French Students Perfect Their Pitch
Originally designed to help startups attract investors, pitch competitions are fast multiplying at colleges and universities. The events help students learn how to sell their ideas, especially when it comes to business ventures. Certain schools are so convinced of their benefits that they have made the action learning exercise a cornerstone of their programs.
The goal of the Pitch me up competition at the University of Paris X Nanterre? Highlight student and school entrepreneurship and hopefully turn some great ideas into reality. This past January 26th marked the event's 2nd edition.
At the University of Nantes, all students are invited to "defend their department's colors" in a pitch battle. Similarly, Nice's job fair includes an elevator pitch competition. At the University of Paris-Saclay, the student entrepreneur association hosts Saclay pitch night several times a year for the school's student startups.
The Big Idea
In France, programs like HEC's entrepreneurship MBA were the first to get on board. At the 2016 "Will you find the next big idea?" challenge, eight HEC teams had seven minutes to out-pitch their classmates. The event promoted ideas ranging from a cutting-edge microscope to a password saving tool and a cardiovascular video camera.
For Michel Safars, entrepreneurship program chair at HEC, "Pitches don't just tell a story, they sell a story." Unlike the similarly popular speech contests, which are "demonstrations of intelligence and intellectual and verbal prowess," pitches have commercial aims. "My project won't come to fruition unless you invest", he explains.
Time is Money
Thesis competitions like France's hit Three minute thesis have also popularized pitch events. MOOC star Cécile Dejoux integrated pitch exercises into her Master's level HR class at the CNAM. At the Our digital HR project in 5 minutes event, her students present their work to HR executives. Dejoux has just one rule: "charm them, avoid information overload at all costs and only show your best work."
Are pitches a fad? Safars says, "Perhaps, but the exercise isn't new. Anglo-Saxon universities have long held student competitions." Pitches align with his firm belief in action learning. Yet, are they suited to all students?
For Safars, "While some pitches are poor and shy and rebellious students in particular may have trouble getting into it, failed pitches help students learn their limits. Over the long term, it's always a positive exercise."