On October 23rd, we participated in the IBM Smartcamp 2012 Israel finals. The event was a blast – and we received the People’s Choice Award.
The best thing about participating in the Smartcamp is not the spotlight (which is always nice), but the process that led us there. During the competition we met a lot of smart people that helped us focus our message and better understand the pitfalls that await us.
We decided to enroll in the competition in August. We see IBM as a strategic partner and believed that joining this competition would help us connect with the right people in the organization. The Smartcamp is a part of IBM’s “Smarter Planet” initiative, which we share a common long-term vision with. After successfully progressing through two stages, which included an interview by the Smartcamp’s staff (who are amazing, tremendously helpful people), we were selected to present in the Smartcamp’s finals, which were held at the DLD conference in Tel-Aviv. Out of the five finalists, Augury was the only one that was pre-revenue/pre-investment. It was an uphill battle, and we took it head-on.
A couple of weeks before the Smartcamp finals, the companies that qualified to the semi-finals arrived at IBM’s campus in Petah-Tikva and gave their best shot at pitching their companies. Each company had five minutes onstage to showcase their vision, problem/solution, business model and potential forecast. As easy as it sounds, we had a very hard time conveying everything we know in an articulate, coherent story.
To make things interesting, IBM gathered <60 highly respected market leaders to acts as mentors. The mentors sat in the crowd during the pitches and then separated into five groups, according to their background – investors, entrepreneurs, marketing, bizdev, and attorneys/accountants. When the pitches were over, each company had one hour with each group.
An hour is a long time, especially when you have 10 really smart people bombarding you with (mostly) constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. Each room had its own vibe – some were excited through the roof, and some brought us as low as we could get. This was one of the most emotionally draining experiences we had – going through these extremes in such a short time, without revealing how exhausted we were, wasn’t easy.
But the feedback was very well worth it – for us, this was our “boot-camp” at pitching. We were able to perfect our pitch and message through the very fast iterations and test what works with each group. All in all, the Smartcamp Mentor Day was a pivotal day for us; it changed everything we knew about telling a story, and focusing our message. We were ready for the finals
You could feel the excitement in the air. We spent the morning practicing our pitch in front of a camera. Because it was only five minutes, there was no room for improvisation. Everything had to be executed as planned – even up to where we took a breath.
After three practice runs, we were on our way to the DLD conference. The finals took place in a huge hangar, with hundreds of people in the crowd. Standing on the stage in front of all the empty chairs was a bit unnerving. Lucky for us we were the first to go – we didn’t have too much time to stress out. The pitch went off without a hitch – we now had the rest of the show to sit back, relax and think about the journey we had.
At the end of it all, we won the People’s Choice Award. For a company that is targeting a traditional, boring market, we were really surprised to come out ahead of the SoLoMo companies that we competed against. Especially considering our early stage – this was a huge win for Augury.
But the award was nothing compared to what we learned during the process. We’ve gained new friends at IBM and among some of the mentors.
If you are considering enrolling into next year’s Smartcamp, we suggest you mark the date on your calendar and start working.
Saar Yoskovitz is Co-Founder and CEO at Augury. An avid entrepreneur with deep roots in technology – both hardware and software – and a passion for building things, Saar is diligently working towards a future where machines are more reliable, and have less impact on the environment.