Pub Talk gets into elevator speeches

Networking event also provides training for local entrepreneurs

By Libby Clark, Columbian Web Editor

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The elevator speech can be the most important way for a startup to catch the attention of investors or customers. But business owners are often stumped by the task of coming up with this quick overview of their business — a pitch that shouldn’t last much longer than an elevator ride, Lynn Elyse Farmer told entrepreneurs attending a recent PubTalk networking event in Vancouver.

photoLynn Elise Farmer, in the green blazer, coached entrepreneurs on the art of the elevator pitch at PubTalk on Wednesday. Ty Stober, standing, founder and president of nLiven Media, gave a longer pitch — 10 minutes — about his company.

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Farmer advises entrepreneurs to think of the speech more as the start of a conversation, instead of an announcement.

Some tips:

• Figure out who your audience is and what they’re most worried about.

• Start with a question that relates to them: You know how …? Have you ever …? Remember when you …?

• “Launch your introduction with something that will engage the other person immediately,” Farmer said.

• Then tell them how your business solves their problem.

Michelle Platter, founder of ShapingEnvironments.com Inc., a Vancouver-based Web startup for the commercial construction industry, said she was eager to improve her pitch to funders.

“I need an elevator speech therapist,” she said.

Farmer suggested Platter use a metaphor to describe her business. Platter could ask, “Have you ever chipped a tooth while traveling and tried to find a dentist?” She could then follow by telling potential investors that ShapingEnvironments helps architects find the skilled professionals they need to finish a project, no matter what city they’re working in.

About 70 people gathered at the AHA! offices in downtown Vancouver on Wednesday to hear Farmer and two other presenters at the bimonthly event, which aims to help Southwest Washington startups hone their business skills and find partners and investors.

Marketing strategist Colleen Wright also presented on how small businesses can optimize their websites for search engines. And Ty Stober, founder and president of nLiven Media, pitched his business to potential investors.

The series, now nearing the end of its first year, is organized by the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council, Columbia River Economic Development Council and Oregon Entrepreneurs Network. At least one startup has a chance to present its business case at each event.

Stober had about 10 minutes to convince investors to put up the $400,000 he needs to launch his first product, My Home Details, a Web service that helps homeowners organize their custom home building and remodeling projects and connect with contractors. He has already invested about $50,000 into the company.

Construction projects are complex and overwhelming for homeowners, with many details to manage and share with a builder. That leaves many opportunities for miscommunication and cost overruns, Stober said.

My Home Details will provide homeowners with a place to manage all the bits of information and costs that go into a construction project. While out looking for ideas in design stores, for example, homeowners can take photos of fixtures they like and send them to their Home Details page. They can then organize the photos and share them with their contractors.

“It gives a way to communicate what you’re trying to accomplish,” Stober said.

Basic features of the website will be free, but the company will charge a subscription for premium content. Stober expects to earn the most revenue from the builders themselves, who refer their clients to the service. He needs about 40,000 homeowners to sign up for the service in order to become profitable — a timeline he sets at about 2013.