This week at NextCorps, we’re hosting the Hardware Challenge Pitch Competition (save the date: it’s 1/26). We’re inviting hardware startups to come pitch to a panel of esteemed judges. Startups can be from any number of industries and will compete in three categories: cleantech, health/medical, and open. The winner will receive six months of incubation and assistance from NextCorps (or REV Ithaca depending on startup location), and a paid trip to Pittsburgh to compete at AlphaLab Gear for a $3,000 regional prize and a chance to compete for a $50,000 grand prize in its national competition.

We sat down with Mike Riedlinger, who runs our Hardware Scaleup program, to ask a few questions about what we can expect from this exciting event.

EHL: How much prep work goes into the pitches that we’ll be seeing on the 26th?

MR: It’s not a business plan competition, nor is it an episode of Shark Tank. I expect that people will devote a few hours to practicing their pitch, but it doesn’t need to be more than that.

EHL: Can you tell whether a company has prepared for their pitch or not?

MR: Very quickly! The companies that practice generally pace themselves well. They also do a great job of putting the critical element about their concept/product up front so it’s very clear what their value proposition is and who their customers are.

Those that don’t practice often start with lots of background that doesn’t add to what they’re trying to accomplish in the space of 3-4 minutes.

EHL: What are some ways companies can prepare for a pitch competition like this?

MR: Practice. The Entrepreneurs-in-Residence here at NextCorps have offered to work with the contestants on Friday the 25th from 1-3pm. If you’re pitching on the 26th, you can sign up for a time, give a practice pitch, and get instant feedback.

EHL: So what criteria will the companies be judged on?

MR: Contestants will be judged on how well they fit within their categories, first and foremost. Secondly, they’ll be judged on how clearly they communicate the customer problem and how their particular device solves that problem. That’s probably the most critical item judges will be listening for. And lastly, they’ll be evaluated on the ingenuity of the device itself. How is it set apart from other things customers could use to solve this problem?

EHL: Will people be demoing hardware at this event? What’s the coolest hardware demo you’ve ever seen at an event like this?

MR: If they have a prototype they can bring, a “show and tell” is great. A sketch or rendering would work well too, whether it’s a CAD file or a photoshopped image. The coolest demo I ever saw was for a detector for lung cancer. It had a device that connected to a smartphone. You’d blow into a thing that looked like a straw and had a WiFi transmitter, and it would send a signal to a cell phone that would actually do the processing. It would then let the user know if they should seek assistance from a medical professional or if all was clear.

EHL: Why should people come watch this event on the 26th?

MR: It’s an excellent opportunity to see the extent of inventors here at work in our community. It’s also a great chance for inventors to meet their peers. They can have new conversations that might result in device or business progress. I’m looking forward to people meeting each other who might not otherwise meet. The whole day will be a celebration of creativity in Rochester.

Will we see you there? We sure hope so! Register here to pitch,  watch, and meet new people.

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