Startup Speed Dating: Three Tips for Success

What do you get when you mix a room full of startup founders with corporate executives? Magic!

Last week, the Microsoft Accelerator team ran four events where this happened. In New York, we had a FinTech Innovation Summit and a graduation event for the latest cohort from the Seattle Accelerator. We also held an Enterprise Partners Innovation Summit at Microsoft headquarters, plus a matchmaking event between Seattle cohort graduates and those same enterprise partners. At these startup “speed dating” events, we pair a curated portfolio of startup companies with some of Microsoft’s key partners and customers.

The Microsoft Accelerator model is “equity free” – we don’t take financial stakes in the companies that participate. Instead, the value that we deliver is in exclusive access to Microsoft’s customer base, and ultimately, opening doors to mutually beneficial start-corporate partnerships.

Our objective with these events is to use our influence to create connections between our startups and our customers, in hopes that a potential deployment—or even proof of concept—will result. Last week was, in my humble opinion, a home run.  85% of the companies participating in the Enterprise Partners summit, as well as 85% of companies who participated in the Graduation Event, and 62% of those participating in the FinTech Summit have follow-up meetings already set.

Such “speed dating” events create incredible opportunities for both startups and enterprises. If you have a startup and the chance to attend a similar event, here are three tips to make the most of your experience:

  1. Practice your pitch.  I know, this seems obvious. But I’m always amazed at events like these where companies turn up unprepared to give a short (3-minute) pitch on what they do.  And because the speed dating format generally only allows for less than 20 minutes together, it’s vital to get across exactly what your solution does and what problem it solves as fast as possible, and get down to business.
  2. Know who you’re meeting.  Again, seems like a no-brainer. But take the time before arriving to really research the companies and representatives. It was apparent in the room last week who had and who hadn’t done this. One team spent 10 minutes (out of 20 total) asking questions about the role of the executive sitting in front of them. Don’t let this be you.
  3. Have an ask.  What are you looking for?  A follow-on meeting?  A proof-of-concept deployment? Know what you’re going to ask for before you even get to the event. Then be prepared to either push for a deal or a follow-up meeting.

Are you a later stage company looking to scale? Consider applying to the Microsoft Accelerator in Seattle, currently accepting applications for its fifth batch!