Pitching your business for the first time can be intimidating, especially as a student trying to grow a startup. But practice makes perfect, and competitions like Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO)'s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA) encourage "studentpreneurs" to continue growing their businesses with help from mentors and fellow entrepreneurs. To get a student's perspective, we asked Daniel Dubois, founder and CEO of ShareShed, as well as a second runner-up in EO's 2016 GSEA Global Finals, about his experiences. Here's what he shared:
Describe your company in one sentence.
DD/ ShareShed is the Airbnb of outdoor adventure gear.
How did you become involved with EO's student competition?
DD/ At the time, I was an entrepreneur-in-residence through The Next Big Thing Fellowship at Hootsuite's headquarters in Vancouver, Canada. The manager of innovation forwarded me the application that was being passed around among mentors involved in the Vancouver startup ecosystem. I saw that it was a pitch competition with some great prizes for the winner but didn't grasp the caliber of entrepreneurs that I would be exposed to. I quickly submitted answers about my startup--the application isn't very long--and am very grateful that I was given the opportunity to participate.
What surprised you most about the competition?
DD/ Who knew that a one-day pitch competition in Vancouver, Canada, would lead me on a global entrepreneurial journey, competing with high-level peers from more than 50 countries around the world and providing me with global visibility?
What surprised me most is how similar the challenges are that all entrepreneurs face. We had a Forum-style group meeting in Bangkok with 51 entrepreneurs from 51 countries.
Seasoned entrepreneurs were positioned at every table to help facilitate the discussion. We started with an exercise answering this question: "If you really knew me, you'd know that _______." Each of us would finish the sentence with something we were struggling with. We went around the table three times. The entrepreneurs facilitating said this exercise typically starts off slowly then gets deeper each time people share. But that's not how our group played it. The "studentpreneurs" shared with vulnerability and courage from the start. The same challenges were coming up for almost everyone: relationships within our team, cash flow, raising money, imposter syndrome and not knowing if we were the right person for the task at hand. It impressed me that everyone put their egos aside to be completely authentic. No one was saving face. Being vulnerable helped us bond; I made friends for life with the people in that group.
How did the experience impact your entrepreneurial journey?
DD/ It accelerated my learning trajectory faster than I could have imagined. For example, six seasoned entrepreneurs from EO invested in ShareShed, and helped me navigate the entire journey from taking on venture capital investment through our recent acquisition. I learned how to avoid common mistakes and most importantly, how critical it is to rely on my core values as a filter in every decision I make.
This competition also opened the door for my participation at the Gathering of Titans program at MIT. Thanks to EO GSEA, I even represented the United States at the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Alliance in China.
What were your takeaways from the final competition?
DD/ After interacting with the judges and receiving feedback both from successful entrepreneurs and my peers, my biggest takeaway from the entire experience is that I needed to think 10 times as big. The more ambitious your company is, the more people will be inspired to help make your aspirations come true. I entered the competition with ambition and left with what I like to describe as "moonshot thinking."
What message would you send to students who are considering applying for a competition like this?
DD/ Do it. There's nothing to lose and absolutely everything to gain. Thanks to my participation in the competition, I now have mentors and peers in cities around the world. I've grown personally and professionally because of it. I can't imagine someone not gaining a ton of knowledge, experience and insight. I've done plenty of pitch competitions, and there's nothing like EO GSEA. It's an absolute must.
What are your future plans for your company?
DD/ We successfully sold the company in 2017. Entrepreneurship is in my DNA, and I have a few new startups with the potential to move society forward in a meaningful way in the AI, clean meat and EMF exposure space. I'm also advising blockchain companies.
I remain a strong supporter of pitch competitions: I judged the EO GSEA regional round in Vancouver and the Canadian finals in 2017. This year, I was accepted as a judge for the 2018 GSEA Global Finals in Toronto. As a way to support other undergraduate business owners to make the strongest impact possible and accelerate their success, I make myself available to mentor students and help them compete at the highest level.