, Salem, MA

February 27, 2013

Consultant shares tips for pitching to investors


---- — Phil Holberton knows how to make a pitch to an investor.

In 2008, as head of a Beverly biotech firm, he won the North of Boston Business Plan Competition sponsored by Salem State’s Enterprise Center. Today, as head of The Holberton Group in Danvers, he’s an executive coach and business adviser, drawing on more than two decades of experience in executive management experience for various companies.

He runs a local CEO workshop at the Enterprise Center at Salem State University and is the pitch coach for MassChallenge, a statewide business plan competition and startup accelerator.

We chatted recently about how to make a perfect pitch to investors.

The first tip is to know your audience. Why?

Because every audience is different and you need to tailor your pitch to the audience. ... Most people focus on what they know about their business. They don’t focus on what the audience needs.

What does the audience need?

There are a lot of things. Does the idea have intellectual property? ... Does it provide a cost reduction to something that is already done? ... At the same time ... you have to have an emotional connection to the audience. ... Most entrepreneurs sell their business plan on logic, but most investors make their decision on logic plus emotion.

How long should the investor pitch be?

Typically, the way things are structured ... you usually get a half-hour of pitch and there’s a half-hour of question and answer. I encourage presenters to keep the pitch to 15 minutes. You need to weave it all together. ... If you can prepare a presentation that is start-to-finish 15 minutes, you are doing fine.

You advise presenters not to make jokes to start a presentation, but doesn’t that cut against conventional wisdom on public speaking on how to warm up your audience?

I say you have some big statistic. ... What is the one thing that will grab their attention? ... You have to be professional, and you want to say something that is profound, that is related to your business.

You advise clients to do their homework before making a pitch, including knowing the market, who are the customers and who your competitors might be.

What I see more often than not is that you have technical people making a presentation, but they don’t understand the market.

Many entrepreneurs just want to talk about how the gizmo works. Why is this a mistake?

It’s not a mistake, but if you have a 15-minute presentation, you don’t spend 10 minutes talking about technology. ... Investors are in business to make money. ... What they want to hear is: if this technology works ... is there a market for it and is there a business there.

You say practice your pitch? Why, and how can you do that? Do you sit down before your wife and kids?

When I was doing the business plan competition for the Enterprise Center, I stood at my kitchen counter and talked ... and videotaped it. ... I took special care with the opening and the close. ... You’ve got to practice it. It’s got to be integrated; you want to make the PowerPoint (presentation) the supporting actor and not the main actor. The main actor is you.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.