What do you get when you take one nervous entrepreneur with an elevator pitch, a hacked-together slide deck and a room full of friends, family and potential investors? In Israel it’s called “pitch night.” It’s where the wheat gets separated from the chaff, and the boys from the men.
If you follow the Meetup network in Israel, which is mostly happening in English, you’ll find a pitch night from any sector in high-tech at least every week in bars, universities, or lawyers’ offices — even in an actual elevator. If you are an investor or budding entrepreneur, how do you navigate this scene?
ISRAEL21c got some pointers from a few experts in the field.
Oren Simanian, the founder of StarTAU, a startup accelerator community inside Tel Aviv University, helped create the pitch night phenomenon to help his protégés access startup tools.
For his first meeting in 2009, he booked a room to fit 150 people. But 300 young entrepreneurs showed up.
“It was clear that people needed a place to think that they are not the only ‘locos.’ And for the university, it was a must,” he tells ISRAEL21c. Each of StarTAU’s diverse programs now ends with a pitch night.
Though it’s rare for a check to get signed at pitch nights, they fill the “need to get real-life experience and to get these entrepreneurs out on their legs. We are not expecting a working demo or prototype. But we do expect the best of them,” he says.
Demo days and pitch nights
There are different levels of pitch nights. Some are demo days held at the conclusion of accelerator programs. Others are more tailored to bringing out investors.
Here is a short list of well-established pitch nights and demo days to attend if you want a finger on the pulse of Israel’s tech scene. We did not include those that are not open to the public, such as the 8200 EISP demo day.
1. Pitch Night by StarTAU happens about once every two months. The next one is scheduled for April 23. Usually 150 people come to evaluate six or seven new companies.
2. The Microsoft Ventures Accelerator demo day, at the end of the program cycle, is a must-see. Past graduates include companies like Roojoom, which offers a fun new way to share and read Web content.
3. Startupbootcamp Israel hosts a big demo day at the end of each three-month cycle.
4. Nazareth Business Incubator Center hosts a special pitch night for the Arab community and Arab-Israeli entrepreneurs.
5. Gvahim, an accelerator program for new immigrant entrepreneurs, offers a demo day for select startups.
6. Citi’s financial technology accelerator at the Citi Innovation Lab TLV runs a demo day at the end of each four-month program.
7. The Israel Mobile Summit has pitch nights sponsored by MasterCard.
Polishing the pitch
Pitch night is critical because practice makes perfect for a new entrepreneur, says Elena Donets, the CEO of StarTAU. “The importance is to get experience pitching not just in front of investors but also in front of a large audience,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
Even though investors close deals in private meetings and not at the pitch night, “it’s just a really good chance to get known and to launch the product,” says Donets.
“Tel Aviv pitch night,” says Esther Loewy of Upround Ventures, “has become a way for startups to get on the radar of the innovation ecosystem. In fact, one can find almost a new one each week in Tel Aviv.”
Loewy says that Tel Aviv, and Israel in general, give European, Asian and Latin markets something to aspire to. “The Israeli tech phenomenon,” she points out, “is one they can more easily relate to as a small country with no neighboring trade partners.”
Loewy points to a recent article in The Economist, which noted how “Israel is now the most likely place for people to start a tech firm. The country has an estimated 375 startups per million inhabitants, versus 190 in America.”
Think you got what it takes? Make the pitch and hit the ground running.