Croaking Frogs, Swiss Cheese, and Close Calls—A $25K Winner’s Tale


The 2009 University of Washington Business Plan Competition has come and gone. It started with something like 90 business plan submissions that were paired down to 33 set to compete in an investment round. That round can best be described as a Las Vegas-style trade show with 33 booths, over two hundred judges, team shirts, ties, hair styles, and five hours of pitching that left me and many of my friends sounding like frogs at the end of the day. “Ribbit, Nanocel cools electronics better and cheaper, Ribbit.” The 16 teams that had the most “CIE bucks” invested in them made it to the next round.

Teams had a few weeks to prepare a slide deck and practice presenting their cases to a panel of judges. We all had coaches that listened to our pitches and critiqued them. For team Nanocel, this round was critical as our coaches grilled us on our pitch and punched enough holes in our presentation to make it look like Swiss cheese. That session was uncomfortable. But our coaches weren’t there to stroke us. They were there to school us and schooled we were. We recorded the session and listened to our coaches comments over and over. We did our best to implement every single recommendation and answer every single question raised so that they wouldn’t be asked again. It paid off. The questions raised by our coaches were never again asked by judges in subsequent rounds. Our coaches obviously knew their stuff.

Several weeks later, after multiple presentation deck rewrites and scores of practice pitches, we were ready for the Sweet 16. The day started in a room filled with all of the competitors looking tired, nervous, excited, and tough. My evening MBA class was well represented. I knew these student teams and have seen them present on case studies for last two years. We were confident in our product, our team, our pitch. My partner Dustin sat back looking confident and collected. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried and intimidated by the competition.

We found out when and where we’d be pitching, who our judges were and which teams we needed to beat to get to the final round. We had two hours before we had to pitch and used our time to research our judges just in case one of them would personally benefit from our technology. And we paced around. The pitch seemed to go fast and the questions after were tough. But it was what we expected and we were ready.

The toughest part of the day was coming up. We had to pause and eat lunch, waiting to … Next Page »

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Daniel Rossi is a second year MBA Student at the University of Washington and lives in Seattle with his wife Mandy and dog Rufus. Follow @

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