How to get shortlisted for a startup competition

Thinking about entering a startup competition? Over 500 startups entered The Pitch 2018. Here are the top five things we learnt from reading those applications and why the shortlisted startups stood out. 

We’ve packed the blog post full of examples. Use the comments section to share your advice or ask questions.

1. Explain what you do in a simple succinct manner

Judges need to be able to quickly understand what the startup does and why. Make sure you cover what problem you are solving for customers and how.

The first sentence of your application should be something your nan could understand. Explain what you do in a way that’s simple and accessible without any jargon.

Here are a couple of great examples from The Pitch 2018 finalists:

  • Afrocenchix is a natural health and beauty company delivering excellent customer experience through technology. We formulate natural products for Afro and curly hair and are on the mission to become the no.1 household brand for people with darker skin tones.
  • Rejuvenation Water is the world’s first Amino Acid enriched spring water designed to provide essential nutrition and hydration whilst on the go.
  • Mightify: We support members of the emergency services to achieve life-changing results through bespoke and expert coaching. We give back to people who give everything for us.

2. Your team is really important

So many startups have amazing ideas. We look at everything from eco-friendly yoga mats to startups creating chatbots from deceased relatives’ social media posts.

Judges and investors are always going to ask: do they have the team to be successful? Make sure you include any relevant qualifications or work experience. List the background of the founding team and important employees. Advisors and mentors are really helpful too.

Rockit is a great example. The 2017 finalist launched a pushchair rocker that’s now selling around the world. The founding team has the key skill sets needed to develop the business making it easy to see how they could go on to be a success. Matt Dyson has experience in design and prototyping. Matt Sparrow covers branding and design and Nick Webb is a physicist and engineer with a PhD in vibration and acoustics.

The amazing The Pitch 2018 finalist Activirosomes is developing vaccines. It’s difficult for judges to vet complex scientific solutions, so they look at the team members and their backgrounds.

3. Talk about what your startup has achieved so far

The most common mistake we see is a lack of detail about the progress startups have made. The traction they’ve gained.

The simplest way to do this is to talk about growth in turnover and customer numbers. We appreciate some people haven’t started generating revenue yet  but there are other ways to demonstrate traction that will add kudos to your application.

  • Tests you have run with potential customers. This could include pop-up shops or markets, trial partnerships or research
  • Awards, press coverage and involvement in startup support programmes such as incubators
  • People you have impacted whether or not they have become customers eg. our first event was attended by 100 people

Lot’s of these points should be included whether or not you’re able to share your turnover. It’s hard to shortlist a startup competition entry based solely on an idea. Including proof of traction shows it works in the real world.

The Pitch 2018 finalist BizGive included a list of their achievements:


  • Six-month pilot with paying client; converted to a rolling subscription
  • Six-month beta trial with Pukka Herbs; now expanding our remit
  • Partnering with an international membership organisation to provide our platform to their network
  • In late-stage talks with two FTSE 100 retailers

4. Understand the startup competition’s goal

The Pitch is open to all startups in the UK turning over up to around £1m. We welcome entrepreneurs from every corner of the country and cover every type of business. Our criteria’s broad but we still get people that don’t meet it. Such as much larger companies or startups that don’t operate in the UK.

Think about the objectives of the startup competition you’re entering. Shape your answers to represent their values. Make sure you draw out the characteristics they’re interested in. Those details should be available in their FAQ or on the application form.

Look at the information on their website and what they talk about on social media too. This will give you an impression of the kind of organisation they are. It’s not essential but adapting the tone of your answers may help.

Here’s The Pitch 2018 people’s vote winner Just Wears talking about why they should win The Pitch.

“Because we are about to break the balls of a billion dollar industry. Our crowdfunding campaign was one of the most successful ever in our category and we’re on a mission to challenge the big boys and attack a market that is ripe for disruption. We only care about one thing (well, two things actually)… your crown jewels. We’re obsessed with comfortable undies and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

5. Fill out your application in a professional manner

Judges are looking for clues about how capable you are when reading startup competition applications. It’s not a deal breaker but bad spelling and grammar might count against you in the first stages.

My pet hate is personal email addresses like at or It’s so easy to set up a website and email account for your business you immediately wonder why it doesn’t exist. It’s not just me either. Other competitions, investors and service providers we’ve worked with look at this when sorting data.

Hopefully addressing these points will help your application get shortlisted for startup competitions. If there’s anything you think we’ve missed leave a comment or send us a message @The_Pitch.

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Chris Goodfellow
Chris is founder and CEO of Inkwell, the company that runs The Pitch. He’s a journalist and editor by trade, and his work has been featured by everyone from The Guardian and The Financial Times to Vice magazine.

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