7 Steps To Success In the Dolphin Tank

I’ve seen countless pitches over the course of my time with Springboard Enterprises. At Collaborate this January, we’ll be hosting The Dolphin Tank, where several entrepreneurs will give their elevator pitches to our panel and the audience of Collaborate attendees. The following tips will help you prep and perfect your pitch to make the most out of the Dolphin Tank at Collaborate – or any pitch opportunity.

  1. Don’t read from notes. If you’re an entrepreneur, you should be living and breathing your business. There’s no reason why you should need notes to remind you of what you’re about to say or even to recite complex figures. If you don’t already know it, practice until you do. You look much less confident and experienced if you have to rely on notes, and you lose out on the opportunity to really connect with your audience using eye contact. Similarly, have a colleague or friend take notes (or even better, record) the feedback from your pitch. The questions, comments, and connections offered are incredibly valuable to record, but it’s also important to stay present and make eye contact during the Q&A. (By all means, scribble down as much as you can once you take your seat!)
  2. Keep it short. In trying to be as entrepreneur-friendly as possible, we don’t drag you off the stage once you hit the two-minute mark. But it’s in your best interest to keep the time limit in mind. The goal of the elevator pitch is to get the audience interested thinking about connections they could make for you, NOT to detail every aspect of your business. What’s more, time used up during the pitch is time you lose from the feedback and Q&A portion – which you don’t want to lose. During the feedback portion, don’t interrupt panelists or audience members that are asking questions or giving feedback – you might have a great answer, but it’s more important (and more respectful) to hear their entire thought before you respond. Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of trying to respond to each question or point of feedback during the live session – this also cuts down on your time for other audience members to provide feedback, and often makes the entrepreneur seem defensive. Often the best response is “thank you for that feedback – I’d love to connect further after the pitch.”
  3. Know your audience. One of the biggest pitfalls we see during Springboard pitches is when entrepreneurs don’t know the difference between pitching investors and pitching customers. This will change some significant aspects of your pitch. For example, if pitching investors, you’ll want to highlight how you make money, how you’ll get customers, and how you think you’ll exit (who will buy your company?). If pitching customers, you’ll want to highlight the value add for them, usually by saving them time and money.
  4. Prove it’s a problem in 30 seconds or less. Entrepreneurs are often so impassioned by the problem they are solving that they spend their entire pitch convincing the audience of why it’s important. The mark of a seasoned entrepreneur is one who can concisely articulate the problem and their solution, leaving plenty of time to focus on more important things like the business model and the team.
  5. Prove you can execute. On a remarkably consistent basis, we find that the most successful and impressive entrepreneurs in the Dolphin Tank take the time to mention their unique experience and why it has prepared them to solve the problem at hand. Previous startup experience is always a plus, but if you don’t have that, chances are you have insider knowledge of the problem you are solving. To gain the trust of the audience, show you’re an expert and prove you can execute.
  6. Have an ask. We always ask entrepreneurs to include an “ask” at the end of their pitch. You should use the ask to focus the content of your pitch, and the moderator will use it to focus the discussion afterward. Your ask should be something that is important or difficult for you to get past at the moment, and/or something that you think the audience can really help with.
  7. Shake hands and exchange cards. At Springboard, we care more about the speakers and the guest list than we do the content of any event. My goal in attending events is almost always to shake hands and exchange business cards with someone in particular. Getting feedback is great – but connections are even better. Make it a point to follow up with each of the panelists and anyone who offered feedback or asked a question and get their business card. (And don’t forget to follow up promptly!)


As Program Manager for Springboard Enterprises, a venture catalyst for high-growth women entrepreneurs, Jennifer Lannon runs the Life Science Accelerator and Dolphin Tank pitch events. She cares about entrepreneurship, life sciences, and women leaders. Follow her on twitter at @BiotechJen.

By Jennifer Lannon


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