PitchBlack 2019: A few words of advice and inspiration from former PitchBlack Portland presenters

This Wednesday marks the fifth installment of PitchBlack, an event created by Stephen Green to showcase Black Portland founders that has grown into a national happening. Wednesday’s event will be the biggest PitchBlack Portland ever, held at Wieden+Kennedy’s headquarters in the Pearl. By all accounts, this is a big deal — and probably a little stressful for participants. That’s why Stephen reached out to former PitchBlack presenters to get some last minute words of advice and a bit of a pep talk.

Paige Hendrix Buckner (LinkedIn, Twitter)

What advice do you have for this year’s group of pitchers?

I have three tips for founders who are preparing to pitch.

1) Prepare your deck so it addresses the most important information about your business as you tell a compelling story. Tell us the problem you’re solving, who you are solving for, how your solution works, any traction you have, how large the market is and your ask [follow me on social media, buy my products, subscribe to my newsletter, invest in my company, etc.].

2) Practice, practice, practice. Practice your pitch 10 to 20 times before the event. Deliver your pitch with a timer each time so you end on time. Ask friends, family, mentors, advisors or colleagues to watch you pitch. If they can’t be in person, call them to practice and listen to their feedback. Give yourself time to incorporate the feedback and practice your updated deck. Practice until you can say your pitch comfortably without your deck. If you arrive at PB and you are still feeling nervous, that’s GREAT! It means that you are perfectly normal. Turn that nervous energy into enthusiasm and share your positive energy with the audience. You know your company better than anyone else, so show up, show out, tell your story and shine.

3) Plan for everything to go wrong. I once gave a pitch with my deck completely out of order. You need to be able to roll with the punches. Know your deck well enough that you could deliver your pitch WITHOUT THE DECK if technology fails you.

What did being part of PitchBlack mean to you?

PitchBlack means being part of a family. Every year, I feel like I’m at a family reunion and it’s such a gift to our community. Being a founder is challenging; it’s often a lonely experience where you have both personal and professional struggles that you don’t always feel like you can share with family and friends. PitchBlack is filled with folks from all corners of the startup ecosystem who get it and are there to see you win.

What connections made through PitchBlack that benefit your company today?

So many! Let me count the ways! First, preparing for the PB pitch helped me clarify what was scalable about our company. When I pitched, I finally felt like I was FINALLY clearly telling the right story. Second, the prize money we received went to wages for folks we hired during the 2016 holiday season. It was awesome to see the money we received go back into the pockets of community members. Finally, we closed one of our first enterprise customers because a member of the audience saw our model and introduced us to their team. As a result of this relationship, we uncovered a new use case for our business that helped us prepare for our second enterprise customer.

Who should come to PitchBlack and why?

You should come to PitchBlack to connect with other founders, startup organizations, investors and potential customers. Come find your community so we can support you on this rollercoaster journey.

Are you surprised an event like PitchBlack started in Portland?

Have you met our community?! No, I’m not surprised because we have a special group of folks who really care about creating a space where Black founders can flourish. It is still VERY challenging for Black founders to get access to the support, customers, mentorship or capital they need to grow their companies. The folks behind PB saw this issue and said, “We won’t stand by and let this be the case for Black founders in our community.” I’m inspired by their work daily and count myself very lucky to have been a founder in the PB community.

Damola ‘D’ Omotosho (LinkedIn, Twitter)

What advice do you have for this year’s group of pitchers?

I think the biggest piece of advice I have to offer is communicate and own your narrative. There are a lot thoughts, books and material on what a startup looks like and what investors are looking for, how you should pitch, et al. This can often lead to doubt and worries about the way you structure your pitch and what you communicate. Rather if you focus on just telling your story, the problem, potential solution, how you plan to make money/grow and the reason you are pitching in front of the audience today you will do just fine!

What did being part of PitchBlack mean to you?

I had been participating in the tech and startup scene for over 5 years when the opportunity to pitch at PitchBlack came along. Most of my career had been spent behind a screen or in a cubical prior to PitchBlack as I had convinced myself as an Engineer I could not effectively deliver the message. I had a flawed thought process that I was better off sitting behind a desk coding and pitching was for someone else maybe the company CEO.

PitchBlack opened my eyes to the importance of people knowing your story and the reason behind your motivation to build or solve a problem. In my case PitchBlack afforded me after so many years focused on building an opportunity to express what and why I was building CutUp a barber & stylist location platform aimed at minority men and women. And as I am sure the rest of the PDX startup community will tell you I haven’t stopped pitching since!

What connections made through PitchBlack that benefit your company today?

The biggest connection that formed would be definitely be the opportunity to become an EIR with JLR. I would later go one to become a part of the inaugural Jaguar LandRover Startup Incubator where I would have the opportunity to meet and be inspired by other aspiring entrepreneurs and companies. As an Entrepreneur in Residence I was able to introduce myself as such when speaking with potential investors and shed the title of Intel Software Engineer. This also resulted for me in an OEN membership which further gave me the opportunity to network and meet others who were running amazing businesses and doing amazing things in PDX. It also brought to my attention organizations such as TiE and I have since participated in many other growth and development opportunities as a result of that 10 minutes of exposure at PitchBlack!

Who should come to PitchBlack and why?

Because where else will you find the world’s best and brightest black and brown founders building the future without going to AfroTech or moving to Atlanta 🙂

Are you surprised an event like PitchBlack started in Portland?

If you know the brain child behind PitchBlack (The man, the myth, the legend Mr. Stephen Green) you would not at all be surprised! That coupled with the amazing community and support that exists in Portland you would quickly realize that PDX is a special place if you are looking to build and grow a business. As Spike Lee would say “PDX Got Next!” and PitchBlack is making sure of that.

If you need to grab a ticket, you can still RSVP to PitchBlack. The event takes place Wednesday, August 14, 2019, starting at 5:30PM. If grabbing a ticket is beyond your current means, please hit me up. I’ve got a couple of extra tickets.

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