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foodbytes! sydney
Image credit: Plumbwell Plumbing Services

5 Lessons on Pitching from the Judges of FoodBytes! Sydney

November 9, 2016

Editor’s Note: Dutch food and agriculture bank Rabobank took its innovation pitch event FoodBytes! to Sydney, Australia last week. It was the first time the event took place outside of the US and underlines the growing agtech ecosystem down under.

Seven judges questioned the eight finalist startups that made pitches to more than 1,000 attendees of Rabobank’s Farm2Fork Summit, which hosted the FoodBytes! Sydney pitch event.

The Judge’s Choice Winner was Sprout Kitchens, a marketplace for kitchen space, which finds cafés and kitchens with underutilized space to rent out to other food businesses looking for commercial kitchens. The FoodBytes! People’s Choice Award, as voted on by delegates of the Farm2Fork Summit was awarded to AgriWebb – a software company providing end-to-end farm management solutions.

As with all startups competitions, the pitches varied in quality, so here three of the judges — Sarah Nolet, founder of AgThentic, Sam Trethewey, head of Sprout-X, and Michael Dean, chief investment officer of AgFunder, offer 5 pieces of advice to startups to help them perfect their pitch.

Australia is rife with agtech opportunity, and Rabobank knows it. How do we know this? We’ll paint the picture.

The food and agriculture bank hired an island in the globally-iconic Sydney Harbour, filled it with 1,000 people from around the world, including local farmers and the King and Queen of the Netherlands. 

The event itself, Farm2Fork, profiled the opportunity of Australian agriculture and its food and fiber supply chain. It highlighted where innovation is needed and how we’ll make the most of feeding the billions that live in countries that sit so closely above us. Inside Farm2Fork was FoodBytes! The brainchild-cum-rocket ship of fellow judge Manuel González who was delighted to see his baby find its feet down under. It was the first FoodBytes! to run outside of the US, and while it gave us a great lens into the capability of Australian and New Zealand foodtech and agtech, it also highlighted the lackluster pitching culture that’s choking our best and brightest.

There is always room for improvement, so we wanted to provide some feedback and encouragement to help Aussie food system startups that could be pitching on a similar stage in the future.

1. Know your audience

Successful pitches resonate with potential customers and investors without losing authenticity. For the companies with agtech solutions, an event like the Farm2Fork Summit with the audience of farmers is a great opportunity to get feedback and generate interest from potential customers. Your pitch needs to hit on the value proposition in terms a customer cares about. But, too much focus on the product and not enough detail on the go-to-market strategy and business model will be a red flag for investors. You’re never going to please everyone, but thinking about your audience and what they care about (and the judging criteria) is critical.

2. Pitch like a Professional

It’s an ugly truth that in a pitch context, the quality of your presentation can almost matter more than its content. We’re not at all advocating for marketing fluff without substance, as that will never win in the long run. But neither will a revolutionary product that’s hidden behind a boring, confusing, or poorly-rehearsed presentation. With TED talks becoming ubiquitous and investors seeing hundreds of pitches, you have to really invest in your delivery. Here are few key aspects:

Timing! Don’t go over. Get everything in. You have to rehearse and really have it down.

Traction, traction, traction… Investors love to see how your business is growing, so tell them! Whether it be revenue or user/customer numbers, show your growth metrics.

Tell stories that connect with your audience and bring your product to life.

Use pictures rather than text, but avoid marketing videos. We want to hear YOU.

Be confident (even, or especially, if you’re not)

Share a compelling, yet realistic, vision for where you’re going (even if you’re not there yet)

Tell us about your team, and why we can have confidence you’ll do what you say.

3. Incorporate Feedback

Often at pitch competitions, and in the lead up to the final round of a prize, you’ll get a chance to practice and get feedback before you go live. Teams that listen and incorporate feedback will not only impress the judges, but also capitalize on a source of free advice. Overall, it’s critical to demonstrate coachability and willingness to take criticism and work to improve. Of course, you have to be careful not to do everything that everyone suggests; but, when you get advice from folks like Manuel Gonzalez, founder of FoodBytes!, who see bazillions of these, we suggest you listen up.

4. Give people a reason to talk to you

All the startups at the Farm2Fork Summit had booths to showcase their products and talk to attendees. But not all of the booths are created equal, and some startups received more attention than others. The secret? Be approachable. It’s awkward to walk around and start conversations with strangers. If someone’s staring at your poster, they probably want to know what you do, so say hello, ask them a question or offer them an answer to the one you get all the time. Even better, have engaging materials to make it easy for them to start a conversation with you.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Invest in making your booth look professional
  • Provide materials (e.g., videos, brochures) to give people answers to common questions
  • Have something (ideally relevant and clever!) to hand out so people can easily engage with you (“oh, can I have a water bottle?”)
  • If you’re a food business, HAVE FREE SAMPLES to give away. What better way to showcase your product and generate a buzz around your booth?
  • Staff your booth with at least two people so you can engage in multiple conversations (and take breaks).
  • If you are an early stage business, you may be able to snag a customer or get your product into the hands of farmers/customers for product testing and development. No opportunity to talk with potential customers should be wasted.
  • Be prepared to make a pitch if appropriate; ABS (always be selling)!

5. Think Global (even if you’re still acting local)

Yes, Australia is a great test bed for food system innovation. And sure, you might not be ready to expand internationally quite yet.  But assuming you want to be a VC-investable business (and you might not want that, which is fine too), you need to be thinking global from day one. The Australian market just isn’t big enough. Be sure to include in your pitch how you will scale and what you’re doing to set yourself up for that kind of success. Each business is different, but this might be key partnerships, international pilots, international investors or strategic advisors with experience or connections in different markets.

Congrats again to the winners from FoodBytes! Sydney, and to all the startups who were selected to be at this awesome event.

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