As an entrepreneur, you’ve learned to accept when your company’s pitch hits with a thud among would-be clients. But what if roles were reversed? What if you had the power to accept or deny a giant company’s business?

This isn’t a dream. It’s the premise behind SwitchPitch, a two-year-old event series that asks major companies like IBM and HBO to run their technology needs by fast-growing and able-bodied startups. The series, which was launched in partnership with the Washington, D.C.-based accelerator Exhilarator, aims to hold 10 events a year. So far, events have been held in D.C., New York City and Miami, with plans to launch in Los Angeles (May 22) and London (June 19).

To date, the series, which is hosting its fourth event in D.C. Thursday, boasts a total of 54 projects presented, 12 deals signed, and $1.2 million in revenue generated for participants. From past events, media firm Gannett located a Google Glass developer, AccuWeather found a user-interface web designer.

“We want to make sure our driving force, to get deals signed, continues to be what is prevailing.” says Michael Goldstein, founder of SwitchPitch and Exhilarator. “There’s a ton of value of getting big name companies on their websites as clients.”

Cody Littlewood, the founder of Codelitt Incubator, adds that landing another paying customer is also a big incentive. After attending a SwitchPitch in New York City last October, he connected with Adam Yaeger, a business development manager at Assurant, an insurance company in New York. Codelitt created a digital warranty platform for Assurant--a project Yaeger says his company would not have had the technical prowess to produce internally.

“We liked Cody because his company was small and could do things quickly,” Yaeger says. “He’s a true partner that can handle everything, like a Swiss army knife: design, development, copy, all of it.”

Littlewood says SwitchPitch was a “fantastic catalyst” for Codelitt whose revenue has since quadrupled. “A lot of big corporations don’t start with the consumer first, and they spend so much time turning down pitches,” he says. “But they’re starting to realize that the best innovation is coming from entrepreneurs.”

Similarly, Havas Worldwide tapped the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based business intelligence and analytics company Signl to develop a brand dashboard for the global communications giant Havas Worldwide. The startup based its work on its own existing technologies.

For those who don’t establish official deals, networking is also a huge aspect of SwitchPitch. Yaegar says he took the time to vet everyone he met in New York, and besides Codelitt, he made connections with others that Assurant might work with in the future. Littlewood adds that SwitchPitch has the potential to double as a talent search opportunity for companies, too.

But if you’re an investor, Goldstein says SwitchPitch may not be ideal for you. Sponsors and supporters including investors, accountants, and lawyers are welcome, he says. But ideally, the room should be about 95 percent startups.

“There are plenty of other pitch events where startups and investors can connect,” Goldstein says. “We don’t want startups to be distracted by the venture guy because he’s there and they want to make a good impression.”

And while there are a number of online platforms that aim to connect startups with big companies, as well as investors, Goldstein is bullish on SwitchPitch’s unique place in the startup world. “You still have to raise capital and do business development, but this is a way to jumpstart the business development process.”

Published on: Mar 27, 2014