By Emily Winslow, JVA Consulting

In April 2013 JVA hosted the premiere Social Enterprise Academy, successfully bringing together 10 social entrepreneurs from diverse sectors and backgrounds.  Participants engaged in an intensive, week long process —refining their concepts, establishing both social and financial goals, conducting market research, developing a business plan, as well as determining a marketing and communications strategy for their socially conscious venture.  Throughout the week, the diverse group of entrepreneurs learned and practiced how to “make the pitch” and effectively talk about their social enterprises to anyone—from a local community member in the grocery story to potential investors. JVA consultants, including CO State Senator Jessie Ulibarri, shared about what makes a pitch successful—including the importance of a strong value statement, the combination of left and right brain messages, clearly describing your differentiating factors and a clear ask.

The Academy culminated with the social entrepreneurs pitching their social enterprise plans to a panel of experts for critical feedback in the JVA “Shark Tank,” named after the popular show on the ABC network where entrepreneurs pitch their products to billionaire investors.

JVA Shark Tank

While JVA’s Shark Tank panelists were not billionaires looking to invest in social enterprises, they DID represent a wide array of expertise in the social enterprise field: Juanita Chacon is a Real Estate Broker who has served on 27 nonprofit boards; Ed Briscoe of Weave Social Finance, LLC is an impact investor; Jeff Hirota is the Vice President of Programs at The Denver Foundation; and Ryan Kalman from PaySimple works in the business development field—pitching to potential clients every day. Their expertise provided incredible insights and advice for each of the Social Enterprise Academy participants—a truly valuable experience.

Each SEA entrepreneur gave three minute “pitches” to the panel. Then, they received invaluable, specific feedback on their concepts and delivery, which will allow them to continue to strengthen their venture concepts. We were so excited about the feedback and tips the “Shark Tank” panelists gave to the Social Enterprise Academy participants, we had to share some of them with you!

Key Pitch Takeaways from the Shark Tank

Capitalize on your personal experience

In order to captivate potential investors or clients, panelists suggested using personal experience and connection to the original motivations and vision behind the creation of the social enterprise. “What led you to start this social enterprise? Do you have firsthand experience being in a gang, causing you to dedicate your life to workforce training and rehabilitation of ex-gang members? Tell us!” While statistics are good and useful to support your big ideas, a story sticks in people’s minds and allows individuals to connect with you and your business on a deeper level. JVA agrees—every pitch should include both the left-brain messages (statistics and data) as well as right-brain messages (the story).

Clearly describe your goal and purpose

Sometimes this involves using effective visuals to communicate a concept, but having high energy and inviting body language can be just as successful. A well-laid-out, multifaceted plan with a well-defined purpose and vision will get entrepreneurs far. It’s even better if a pitch can generate a sense of urgency and call for action from the audience through conviction and demonstration of thoughtful planning. Panelists suggested making sure to articulate both social and financial returns on investment as well as how the social enterprise concept is sustainable.

Articulate your differentiating factor

In the field of social enterprise, it is vital to clearly communicate and frame why and how your business is different from other businesses (both nonprofit and for-profit ones). Not only should you be able to differentiate yourself from your competitors in the market, but you should also be able to show that you are not reinventing the wheel or duplicating existing business models.

Do your homework

Every pitch should reflect the robust market research that has been conducted for your enterprise. Who is the target market for your venture? Can you demonstrate knowledge about the industry and the target market? It isn’t enough to have an innovative concept or idea—social entrepreneurs need to show both social and financial impact at the community and investor level.

Are you excited to join the next JVA Social Enterprise Academy? We have just announced the next dates! Mark your calendar for September 16–20, 2013. Registration is opening later this week!