YSU Students Make Elevator Pitches to Incubator

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The first 30 seconds of any business pitch are the most critical.

It’s within that time — the length of an elevator ride — that potential clients or investors decide if what you’re selling, whether a product or an idea, is worth their interest.

If that half-minute goes well, it can lead to ample time to get your information across and, you hope, make the sale.

“You can get probably up to five minutes to talk about your solution,” Brittany Housel said Friday. “It’s important to nail those first 30 seconds and everyone today did a good job of nailing that.” Housel is client development coordinator at the Youngstown Business Incubator.

She, incubator CEO Jim Cossler and additive manufacturing business coordinator Rich Wetzel were the judges at Youngstown State University of the elevator pitch competition for students in the Williamson College of Business Administration. The event concluded YSU’s observance of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Nine business ideas were pitched – presented by eight individuals and one duo — to the trio. A soft three-minute cap was placed on each presentation, but all stayed within the time allotted.

“Things went really well and some of the presentations do need to be a bit more polished, but we were more focused on the quality of ideas,” Wetzel said. “We’re happy with how they all turned out.”

Carisa Sechrist won the contest and its $150 prize. The business administration major pitched a human resources firm devoted to working entirely with small businesses.

“She solved the biggest problem and had the biggest opportunity for scaling a business, which is the most attractive thing from an investor’s perspective,” Wetzel said.

Housel said Sechrist won “hands-down” because of the business is aimed directly at startups and other small businesses unable to afford an in-house HR department.

Sechrist began formally putting together her pitch earlier in the week, she said, although she had been considering the concept for some time.

“I spent every night this week just thinking about,” Sechrist said. “It’s something that I’ve always had in my head without knowing how to put it together.”

One of the most important aspects of the event, Seachrist said afterward, was the opportunity to meet with professionals and make connections.

Cossler invited all 10 participants, if they chose, to later meet with him and his staff if they wanted to further pursue their ideas.

“Not only do you learn from presenting to a large group, but you also make connections,” Wetzel said. “That can be more valuable than anything, whether it’s looking for a job or maybe an investment.”

When each presentation concluded, Cossler, Housel and Wetzel peppered the contestants with questions about how they would deal with competitors, the scale they would expand to, and the experience they have in their fields.

“We ask questions very similar to what we would at a presentation at the YBI,” Wetzel said. “It varies based on the stage of the business, but those are the same types questions they can expect if they move forward and look for investment in their business.

Sechrist said the questions made her think a little more deeply about her idea, rather than just say, “This is what I’m going to do.”

What stood out most to Wetzel and Housel was the quality of the presentations, especially the all-important first 30 seconds. Some students illustrated problems, some told personal stories and others explained how their product could solve a specific problem.

“If you don’t capture that attention, in 30 seconds they won’t be interested and most likely won’t pay much attention to the rest of your presentation,” Wetzel said, citing graduate student Lee Murray’s presentation.

Murray began by reading off a 100-plus-word segment of an internal report written in legalese, replete with confusing polysyllabic wording. What it boiled down to, Murray explained, was, “We’re rejecting your proposal for expansion.”

“I had no idea what he was saying [with the first part], but it made me laugh and engaged me,” Wetzel said. “It made me understand just what problem he wanted to solve. It made me relate to the issue without knowing that part of the business world.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.