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You may have heard of the "elevator pitch," but MBA students who competed in the third annual Babcock Elevator Competition at Wake Forest University (WFU) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, lived it. In this new take on the business plan competition, winning meant mastering the art of fast-talking.
The object of the contest was to craft a two-minute pitch and deliver it to a VC during an elevator ride. "This competition was designed to simulate reality," says Stan Mandel, faculty leader of the competition and director of the Angell Center for Entrepreneurship at WFU. "You must be able to make concise, effective pitches to influential individuals."
Out of the more than 27 teams in the March 2002 competition, two boasted winning business plans. Nicole Kinser and Peter King, both MBA students at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business in Athens, Georgia, at the time, pitched their idea for Aqua Vitae Enterprises. Their key product? A compound that boosts fish immune systems. "You had to catch [the VC's] interest and explain there is a problem [this product solves]-and hit the high points. They want to see you've done your homework," says Kinser, 27.
Adds King, 35: "[The VCs] will start asking questions on the spot. You've got to be on your toes."
The other winning team agrees. Margaret Price, 28, an MBA student at WFU at the time of the competition, pitched D-Tec-Dent Corp., a service that replaces dentures for senior citizens in three days (the process usually takes four to six weeks). Price, who founded the company with her father-in-law, William Price, a dentist, and her husband, Bobby Price, 30, had never pitched a VC before. She says of the two-minute elevator ride: "It goes by fast. It's an interesting format."
Although there was no prize money for the winners, both won a formal meeting with the VCs that could lead to funding for the ventures.