The ballad of the Open Mic battle… by ‘Son of a Pitch’

Ed Gould - 15th November 2021

So much of my work as a Creative Director of Carswell Gould is about conceiving and pitching new ideas. Every day I am faced with the need to think about a problem, develop a solution and communicate and ‘sell’ that idea. 

I’m pretty good at it (I think). Well, I have been doing it for over 20 years now but I think one can always get better!  Being around other people pitching is something that teaches you what works and – sometimes what does not. A  room full of people pitching ideas is an inspirational thing – if they can do it, I can do it! 

That’s why I loved running the Open Mic competition held at VFS21:Festival of Innovation. We came up with the idea about five years ago and have been holding our little pitch-off every year at VFS  since then and people seem to love it. 

What is it?

A simple, no-holds barred, fast, furious and fun pitching competition where innovators get three minutes to pitch their big idea to a room full of people and our not very celebrity judges. It is a mix of Dragons’ Den and Strictly Come Dancing – but without the glamour (or the budget)!

For me, Open Mic is less about innovation and more about how that idea is presented. After all, presentation is the majority of the challenge when trying to get something new, bold and big over the line and out of the top market. 

No matter if you are a creative director selling marketing ideas or an engineer selling a new engine concept – how to tell the story at crucial moments really matters to achieve success.

Carswell Gould Venturefest South Speaker

So how did our Open Mic competitors fare this year at the Battle of the Open Mic? 

Everyone who stepped up to the plate deserves huge congratulations and encouragement for having the guts to put their ideas out there for an audience and Open Mic judges to question and score against. It is not an easy thing to do and of course, some were better than others.

This year we saw 14 innovators with new ideas step up to the mic and it was a great competition. I am always asked to share feedback so, with that in mind, here is how the scoring went down. 

No matter if you are at the top or the bottom of the list, the experience should sharpen your pitch in the future. That is the win and everyone gets it. Open Mic is designed to offer accessible and welcome ways to better express your brilliant innovations – the more you pitch the better you get – trust me. 

Judges mark competitors out of five on each of the following key criteria

  • How interesting the innovation is
  • Its growth potential
  • ‘Investability’ of idea
  • How well it’s pitched

VSF21 Head Judge Adrian Braine, Founder of Root21, a technology accelerator working with start-ups and SMEs said: “It was fantastic to see so much innovation going on in the region and that all the innovators were so passionate about what they do.

“The judging panel looked at how well they explained their business and the potential for investment. These are crucial because if you can’t get people to understand what you do and why, you’re really lost and most businesses need investment at some stage, so it has to appeal to investors.”

So to our winners

First place and our 2021 winner

Human Beauty’s Millie Flemington-Clare was presented with the Open Mic Pitching Champion 2021 award at the end of the day

For the judges, this pitch stood out for one big reason…Millie. It is so much easier to buy an idea if you can feel the passion and personal experience of the innovator. But add to that, a professional clarity of presentation and the fact that she had everyone in the room sold within two minutes, rather than the full three, really put her in pole position.  

Add to that, they like the scalability of the idea and the market possibility. With an estimated 1 billion disabled people in the world, here was someone solving the problem of re-marketing and packaging beauty products for an easier buy. 

Human Beauty was created as a truly inclusive cosmetics brand for like-minded people with and without disabilities. It champions accessible design, incorporating features such as braille to ensure absolutely everyone can experience the power of make-up and its ability to boost self-esteem. 

Millie said: “I think the judges chose me as the Open Mic Pitching Champion due to my unique story of my battle with my health and my passion for beauty. My frustration at the lack of diversity in the industry led me to create a brand that is inclusive for all. I also think I was chosen as my brand and product is disruptive and innovative.”

You can find out more here

Carswell Gould Venturefest South Ed Hannah Millie

Millie, me and Hannah Bergman-BrownFirst Place celebrate her win at #VFS21

Second place

Jon Dawson from Renovos

Jon was described as an ‘absolute pro’ by one of our judges. Obviously not his first rodeo in terms of pitching the pioneering nanoclay gel technology platform, Renovos.  His confidence, clarity and calm demeanour really helped explain very complex ideas to the room.

Renovos’ mission is to unlock the full potential of regenerative medicine and help clinicians deliver safe and more efficacious treatments for tissue repair, in the first instance addressing a $5.7bn orthobiologics market. If you are interested you can find out more and see Jon here

Carswell Gould Open Mic Venturefest South

Third place

Mitch Wisniewski – Other Skies

Mitch, who pitched his “Other Skies” 3D website innovation, really did hit all the right notes. The judges like the application and growth potential and they also felt he was well prepared and very clearly presented the concept.

Even though he was not looking for investment, I know for a fact that his pitch has already netted one potential interest. How do I know – because it’s me. My courses don’t count, but I was so impressed I got in touch with Mitch to offer him the chance to work on some commercial project with Carswell Gould.

Carswell Gould Open Mic Mitch Wisniewski

More on Other Skies here

The rest of the pack

Table Venturefest South Innovator Scores

So what have we learned from the Battle of the Open Mic? 

Well I learned that a good pitch comes in many styles – we are all different and so are our ideas – but the ingredient of a clear pitch are often similar: 

  1. Be clear, Be concise, Be compelling – don’t use complex terms or buzzwords 
  2. Help us understand the problem, the solution and the opportunity
  3. Make us feel like we want to be part of the journey.
    And to really be nailing it (Jedi level), finish your pitch knowing exactly the first question you will be asked. Guide the asking of that question to suit your needs. 

Well done to all our Open Mic-ers and thanks for being part of another great event.

You can see past pitches and images from this year on the VFS website here 

and watch lots of pitches from over the years on VFS TV

And get involved with future events by signing up for tickets or the newsletter on the website.

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