Tanya Van Court was a career corporate executive. Moving from telecom to television, she rose through the ranks at ESPN and Nickelodeon, eventually becoming senior vice president of marketing and education partnerships at Discovery Communications. But all that climbing on the corporate ladder didn’t completely prepare her for one critical part of making the leap to entrepreneurship: making the pitch to potential customers.
Not long ago, Van Court was contemplating her daughter’s request for presents for her ninth birthday. The wish list had only two items on it: enough money to open an investment account and a bike. It got Van Court thinking about gift giving, and how family and friends encourage kids to want more and more stuff each time. What if there were a way to turn that around and teach children that there are more meaningful goals to work toward?
It would be Van Court’s lightbulb moment. Shortly after that, she founded Sow, a platform that enables kids and their parents, college students, and young adults to get money to help save toward future goals, donate to those who are less fortunate, or spend on things that matter.
The idea wouldn’t have made it past the brainstorming stage had Van Court not connected with the women at SheKnows Media, a digital lifestyle company that includes BlogHer and StyleCaster, among other web channels.
Samantha Skey, SheKnows’s chief revenue and marketing officer, tells Fast Company that she and the cofounders of BlogHer often discussed the impressive female entrepreneurs they knew, and were looking for a way to give them and other hopeful business owners a boost. A collaboration idea began to brew, she says.
On one side are female entrepreneurs, who are increasing in number at a rate of 1,200 per day–1.5 times the national average, according to the most recent American Express State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. That’s despite the fact that women receive 80% less capital funding than male founders.
On the other side is SheKnows. “The most useful thing we had was access to an audience and product resources,” says Skey. With 85 million unique visitors per month and 162 million social media fans and followers, SheKnows could offer emerging entrepreneurs a sizable platform to take their business concept from leap to successful launch, and tap a female market that’s estimated to grow to $22 trillion in the next five years.
They agreed a 60-second video would be the best way to do this, Skey says, as it would be a vehicle for female founders to deliver their pitch and allow it to build steam among potential consumers. From there, Skey explains, they reached out to Courtney Nichols Gould, cofounder of SmartyPants, who Skey says “crushes the pitch in real life,” and others who could provide mentorship and coaching to finesse and ultimately produce the video pitches for distribution on a dedicated channel.
The result is The Pitch, launching this week with Van Court’s video along with those from seven other founders. After these make their debut, The Pitch will continue to produce and air new videos each week from entrepreneurs and activists launching both for profit and nonprofit ventures. Audience members will have the opportunity to comment, share, and upvote their favorites using a set of custom emojis. There will also be a live judged Pitch event at the BlogHer15 conference on July 18.
Skey says it wasn’t a conscious effort to make The Pitch a Product Hunt for women-owned businesses, but that it’s a worthy comparison. Product Hunt has been growing at a rapid rate and snagged a significant Series A investment last year to continue to build a community that helps people discover new tech gadgets and apps and interact directly with the people who made them.
“We do want that feedback to be made very available” when the founder is at a critical junction in the beta stage or launching to a small audience, says Skey. “A lot of women in our community are moms who like tech solutions.” The entrepreneurs showcased in The Pitch will all be solving problems that are common to them.
Courtney Nichols Gould, one of the mentors who will emcee the live event, believes The Pitch is a critical tool for growing a business. What most people don’t realize, she says, it that most women do it all the time when they share opportunities they believe would be great for others. For entrepreneurs, it’s important to remember that “it’s less about the content than your comfort with selling your vision,” she maintains.
And The Pitch may ultimately help with getting investors onboard, too, Nichols Gould believes. During the early stages, investors are looking for a person who is going to have the drive and resilience to get through hurdles. In a 30-second pitch–often the first and only exposure the investor will have to the founder– they rely on visual cues and voice, which accounts for about 80% of their impression, says Nichols Gould. With a clearly communicated vision, “what comes through is your passion,” she says.
Van Court is excited by the prospect, particularly as she confesses she had only practiced pitching the idea for Sow in front of a mirror before she connected with the SheKnows team. She associates the experience of coaching with birds flying in a V formation taking turns being at the front to use energy more efficiently. “That’s the way I feel about this group of women,” she declares. “I would fall flat flying on my own.”
UPDATE 8/4/15 – The winner of BlogHer’s live ThePitch event was Majora Carter, founder and CEO of StartUp Box, a movement to on-shore technology jobs in low-status communities.