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Pitching at hackathons

Innovation creating hackathons end up in a pitch. This article is about our experiences on what instructions students need to create a pitch.


Maria Haukka

lehtori, HR ja johtaminen
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Päivi Käri-Zein

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 20.12.2023

We are focusing on the elevator pitch, which we have tested and as it has proved to be a very useful tool for students.  The main point of an elevator pitch is to squeeze as much as possible out of little time. An elevator pitch is brief and very concise.  Still, it must be effective enough to sell an idea to a stranger during the time it takes to ride an elevator. In hackathons the length of a pitch varies from 1 to 5 minutes.

Passion is important in communicating a good pitch

The elements of a good pitch are simple. First, the problem needs to be well-defined. The audience has to understand the issue and why it is relevant to them. Then, the solution needs to be clearly expressed. The audience has to understands the unique way of solving the defined problem.

The pitch has to be well argued. It is important to introduce the team and highlight the human talents behind it. The added value of the presented solution has to be clear and the benefits for the user well understood. The pitch highlight the attributes that make your project special. All this is best expressed with a little passion.

A good pitch needs intention and calls for action. The audience knows what is wanted from it. The audience may be anybody from business angels to consumers. The business model is explained and the product/idea is demonstrated in the pitch. Technical details and images may be included. It is important to highlight the benefits and profits of a new idea or solution and how much funding is needed. The pitch needs to convey the teams own belief in its solution.

The difference between a presentation and a pitch

Elements of good pitch are taught to our students and normally they are good at pointing out the problems and challenges, but other elements of the pitch are weaker. Too often a pitch is not practiced enough, and students read the text from paper. What should a teacher emphasize when coaching students for their pitch?

We prefer the teams to present their innovation – solution to the problem – visually.  If the solution is virtual, the prototype can be a demo of the new webpage. If the solution is something physical, they can handicraft the prototype from a cartoon. If the solution is an app, the demo can be drawn on the phone screen. It doesn’t matter how the visualization happens – as long as it clearly shows the solution in practice.

Very often students do not distinguish a pitch from a presentation. We show them videos of award-winning pitches and emphasize how the pitch differs from a normal presentation, but still, there is always a group that speaks loose language, seeks words and expressions, and exceeds time. However, the basic format of a hackathon pitch must be made clear to the students. The better they understand their role and the challenge, the working tools, the process, and all the elements, the better the results.

At the end, the responsibility always lies with the students themselves. When they are motivated to work hard, they dig into the process and its background properly. When the added value for the customer is found, the innovation turns out good and is ready to be presented. And the pitch itself is all about practice, practice, and practice.

The HACK-IT project is multinational and funded by the EU Erasmus+. In addition to Haaga-Helia, Kaunas University of Technology, University West, Polytechnic Institute of Bragança and University of Granada are involved in the project.

Editing: Marianne Wegmüller

Picture: Shutterstock