7 tips for a winning startup pitch

Joseph Sheahan knows a thing or two about delivering outstanding startup pitches.

In 2011, Sheahan’s student-founded startup won first place in the graduate division at the Startup Challenge (formerly Concept2Venture), a business plan competition sponsored by the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His team went on to compete successfully at eight additional competitions around the U.S. the following semester.

Joseph Sheahan speaking

Joseph Sheahan, co-founder and CEO of Savvo Digital Sommelier Solutions

But he didn’t stop there. With a little more hustle, Sheahan re-entered the same competition with a different pitch two years later and nabbed second place for his current startup, Savvo Digital Sommelier Solutions.

Savvo is the third startup Sheahan has launched or nurtured, having co-founded NovoView Diagnostics six years ago while getting his MBA at UIC, and becoming an early employee at a health care IT startup immediately thereafter.

Here’s some advice from Sheahan for first-time entrepreneurs when pitching at a business plan competition:

  1. Plan for success: Be sure you know how long your presentation will take, and stick to the script.
  2. Wear it well: Show the judges that you mean business and that you’re taking this seriously. It will go a long way.
  3. Bring the passion: Show that you are passionate about your business venture. If you aren’t, no one else will be.
  4. Don’t ‘wing it’: Rehearse, so you don’t find yourself rambling or running out of time. The best presenters in these types of situations often practice their pitches over 100 times. Literally.
  5. Practice and prep: Prepare for the questions and answers just as you do for your presentation.
  6. What’s your ‘ask’? Have a clear call to action, to let everyone know what you need today.
  7. Tell a story: A good presentation should be as enjoyable to the audience as if it were “adult storytelling.”

Sheahan, co-founder and CEO of Savvo Digital Sommelier Solutions, will join the judging panel for the 12th annual Startup Challenge live business plan competition. Semifinalists will pitch in front of a live audience to win money for their small businesses. The student entrepreneurs will be evaluated and receive feedback from industry professionals, serial entrepreneurs and investors.

The first-place and second-place winners, along with each finalist, will take home a cash prize, while the Early Venture Track Recognition and Elevator Pitch/Fan Favorite winners will also pocket cash.

UIC Startup Challenge


Monday, April 10
9 a.m. – 3 p.m.


Student Center East
750 S. Halsted St.

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