Start-up success recipe: Elevator pitches and the grandmother test

An innovative contest for entrepreneurs is coming to Tel Aviv, with 100 Israeli companies competing for a chance to win $100,000

Start-ups give their in-elevator elevator pitches at the CN Tower in Toronto at last year's Elevator World Tour event. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Start-ups give their in-elevator elevator pitches at the CN Tower in Toronto at last year's Elevator World Tour event. (photo credit: Courtesy)

At some point in their careers, most start-up entrepreneurs have to give an “elevator pitch” — a two- to five-minute spiel about their company’s technology and business plan. The idea is to be able to talk up their company to executives for the few minutes that they are truly a captive audience: during the elevator ride up to their offices.

The elevator pitch is usually given in an office or boardroom, and has come to denote brevity and concise presentation. But the International Startup Festival and Elevator World Tour, set to land in Israel on December 18 (applications taken until November 29), takes the concept to the nth degree by having start-ups make their pitches inside an actual elevator.

And to complete the picture of start-up efficacy, those pitches will be evaluated for their utility and benefit by the cohort most valued in the tech business — a panel of grandmothers.

The Elevator World Tour is the brainchild of Philippe Telio, a Canadian who hatched the idea in 2009, when the first International Start-up Festival was first held in Montreal. In 2011, the Tour expanded to include Toronto, and the idea of doing the elevator pitch inside an elevator — in Toronto, the one inside the city’s CN Tower — was born.

This year, the project is being expanded to nine cities altogether – with Tel Aviv the second to be visited, after Toronto (which, based on the Festival’s “tradition,” is by rights the second city after Montreal). “It’s a way for us to stand out, to be different and interesting. This is a great way for us to connect start-ups and investors,” said Telio. “We are doing the elevator pitches inside the most iconic elevators in the world.”

Philippe Telio (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Philippe Telio (ohoto credit: Courtesy)

In the case of Israel, that means the elevator that goes up to the top of one of the Azrieli Towers (the round one) in Tel Aviv. The ride is about a minute and no stops are allowed. Participants will be making their pitches to two of the five judges (“two are all we can fit in the elevator with the entrepreneurs,” said Telio) who will be selecting the winner from among the 100 start-ups who will be pitching.

The judges include New York City’s Jamie O’Hara, director of Grise Global Group, Montreal’s Howard Stotland (founder of STS Systems), Mayer Gniwisch (founder of and Danny Knafo (Calidus Capital Corp), who have all founded and sold technology companies for hundreds of millions of dollars. Roy Oron, general partner of Israel-based Plus Ventures, has also joined as an investor and judge in the competition. The group of judges will choose one winner by the end of the evening during a cocktail party for all attendees at the top of the tower. The winner will get a prize package worth up to $100,000 in investments.

Of course, their choice must be vetted by the panel of grandmothers, said Telio (the elevator pitches will be videoed and presented to the audience at the top of the tower). “They are the potential buyers and users of these solutions, so we pay a great deal of attention to what they say,” said Telio.

The grandmothers know what they’re doing, said Telio. “Take the company Onavo for example, which recently celebrated a lucrative exit when they were bought out by Facebook. The grandmothers were the ones who chose that company, making Onavo the 2011 winner of our pitch competition at Startupfest in Montreal.”

That Israel would figure so prominently on the Tour’s agenda, said Telio, is a no-brainer. “Israel is the Start-up Nation, cultivating thousands of successful start-ups. Outside of Silicon Valley, Israel is one of the centers of world technology. We were considering going to New York as our second stop, because we have a lot of companies from New York and the Eastern Seaboard that come to our main event in Montreal,” said Telio.

“But we wanted to keep an international flavor to the event, so we decided to start our journey outside North America — and Tel Aviv is the best place to do that, because it’s got the most vibrant start-up scene of any of the cities on our agenda,” including Barcelona, Paris, Dubai, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Berlin and Santiago, Telio said, adding that “partnering with forward-thinking cities such as Tel Aviv is a part of our innovative approach to continue finding the next big thing.”

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