Preparing African mobile entrepreneurs for their big pitch: Insights from Ryan Delk

Ryan Delk
Ryan Delk

At the Pivot25 mobile apps competition, which happened last month in Nairobi, 25 finalists pitched their mobile start-up ideas to the judges. A key figure working behind the scenes was Ryan Delk of the business development team at iHub Nairobi. He had spent many hours getting the finalists “stage ready” for the big day.

Steve Vosloo, Mobile Impact Evangelist at mLab Southern Africa (SA), interviewed Ryan about his experiences of taking teams with great ideas and passion, to a place where they understood, and could communicate, the “business” of their ideas: the makeup of the team, the business model, sustainability plan, marketing strategy, etc…

Q: How many entries did you receive for Pivot25?
Ryan: “We received over 100 applications.”

Q: Of the 25 finalists, how many were from Nairobi and how many from elsewhere?
Ryan: “Of the 25 finalists, 21 were from within Kenya, while the other 4 were from Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.”

Q: How many preparation/feedback sessions did you have with each of the finalists?
Ryan: “I did close to 190 pitching sessions in total. Everyone pitched at least once, and some pitched upwards of 10 times. Most of the finalists had 5-7 sessions with me.”

Q: What was the format of each of the preparation sessions?
Ryan: “The format of our sessions depended on the specific needs of each finalists. Early on, most of the session was focused on hammering out business models, working through questions the judges would ask, and talking big-picture about changes to the presentation and pitch. As the finalists progressed, we started to discuss the finer details about the design of the presentation, specific wordings in the pitch, stage presence, and enthusiasm. I made every finalist pitch at least once during each session, even if they weren’t really “ready” for a full-on investor pitch, because I believe that the more practice you get, even when there’s improvement left to be made, the stronger and more confident you’ll be on stage. In addition to the pitching sessions, there were numerous meetings over the last five weeks going through details of each business plan.”

Q: What are some of the key/burning issues that the finalists needed help with?
Ryan: “There were two major challenges that we had to overcome in our preparations for Pivot25. The first was that many of the finalists had no relevant pitching experience prior to this, whether it be for investors or for something entirely unrelated to tech innovation. This posed a huge challenge because I had to start by just showing them what would be expected of them and what a “good pitch” looks like. It’s easy to assume that they just haven’t put the work in to make a good pitch, but if they don’t know what a good pitch is, it’s really a wrong assumption on your part. After I sent out multiple YouTube videos and slide decks of successful presentations, I began working with them individually on what a good pitch would look like for their particular product. We went through the value proposition, critical risks, competitive advantages, barriers to entry, marketability, etc… – all aspects of a good pitch. As seen from the pitches at Pivot25, some of the finalists really began to grasp these concepts, while others did not.

This is really the essence of the second challenge – I quickly found that many of these finalists were fantastic innovators, but they weren’t fantastic businessmen. They weren’t concerned about marketability, profitability, or sustainability, because in their eyes they had already achieved the goal – providing a solution to a particular problem through tech innovation. It took a lot of work, in some cases, to convince them that a good idea isn’t enough. I think this is exactly where the next step is for East African Tech Innovation will be. We need to create a culture where tech innovation happens in ways that are marketable and sustainable. None of this is the fault of anyone in East Africa, it’s simply that the tech innovation and investment market in the Western world has been developed, groomed, and cultivated intensely for the last 25 years. Sometimes, it’s awesome to see someone just trying to solve a problem with technology who’s not interested in a fiscal gain. However, this isn’t sustainable in the long run, and it doesn’t allow us to become a world-leader in the tech entrepreneurship space.

In the end, we need to encourage innovation that is marketable, scalable, and fundable. I believe that organisations and initiatives like the iHub and m:Labs are key players to make this happen. Obviously, two m:Labs aren’t enough to change an entire culture, but these organisations and events like Pivot25 create a platform for these discussions to begin, and then for people to take action.”

Ryan Delk and the team at iHub Nairobi are in the process of launching a ‘Resources’ section on their website which will contain all of the essential resources that Ryan used to prepare the finalists. Be sure to give it a visit before your next pitch or presentation.

We are currently not back at the office yet, but we are reachable through our office number 012 844 0240 or via email at members@mlab.co.za