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QA with Nick Szabo on the MDMC pitch competition

Nick Szabo (right) and Swizzle employee Grey Geppert at last year’s MDMC.

The Midwest Digital Marketing Conference returns to St. Louis this year with a startup pitch competition awarding a $5,000 cash prize sponsored by Purina and UMSL Accelerate. We talked with Nick Szabo, Chief Operating Officer of Swizzle and the organizer of the pitch competition to find out why startups should apply and what he hopes they will gain from pitching at MDMC.

SPN: You’ve said that this isn’t just another pitch competition. What sets MDMC’s pitch competition apart from the rest?

NS: The big difference is the audience. We are going to have the 5 selected companies pitch, not to investors, but to customers since this conference will be filled with our startups’ target market. This way, even the 4 startups who don’t win, will still win customers.

SPN: How was the pitch competition formed out of your own experiences?

NS: I’ve done startup competitions all over the world, from Singapore to Seoul to California and here in the Midwest, and I am always frustrated that they never seem to be designed to help the companies in the competition grow their businesses. It seems there is so much focus on pitching your ideas to investors, that people forget the whole point of a company is to make money from customers. I wanted this experience to help all 5 companies we select grow their businesses, so every decision we made was geared toward that end.

Only letting 5 startups in lets the companies shine to customers instead of getting buried. Only selecting startups that are focused on the types of people who will attend the conference makes sure the companies there will get direct value from the conference. Giving the startups access to our high quality speakers will give them real world advice on how to grow. And finally, making the pitch competition about the customer, not the investment, lets the 5 companies focus on what is important. It doesn’t take valuable time away from the startups when they are preparing, since talking to your customer is what you do all day anyway.

SPN: What qualifiers are you looking for in pitch applicants?

NS: The biggest criteria is for the companies to be focused on the marketing industry and that they be from the Midwest so that their target market will be the attendees of the MDMC. We are also looking for startups, not mature companies, so they have to either be less than 2 years old, or have had a major pivot in the last 2 years. We will select the top 5 of our applicants based on how good of a fit they are to the conference, how much value we can bring to them, and how unique of an offering they have.

SPN: What can the 5 companies chosen to pitch expect at MDMC?

NS: The 5 startups we select will get 2 conference passes ($300 value), Free parking for both days of the conference ($40 value), 4 Food Truck Vouchers ($40 value), Free display booth with power ($840 value), Discounted hotel accommodations, access to select speakers including Facebook, Google, Pinterest, and others (we will try to pair the most valuable connections appropriately), a focused pitch to their target market, and the one overall pitch winner will get $5,000 in cash from Purina and UMSL.

SPN: What is the lasting value for startups by participating in the pitch competition, beyond the $5000?

NS: I want each of our 5 startups to walk away from the conference with leads for business, advice from industry leaders, and advice from customers. Ultimately, the goal here is to help each company grow in their business. That’s what a trade show is supposed to be for, right?

Startups interested in participating in the pitch competition can register online by March 5, 2017. Second round applicants will be notified by March 12, 2017. The five finalists will be notified by March 17, 2017.

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