A recent pitch propelled Baltimore startup MindStand Technologies to new funding, as the company won first runner-up honors and $15,000 in a pitch competition for Black student entrepreneurs and founders organized by Duke University and North Carolina Central University.
The April pitch competition, hosted by The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and North Carolina Central University’s school of business, in partnership with the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative and Resilient Ventures. was designed as a way to provide funding to bridge a gap that data from BLCKVC says leaves only 1% of venture funding going to Black startup founders. The competition also acted as a knowledge resource for Black founders, and gave them the tools and advice to create the perfect pitch.
Given those gains, we asked CEO Michael Ogunsanya for his thoughts about how the company constructed its pitch. Asked about what takes a pitch from good to great, he pointed to the human element.
“You have to tell a story. You have to be vulnerable,” Ogunsanya, who cofounded the RealLIST Startups 2021 company while a student at UMBC, told Technical.ly. “If you were in a place where you were out of luck, things just weren’t going your way, where you just didn’t have the capital but you’re here now pitching. That’s a story. That’s a story saying how you have this level of perseverance as a person.”
That’s the special sauce, but make no mistake: Business fundamentals are still important. All of the storytelling in the world can’t save a pitch that lacks a solid business plan, pricing model, mission statement or a look at the minimum viable product.
MindStand applies AI to the work of rooting out harassment, hate speech and emotional distress in online communities, and addressing the culture gap that often leads to the filling-a-leaky-bucket scenario that has led to Black and Brown people leaving or avoiding big tech firms. In MindStand’s pitch, Ogunsanya connects the dots of the creation of the technology to his own experience facing microaggressions at a Fortune 10 company, and how he felt that he didn’t have any recourse or safe space to address the cultural issues. The MindStand AI aims to create that safe space.
In total, MindStand was awarded $20,000 from the competition. The company received $5,000 for being named a semifinalist in the early rounds, but the extra $15,000 is that separation between a really good pitch and a great pitch.
The ability to articulate the story of a company concisely and organically without getting lost in the technical jargon takes a lot of practice and tweaking of the pitch. But in the end it can pay off, especially in the early days of raising capital.
As the saying goes, according to Ogunsanya, “Until Series A, the investor is investing, specifically, in you. They believe you’ll figure out what you didn’t show.”
“It’s a combination of being prepared and having all the fundamentals of a great pitch clearly outlined,” said Ogunsanya. “And showing that there’s a story. They can feel what you’re saying has meaning to you.”
Check out Ogunsanya’s pitch below, and see some of the techniques in action.
Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.