Day 5 was crunch day for The Venture finalists, as the semi-finals took place at Leftspace.
Pitching to the judges behind closed doors, only five would progress to Friday’s Final Pitch, and get the chance to present their business cases to the judges in front of a live audience, vying for a remaining share of the $1Million fund.
It was a defining moment of a six-month process for the sixteen finalists, and the mood in the room was tense as the judges took their seats next door.
Each finalist had seven minutes to present, and a further eight to answer any questions from the judges. Recalling what they had learned in their executive coaching sessions was as vital now as it would ever be:
"It's the most important moment of the whole process,”Atanas Dyulgerov, of Bulgaria’s Arthesis told us,“It's heavy, but I'm just trying to have fun. Trying to be calm."
The finalists were taught, in Monday’s coaching sessions at Duarte, that staying calm and collected was crucial to getting their ideas across clearly. Individual strategies for achieving this state of mind will vary. As Raul Aguayo of Conuco Solar explained:
"I’m just going about my normal routine–I went for a run, had breakfast, took a shower…Just relaxing and sticking to routines.”
"We can’t change anything at this point–you just have to do it. I'm happy it's here–we've been waiting for this moment for 6 months!"
Guilherme Lichand of Brazil told us:
“The nerves kicked in at the beginning, but we had a video, so as it played I had a chance to calm down then deliver my message.”
Even those more accustomed to the pressure of public speaking had their demons. Yoshihiro Kawahara of Sensprout told us:
“As a professor, I’m used to presenting in front of live audiences, but this is very special–I’ve never experienced this kind of pitch. For research presentations I have to be as scientific and accurate as possible. I have to remove all the emotion from the presentation. This pitch is different. I have to deliver my passion and enthusiasm, as well as the idea. That’s the difficult part for me!”
China’s finalist, Tony Chan on the other hand, was using the emotional roller-coaster to fuel his confidence:
“Practice, practice, practice, then relax. I feel prepared. Showing my passion; that’s the key.”
Perhaps Mexico finalist, Francesco Piazzesi retained the most philosophical outlook of all, telling us just moments before he took to the stage:
"Whatever happens this has been a fantastic experience. I have no regrets at all."
Whilst the mood entering the room was one of poised trepidation, the exit for all but a few bordered on the exuberant. It was a huge release of tension for the finalists, and most emerged buzzing with energy.
“The time went so quickly, I walked in and then it was over!” Ukraine’s IlonaNazarchuk told us.
With the pitches themselves so meticulously practiced, the judges'questions were the real unknown element, forcing the finalists to think on their feet; testing the depth of their knowledge and planning.
Chile’s Jose Manuel Moller said afterwards:
"The judges asked a lot of questions, I think I answered them properly. We'll see what happens. I think they get it."
Brazil’s Guilherme Lichand told us:
“Their questions were onpoint, and that really allowed me to expand on what we do back in Brazil.”
Uruguay’s Victoria Alonsopérez agreed,
“They asked really good questions–I’m glad they asked so many as it meant I could explain more about my project.”
Some felt that the props they were able to bring along with them helped their cause immeasurably. Juan Nicolás Suárez of Diseclar explained:
“Sometimes when I explain what I do, it’s hard to understand. When I gave them the material and explained that it was plastic waste, you could see their reaction–they were like,‘Wow! This looks like wood, but it isn’t wood!’”
As for the judges themselves, Mexico finalist, Francesco Piazzesi was on hand to give us his impressions:
“Alexandre seems warm; very professional. Adrian, he’s very cool and easy-going. Sonal, she is very smart. She really caught onto the whole process in two seconds. Morgan is more serious. Really nice, but very editorial focused. It’s like he’s always thinking,‘what would I write about this?’”
With all the pitches over, the announcement took longer than expected, as the judges deliberated for over an hour. In the endthe finalists gathered, along with members of the press from around the world, to hear the final five announced. They were, in order of pitch schedule:
Chili’s Jose Manuel Moller (Algramo)
South Africa’s David Gluckman (Lumkani Fire)
Colombia’s Juan Nicolás Suárez(Diseclar)
Uruguay’sVictoria Alonsopérez (ChipSafer)
Japan’s Yoshihiro Kawahara (Sensprout)
Judge, Sonal Shah was keen to stress that every one of the finalists had impressed the panel, and that the decisions they had made were immensely difficult ones.
Her sentiments echoed those of Brazil’s Guilherme Lichand, as he told us shortly after his pitch:
“The truth is, everyone is so good. If I don’t make it, it’s because other people are so good. Or maybe it’s the timing, or perspective… At this point, it honestly doesn’t matter to me because I did what I was here to do.”
As the final five moved on to the Herbst Pavilion to put final preparations in place for The Final Pitch, the remaining eleven moved onto an inspiration session, broadcasted live via Periscope, with Forbes Designer of the Century, Yves Behar, discussing his philosophy on design and innovation.
Poignantly, he told them:
"As an entrepreneur, risk is part of your every day. Every failure is a way to move an idea forward."
Congratulations to the final five for making it through in an immensely competitive field–the Final Pitch awaits!
Tune in to our Disruptive Leadership session with judge, Sonal Shah tomorrow at 9am (PDT) via Periscope, and don’t forget to follow the action from the Final Pitch live on Twitter@TheVenture from 6pm (PDT).