How to win startup competitions, when we are up against other top startups? How to win the judges hearts? How to distinguish ourselves from rest of the finalists? Can we really stand out from the crowd? Can we differentiate ourselves using props and gimmicks, or is this a gimmick?

Yes we can! With gimmicks we can move the judges. We’d become likable and memorable. We’d stand out. While gimmicks are not enough to win, without being memorable, we sure cannot win!

How to Win a Startup Competition? Differentiate Yourself with Gimmicks!
How to Win a Startup Competition? Differentiate Yourself with Gimmicks!

Preface: How to Win Startup Competitions

In the beginning of this series of articles, we discussed what a startup competition is. We identified the unique characteristics of startup competitions. We cleared the fog around the screening process. Then we learned to see things from the eyes of the judges.

We also noted the many similarities between: winning startup competitions, raising money and being elected for startup accelerator programs.

Eventually we acknowledged that in most competitions, some finalists would be just as good as we are. Now the question is: how to outperform them? How to stand out from the rest?

Competing against Top 10 Finalists in a Startup Competition, Some of Which are Just as Great!
Competing against Top 10 Finalists in a Startup Competition, Some of Which are Just as Great!

As in the previous articles in this series, all stories herein are true and current. All the practices we unveil, worked for us. With those we won numerous startup competitions. In similar, those practices are likely to work for you too!

So without Further Due!

Gimmick #1: The Technology Business Card?

How the heck, could a business card (a piece of paper), and technology relate to one another?

Well… Back in 2016, in the good old days of Cyber DriveWare, we used a slide which everybody liked. The slide was actually a scheme. One which presented our technology, in a semi-graphical manner.

At the time, it was quite a challenge for us, to explain our technology in a brief manner. That slide came for help. It allowed people to better understand our technological scope. With this slide, we managed to achieve an “a-ha moment”. People got it. It was a breakthrough!

The Cyber DriveWare Technology Slide
The Cyber DriveWare Technology Scheme (Slide)

We then realized that if people could remember that one slide, then they’d understand and remember our startup as a whole. But how to make a slide memorable? How to standout when we are up against 100 slides from 10 other finalists?

For us the solution was in the business card. Yes! You are reading it right! An old-school paper-based business card 🙂

We designed the backside of our business cards to look like our technology slide.Then, during competitions, we made sure to effectively network the room. We wanted everybody to hold onto our card.

Our uniquely designed business card, was always fun to converse-about. It was a true networking asset. It made us memorable.

As people watched us present that slide, they associated it with our uniquely designed business card. We stood out. We were memorized…

The Backside of the Cyber DriveWare Business Card - Our Technology Slide!
The Backside of the Cyber DriveWare Business Card – Our Technology Slide!

Is this business card the reason we won all those competitions? Of course not. But it was part of a well orchestrated campaign. Another piece in the puzzle.

The Key Takeaway

Have a gimmick. If a business card works for you, then go ahead, use that. Alternatively, try to associate your pitch with a different prop. Network your differentiation when applies.

Gimmick #2: One Photo, Thousand Words!

I once attended a startup competition, where most finalists were not so impressive. As a judge, I’d say that the best 2-3 startups where nowhere better than good.

That startup contest was part of DLD, by the way. A conference managed by Yossi Vardi, a living risk-capital legend. And despite that, none of the finalists were great.

A Competition Where Nobody Deserves to Win
A Competition Where Nobody Deserves to Win

If it was possible, I’d announce that nobody wins. But eventually someone must win, right?

In such circumstances, who would the winner be? How can the judges choose who’s the best, when nobody is really the best?

The Judges Assessment Criteria

Normally judges would highly look at startups which demonstrate proven track record. For instance, if you raised funding from a known VC, that would go a long way. In contrast, if your key investor is the chief-scientist (innovation authority), don’t expect to be looked highly upon…

If you are already in sales to your target market, the judges will sure take a note of that.

Alternatively, perhaps you have a large base of followers? Or maybe you just won a startup competition previously? That would sure grant you you few points as well…

Demonstrating a Proven Track Record Goes a Long Way!
Demonstrating a Proven Track Record Goes a Long Way!

But what if you do not have any of those achievements in your bag? Are you doomed to fail? Absolutely not! We are here for exactly that, to pull more tricks out of our bag…

Photo #1 – Airplane

Going back to that competition… One of the startups, which was not impressive at all, suddenly surprised with an unexpected slide. The slide was rather a photo of the entire startup’s team. They were quite many. 10 people perhaps. They were all having good energy, as they stood under a large airplane, in what appeared to be an international airport.

As a side note, I’d mention that an airplane indirectly relates to that startup.

In my opinion, that slide was the only reason they won. Seriously! This was not a trivial photo. Rather, it created a powerful sense of success. It demonstrated that they have a large team (for an seed startup). It indicated that they received funding. But moreover, it was conveying a sense of success. That photo created a noticeable psychological effect.

Ok, we got it: a photo with an airplane creates a powerful effect. But… What if you cannot afford a photo under an airplane? What if you do not even have such a large team? Perhaps even if you could have such a photo, it would serve no purpose. So what else could you do?

Photo #2 – Live Presentation

You are an expert of your niche, right? Then you should be able to get yourself on stage. Go ahead, present in a meetup or a conference or wherever. Have it recorded. Have photos taken. Make sure it looks right in the eye of the camera. Then select the best photo, add it to your deck, and… Let it speak for itself!

Presenting DriveWare in a Conference - Should it be Used as a Slide in a Deck?
Presenting DriveWare in a Conference – Should This be a Slide in a Deck?

