Going for business awards – is it worth all the hassle?


Over the 5 years Learning Pool has been trading we’ve entered a few – won some & lost some – but is it worth the time & effort that it takes?

Like most things in life, the answer is probably “it depends”…which I know isn’t a great deal of help to you if you’re reading this blog to find out.  The thing is that awards cover a huge spectrum.  At one end are the “straightforward” awards – for example, the Deloitte Fast 50 technology awards.  It costs nothing to enter, you don’t have to write an essay or deliver a presentation, you don’t have to be a Deloitte customer, it’s up to you if you want to buy a few more places at the Awards dinner but there’s no pressure.  All you have to do is make your published financial information available and a calculation is performed of your revenue growth over a defined period of time.  The 50 companies with the highest growth are then ranked with the winner being the company whose revenue has grown by the biggest percentage.  It’s black & white and the numbers don’t lie.  We like this one & have been the Rising Star winners in Ireland for the past two years.

At the other end of the spectrum are the much less clear & transparent “industry” awards such as those run by e-Learning Age magazine.  I don’t know this is the case but from our perspective winning appears to be all about who you know in the industry and how much money you’ve spent with the magazine in sponsorship and advertising – as I say – only my own opinion from Learning Pool’s experience.  We’ve entered twice and although shortlisted each time have won nothing.  The winners are judged behind closed doors by a panel of industry “experts” – most of whom have their own e-learning companies and are therefore in direct competition with many of the entrants.  A more cynical person may conclude that everyone who enters gets shortlisted so as they’ll fork out for a very expensive table at the Awards dinner.  I shouldn’t scoff so – at least our last experience of this farce served to remind us that Learning Pool’s industry is very much the public sector and not e-learning.

Somewhere in the mix lies the business “competitions” – usually for seedcorn monies aimed at new or fast growing start-ups.  These require a detailed business plan, a significant time commitment and a number of presentations over a period of time.  The one & only time Learning Pool entered the Intertrade Ireland seedcorn competition (in 2008) we did well and won the Northern Ireland heat (we’re very proud of our trophy and that’s it in the photograph).  We were pipped to the post by resellers of 3D printers…I’ll say no more but c’est la vie.  This competition is definitely worthwhile for new start-ups, we learned a lot in the process and I would recommend it for any Irish companies thinking about entering.

In the future Learning Pool will continue to enter the Deloitte Fast 50 but we’ll probably be a bit more discerning about other awards and only enter in partnership with our customers to showcase their projects and achievements.

In summary, I don’t know whether entering awards is worth it or not – and I’ll be interested to hear your views on this.  Awards dinners are a fun night out for your team, especially if you win, but weigh up how much time and energy entering will take up and think about whether or not you would be better off, certainly as a start-up business, investing that resource into making sales.


Pitching for investment any time soon? – some dos and don’ts


Yesterday I was part of the IntertradeIreland Seedcorn judging panel chaired by Intertrade’s CEO Liam Nellis – that’s a photo of the two of us taken last week on the steps in Stormont.  Also on the panel were’s Terry Clune, Xing’s Bill Liao & e-synergy’s Fergus McIlduff.  Over the course of the day we watched 6 pitches as if we were an investment panel, then scored the companies & selected winners to go through to the next stage of the competition.

I thought whilst it was in my head – because I know a lot of my friends & associates are entrepreneurs who are no doubt entering these sorts of competitions or pitching for investment – I would scribble out a few dos & don’ts for anyone that’s interested:

·         Work hard to distil your value proposition & get it out there early in your preso – remember that the investment or judging panel will be seeing loads of companies, often in a short space of time

·         If you have a tangible product & have brought samples, pass them round early in your pitch

·         If you turn up with a colleague, which is a good idea, only one of you pitch – it hardly ever works to try & share the pitch between you so let the person who’s best at presenting do it; also do try & behave as if you are a team

·         Don’t ramble & do stick to your allotted time – it’s annoying when people go over time because they either haven’t rehearsed enough or because they spend too long telling you irrelevant stuff

·         Use some pictures or graphics in your presentation to bring it to life

·         Don’t use a video that’s longer than a minute

·         If you’re very early stage, think about your sales and marketing plan – it isn’t enough to state the market opportunity – you need a go-to-market plan that hangs together

·         Don’t argue with the panel – it just makes you look bad

·         Be honest when answering questions

·         Know your numbers back to front and the assumptions behind them – expect to get asked about anything that isn’t self explanatory

·         If you’re referring to high level numbers in your presentation, make sure you have identified what they are – are they £s, people, units

·         Include some innovation – you don’t have to be an inventor – it might just be something unusual about your business model or your presentation that makes you stand out

·         Keep your pitch consistent with any business plan you’ve already submitted

·         Finally – don’t use corny or gimmicky presentation techniques unless you are very certain of your delivery capabilities – they can be excruciating to watch (think Angelcot woman on Dragon’s Den insisting on singing…)

I know there’s a lot out there about this stuff for entrepreneurs but I thought I’d take 5 minutes out to share my take – interested in your comments so keep ‘em coming.