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Going up! The elevator pitch

  • Story Highlights
  • Contest sees students make 60-second pitches for business ideas
  • Presentations have to be compelling, articulate -- and short
  • Entrants compete for $10,000 in start-up cash
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By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- If you want to start your own company, there's one thing you're going to have to do, and sooner rather than later -- pitch for business.


On your marks, and pitch! Students had just a minute to make their case.

That's why many of the student competitions so popular in business schools these days take the form of business pitches, generally in the form of small teams making well-rehearsed presentations before panels of experts.

However, one school has just taken a different approach with an innovative new contest -- the so-called Elevator Pitch.

Held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, home to the well-known Sloan School of Management, it saw more than 170 contestants from 12 different schools pitch ideas in business areas ranging from health care to environmental products.

An elevator pitch is so named because it is delivered in the time span of a hypothetical elevator trip.

It is a popular concept -- earlier this year, students at Columbia Business School took part in a pitch competition in which the pleas for investment were actually delivered in an elevator, although these were filmed rather than having all the judges crammed inside as well.

The Columbia contest, however, gave contestants two minutes to make their pitches, while the MIT equivalent is even stricter, giving a time limit of just 60 seconds, with no slides or other aides permitted.

In this minute, each contestant had to give the judges a brief overview of their idea for a product, service, or project, and why it should win one of 10 prizes totaling more than $10,000, with a first prize of $2,500.

"Conceivably, a participant could win $2,500 in 60 seconds," noted Jeff Sabados, one of the event's organizers. "That's an hourly wage of $150,000, which isn't bad for an afternoon."

The pitches were judged on three criteria -- how well they expressed a particular problem or need and identified the customer; how distinctive and viable the idea was in addressing the need; and how effectively the presenter articulated the problem and solution.

"A successful elevator pitch communicates a sense of value, empathy, and urgency," said Ken Morse, a senior lecturer from the Sloan school and managing director of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center.

Fact Box

FT MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Columbia, U.S.
3. Harvard, U.S.
4. Stanford GSB, U.S.
5. London Business School, UK
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Insead, France/Singapore
8. Stern, NYU, U.S.
9. Tuck, Dartmouth, U.S.
10. Yale, U.S.
Source: Financial Times 2007

"It quantifies the value proposition clearly and combines thorough sales and market research."

The elevator pitch is a new element to MIT's Entrepreneurship Competition, now in its 19th year. Since it began in 1989, the competition has led to the creation of more than 85 companies with aggregate market capitalizations of over $10 billion.

The contest proved popular and raucous, with competitors making their pitches before a noisy crowed armed with air horns.

First prize went to MIT student Jessica Laviolette with a pitch for a fast and low cost method for painting new automobiles.

Other notable pitches included noise-canceling windows for city-dwellers, an Internet search engine for children and a non-invasive imaging device to help detect skin cancer. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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