Pitching on the #WEDF17 stage: Michael Ocansey’s experience
Here at AgroCenta, we have very clear separation of responsibilities among co-founders. Francis [Obirikorang] is officially responsible for selling the company – not dollar sell, though that’ll be great. Anything to do with pitching, interviews, meetings fall on his lap. My job is to ensure whatever he is out there selling exists and functions as expected. This works quite well in my favour as I get to chill while he sweats before audiences, judges and investors. Unfortunately, there are times when multiple events occur on the same dates so we both head out in different directions to rep the company.
October 17, 2017. I find myself in a Brussels Airlines airplane headed for Budapest to represent AgroCenta in the maiden young entrepreneurs pitching competition organized as part of that year’s World Export Development Forum (WEDF). They say things get easier the more you pitch. Well, in my experience, crafting the story gets easier with time but the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
Word on the street was the winner of the pitching competition was walking away with €5,000. The word on the street got confirmed when I touched down in Budapest and checked in to this fancy Novotel hotel. The pitching start-ups had to meet the [International Trade Centre] ITC team to go over our pitches and go through the final round of mentoring that had commenced a couple of months earlier. As if to tease us, David [Cordobes, head of the ITC Youth and Trade Programme] pulled out the fat €5,000 cheque the winner was going to be awarded. My eyes lit up like fog lights. I had to win this cheque. We went through our slides. Got feedback, incorporated them. Did the test runs a few more times. That evening, I was up practicing like crazy. I wanted to ensure the transition between slides was flawless to make the AgroCenta story pleasant to listen to. I think I used my iPhone timer the most that evening than in the entire time I’ve owned the device. Eventually I managed to get some sleep after convincing myself I had practiced enough.
Next morning, the continental breakfast went by so fast. I had pitching on my mind. A few times while practicing in my head I missed the intro. Who said chasing money was easy. After sitting through a few of the morning sessions, I rushed to my room to practice one final time. When the time came, all of us pitching were lined up in very comfortable seats on stage. This was different. Usually in pitching competitions, all start-ups are out of sight until it was their turn to pitch. Some of the guys up with me crossed their legs to look ‘big-man-ish’. I had a pitch to remember. Doing big man things was the last thing on my mind right now. I was wondering why so many people decided to show up for the pitch event. I was the first to pitch. I panicked a bit in the beginning but soon calmed down and gave it my best. The judges fired a few questions my way. For some of the questions I wish I could tell them to go ask Francis, but you know, that wasn’t possible. The relief I felt when handing the microphone over to the next guy cannot be explained. Now I could sit and enjoy others pitching.
Later that evening, the winner was announced at a thrilling dinner that started with some great music from a renowned artist. Sorry cannot remember his name now [it’s Balázs Havasi!]. AgroCenta had quite a cheer when we were announced as the winner for the pitching competition. After this point, everything that was served tasted better. It wasn’t until the next morning I noticed my hotel room had a very nice view of Budapest from my window. The pitch practice had clouded my vision.
After the announcement, our website feedback form got quite busy with lots of people and companies seeking possible partnerships or investments. One year on, the relationship with ITC has developed quite meaningfully with them making introductions to people within their network we can work with. The #WEDF17 experience was great. Budapest was great. Onward to Zambia in September for #WEDF18.
NOTE: Michael Ocansey will be a judge of the young entrepreneurs’ pitch contest at the 2018 World Export Development Forum in Lusaka, Zambia, on 11-12 September.
Join him and other entrepreneurs, policymakers and trade experts from around the world to talk business, do business and scale up trade: www.intracen.org/wedf