Photo #3 – Screenshot from an Article

Do you think you could arrange a review of your startup, published in a blog or a magazine? If yes, that would be great!

Why would anybody write about you, you may wonder… Well, for starters, you are a startup. Thus you might be doing something unique or innovative. Something which is news-worthy…

Back in 2016, a new ransomware by the name of Petya attacked worldwide. Cyber DriveWare was the only company to block it, in real time! That got us some media coverage.

It is ok if you can’t reach a blogger or a journalist who’d review your startup. In such a case, would you consider paying for such a service? If yes, feel free to contact Startups Israel. Perhaps we can help you with that.

In the bottom line: have an review of your startup published. Then, make sure to present it in your presentation.

DriveWare in the Media - A Slide from Our Deck
DriveWare in the Media – A Slide from Our Deck

Photo #4 – Photo of You Presenting

If you give a talk in a high-profile setting, then you must be someone, right? Most likely, a specialist or something… This is the message you wish to covey, when you add such a photo to your deck.

Let’s assume that your startup is in cyber security. If you share a photo where you talk about growing lettuce throughout a climate change… That just won’t cut it.

In contrast, if you are in cyber security, and you happen to present at Black Hat, that would go a long way!

After I gave a talk in TEDx, I added that photo to our deck:

Thank You Letter for Haggai Yedidya, for Speaking @ TED
Thank You Letter for Speaking @ TED

Recommendation Letters, TV Interviews, Certifications…

Ok, you got the point… Just add to the deck whatever photo or image which works for you. The goal is to convey the message of being somebody, to create a sense of traction or success. With that you’d engage with your judges in an emotional level.

If you happen to be interviewed in the TV, then why won’t you take a snapshot and add it to your deck? If you have a reference letter from a business partner or an end-user, that would make an impression just as well.

In my case, I am also a mentor in several startup accelerators. Thus I could add a certificate of recognition to my deck. Being a mentor indicates that I should know a thing or two about the risk-capital industry…

Certificate of Recognition for Haggai Yedidya, re: Mentoring in an Accelerator Program of Ben Gurion University - InnonNegev
Certificate of Recognition, re: Mentoring in InnoNegev, an Accelerator Program

How to Differentiate Your Startup with Photos – Summary

Powerful gimmicks wear many faces. Business card and photos, to name a few.

Here are Photos Which Could be of use in your Deck

  • Photo of you giving a talk in a conference
  • Photo of you mentoring a team of professionals
  • Screenshot from a TV or radio or any interview
  • Certificate of recognition
  • Screenshot of a publications re: your startup
  • Photo of your team or product in an engaging setting
  • Photo from the moments of winning a startup competition 😉

If a photo is unclear at first sight, or it does not speak for itself, that may be ok. Make sure you can pitch the story within just a brief moment. Then validate it conveys the desired message.

Take for example the photo below. While it is unclear what is it about, it does trigger an emotion. I’d feel fine presenting it, for as long as I’ve rehearsed my storytelling skill…

Have a Story...: Haggai Yedidya, after Mentoring and Judging an Australian Startup Competition
The Author, following Mentoring and Judging an Australian Startup Competition

Gimmick #3: Toilet Paper Prop!?

Do you remember the Australian startup I mentioned earlier in the 2nd article of this series (what is a sexy startup)? That startup created toilet paper with ads and stories printed on it.

Do you remember that the presenter brought a roll of paper on stage, and gave us (the judges) a piece…?

Yes, that’s the idea. Use a prop. If it’s a physical product, that’s great. Make an impact. Stand out. And yes, you probably could give a symbolic gift to the judges as well.

In Conclusion

In this article we discussed using gimmicks, to stand out and win startup competitions. We looked at variety of opportunities, such as photos, props, business cards, certifications, etc. Those would help you stand out or be more memorable.

Gimmicks such as photos or props could help you:

  • Create a sense of traction and success
  • Convey the message that you are an expert
  • Move the judges, reach their hearts
  • Say much without words…
  • Be memorable!

Be creative. Find and leverage your own thing. Perhaps you can even do an all-in-one thing. The image below is a slide from our deck, one which seemed to do wonders for us.

Brainstorm, try A/B testing. Eventually you’d find what feels for you like the right fit.

Then capitalize on it. Don’t be afraid to stand out. After all, you are trying to be No. 1…

Photos as a Gimmick - an All-In-One Strategy
Photos as a Gimmick – an All-In-One Strategy

The one rule is: make sure that whatever the photo or gimmick are, they are relevant to your startup.

Even if at first sight the relevancy is unclear, it’s ok. You are presenting live, right? Share your story. People would like it. Just be sure to tell your story in a brief and engaging manner. Make sure to master the art of storytelling beforehand…

If you wish to schedule online mentoring sessions with us, you are welcome to contact us.

Either way, if you finished reading all 3 articles in this series, then you are ready to win. Brainstorm, rehearse, and master the art of winning competitions! And please, share with us your expeirence!

Good Luck!

Categories: Mentoring

Haggai Yedidya

Mr. Yedidya, CEO of Startups Israel is an established risk-capital personnel, a mentor, public speaker (TEDx), panelist, judge in startup competitions, journalist (PC Magazine), a blogger (Real Network Labs), and an entrepreneur (Cyber DriveWare, Startups Israel). Haggai's startup companies raised millions of dollars, won international competitions (Pioneers, OTEC, Kaspersky, Koldoon, Oracle), and signed agreements with market leaders (e.g. Barclays).


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