Ali Friedman, development director of Year Up Puget Sound, during the SIFP event yesterday. (Photo: Connie Lin)

lovellettersSo a lot of our readers have been kvetching about the tightwads in the Seattle investment scene, but after spending Monday morning surrounded by mentors and judges, reviewing pitches for 16 businesses trying to make this world a better place, I’m glad I live in this corner of the universe.

Here are a few of my take-aways as a judge of the quarter-finals of SIFP, the Social Innovation Fast Pitch event:

  • I should never, ever be a grantmaker. Broke down in tears during no fewer than three of the morning’s presentations. I’d burn through my organization’s annual allotment in the first week.
  • Seattle is 15% sunnier than Germany, the leading producer of solar power. Who knew?
  • A pitch is a pitch is a pitch, whether your business is non-profit or for-profit (all of us startups start off as non-profits, don’t we?)

And for those of you pitching your hearts out, be it to grantmakers or investors, here are the two themes that emerged from these fast-paced presentations:

  • Mind the arousal curve. Yep, that’s a real marketing term, and I don’t care if it sounds dirty.  We all know what a bell curve looks like, so keeping that in mind, know that there is an optimal level of emotion that you can convey and elicit. Undersell and you won’t get noticed, or will be quickly forgotten.  Push past it and you’ll get diminishing marginal returns.  Every presenter today was credible and committed, but the best had an almost tangible passion for their cause.   That said, it was hard for me to keep listening to the pitches where I was bawling, so there is a limit.  Turn-ons can turn into turn-offs.  Most of the hundreds and hundreds of entrepreneurs I’ve coached undersell.
  • A persona is worth 1000 words.  Pictures are great too, but when it comes to telling your story, setting up a problem and solution by way of a use-case scenario is worth its weight in gold.  Not every investor or grantmaker will be your end-user, so capture their imagination by telling them a story. Use a real case study, or a persona of your alpha customer.  In my book, there’s no better way to illustrate market pain and demonstrate a differentiated solution, than when you tell a story about how much better Amy’s life became when she started using your product/service.  Today, Jon Hoekstra of the Nature Conservancy put it best when he explained “when you’re tackling a huge problem, you have to break it down to individual accountability.”  Humanize your pitch with real examples- you won’t regret it.

You won’t always find that perfect balance between excitement and fear, passion and loathing, story-time and nap-time, but remember that Goldilocks ate a lot of porridge before she found the right dish. And if you’re inspired by companies who’d like to do well by doing good, come check out a great mix of both for-profit and non-profit social ventures at SIFP on October 3.

[Editor’s Note: GeekWire is a media sponsor for the SIFP event. See this site for more on Year Up Puget Sound, whose development director Ali Friedman is pictured above.]

Rebecca Lovell, GeekWire’s chief business officer and a longtime member of the Seattle region’s entrepreneurial community, is a confirmed movie-cryer, so take the above with liberal grains of salt. Have a startup question for Rebecca? Submit your lovelletter to

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  • Emer Dooley

    Rebecca’s too soft :)  I wasn’t crying; I was trying to decide who’d be the best to invest in. Just like the for-profit space. Some awesome contestants. Can’t wait for Oct 3rd at 4:30pm in Fisher Pavillion.

  • Vikram Chalana

    I agree on finding the right balance between over-selling and under-selling, in general. But when you are pitching a social solution to a problem that itself is overwhelming, it could be very hard to move left on bell-curve and undersell. I can’t wait to attend this event on October 3rd. 

    • Anonymous

      Excellent points, Emer and Vikram ! I did fully disclose my movie-cryer issues. ;)   It is almost impossible to be too passionate about solving huge problems. And a 5- minute limit is definitely a tall order when it comes to fixing them. That said, a pitch is a pitch is a pitch. Market pains were clear, but the best of the amazing (and yes, often moving) pitches not only illustrated that pain, but talked about who would solve them (i.e., management team) and how (use-case scenario). 
      Every company I saw stepped up to take on major challenges, can’t wait to see who the finalists are and watch them shine 10/3. As @daveschappell says, onward!

  • Ethan Schaffer

    Thanks for covering this great event!

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