What We Learned from Winning NWEN’s First Look Forum

Mark Horoszowski

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO of MovingWorlds.org.

Last Friday, we had the opportunity to pitch at the Northwest Entrepreneur’s First Look Forum – it was an amazing experience.

The First Look Forum is an “exclusive, bi-annual, invite-only investor showcase is the culmination of an in-depth coaching program that features 12 never-seen-before, early-stage growth-oriented startups from every segment of innovation. In a fast-paced afternoon, the investor audience votes to select five finalists, who in turn pitch to a panel of the region’s top VC’s, who then select the gran prize winner.

Every entrepreneur knows that talking about your business can sometimes be hard, giving your entire pitch in 5 minutes is still harder, and doing it in front of hundreds of people is straight-up intimidating! But like all good startups, especially those employing lean principles, you approach these new experiences with purpose, you test your assumptions, and you learn fast.

Here are the three things I learned from participating in this event, which, in addition to the pitch, involved a serious screening round, mentor meetings, and pitch coaching:

1. Determine Your Success Factors Before You Start

Going into a competition with the sole goal of winning is stupid. Most startups fail, most athletes don’t win a gold medal, and your chance of winning the lottery is only 1/135,000,000. Whether you pitch your business in front of one person or one-hundred, determine other success factors that give you actionable insight.

Winning the pitch was not our only success factor. If it was, that would have been the only thing we concentrated on. Instead, our success factors were:

  1. Find a new potential adviser
  2. Create a clear and concise executive summary that opens doors
  3. Better understand investor drivers and barriers
  4. A mention in the press

Because these were all outlined before we even had our first screening round, I was able to make the most of every interaction. When smart people questioned me, I asked them for their card and the opportunity to meet for coffee. Beyond acceptance into the competition, I followed-up with every screener to get input on my executive summary. During coaching meetings, I asked what messages would resonate with investors, and what would not. And when I met someone from Xconomy, I jumped on the opportunity for an interview (in fact, I had already practices our elevator pitch). Of course these actions helped in the competition itself, but the real value of attaining these elements is still to be realized.

2. Relentlessly Pursue Advice (direct and indirect)

One of the reasons the NWEN First Look Forum is a GREAT experience is that you get to meet with a diverse range of contacts during every stage of the selection process, including: Industry professionals, other entrepreneurs, previous winners, and investors.

I bugged one of my more cynical friends to review my executive summary before a final submission to make sure everything was clear. After my first pitch coaching meeting, I followed-up right away asking to treat my coaches to coffee in exchange for another, final review. I was literally asking advice of other entrepreneurs until the second I had to take a seat. And after I took a seat at the event, I was monitoring Twitter to gauge the reaction to the different presentations, noting that “energy” was lacking in the presentations – this insight all came together to give me the edge I needed.

3. Don’t Just Be Insanely Passionate, Prove That You Are Insanely Passionate

Sure, MovingWorlds has a mission that is easy to get excited about, but not everything about it is super exciting. In fact, talking about our competitors, highlighting our assumptions, or sharing our marketing plan isn’t exactly the content that gets people jumping out of their seats.

But I love our startup…. I love our work, I love the boring details, and I even love talking about our competitors. I realized that the purpose of my presentation was not to get people passionate about our business. Instead, it was to get people passionate about helping me lead a successful business.

It’s a big and important distinction. People support teams, not ideas. One of the best tips I got was this:

“If you’re not excited about your financials, why do you expect me to be?”

I could go on-and-on about all the great connections I made and the things I learned by participating in NWEN, but those three learning’s were the most pivotal to our success. And according to Eric Reiss, what you learn just might be the most important thing…

“The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.”


If you’re interested to see our pitch, you can view it below using slideshare: