEOs are all too familiar with the hustle — forming a team, building a product, attracting funding, watching burn rates, and attracting more funding. Through it all, they’re constantly pitching their solution to a variety of audiences. When it comes time to scale, startups often look to forge relationships with longstanding institutions –commonly through accelerator programs. These programs also allow organizations like mine to explore big ideas and help shape the future of our evolving customer needs.

As the head of the Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator program, I have the opportunity to review pitches from hundreds of startups from around the world, all looking to stand out in an ultra-competitive space. Most of the pitches I attend are small, face-to-face meetings with plenty of room for interaction and questions — a typical format for many VCs and accelerators.

So how can a startup nail a pitch like this? While there is no magic recipe for success, there are some tips that entrepreneurs should consider.

1. Do your research. Understand who you are going to meet, as well as their broader industry trends and issues. It’s important to clearly illustrate where you think your product could fit into the space, including the potential to scale appropriately. Working with a Fortune 500 enterprise will likely have stricter requirements or regulations around security, among other things.

2. Focus on customer needs. You may have a great product, but if it doesn’t fulfill a defined customer need, your chance of success in the marketplace is little to none. Make it clear you’ve thought about where you can add value, the user experience, and what sets you apart from your competitors — and there are always competitors.

3. Be future-minded, and think broadly. People are already working on issues and gaps we can see now, but what are the emerging trends you can add value to? Startups should think about how they can make the world more exciting, while also bearing in mind ever-evolving issues in terms of security and privacy. And, don’t try to be a one-solution startup. I sometimes find myself sitting in pitches where founders are trying to sell a solution that’s very specific to Wells Fargo. We’re not looking for that. We want big, bold ideas that have potential to change the entire industry.

4. Manage the meeting time. It’s not uncommon to have 30 minutes or less to wow your audience. Presenters must be engaging. I’m looking for a demo, not just a PowerPoint deck. While it’s fine to run through your background, you shouldn’t spend too much time explaining your education or work history. I want to see your technology and hear about ideas for application. Finally, leave room for Q&A, which often ends up providing clues on what we’re thinking, and allows you to best position your solution in real-time. It’s best to follow up with supplemental materials rather than trying to cover too many details during your pitch.

5. Take the right advice. When you’re a founder of a startup, you’re likely getting advice from all kinds of places. Stay true to your vision, but be open to ideas that could take your idea further. Sometimes it pays to be open to advice about alternative applications for your product from people who have inside knowledge of their industry that you haven’t necessarily thought about before.

Startups are in a position to be nimble and quickly adapt to change. While it’s not realistic to nail every pitch, you can learn something each time. It’s important to remember that rejection doesn’t mean the door is closed forever. We’ve had companies apply to the Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator program more than once, and many have clearly incorporated feedback given during their first pitch, maturing their presentation and solution.

When done well, pitches can open doors to a new network that can help put you on the path to success.

Bipin Sahni is the head of Innovation R&D in the Wells Fargo Innovation Group, an enterprise-wide organization devoted to accelerating the company’s delivery of next-generation, customer-inspired technologies, products, and services. He also leads the Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator program. More information can be found at wellsfargo.com/accelerator.


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