Despite the proverb, some gifts should be looked at – if only to determine their true value. The one I have in mind is the $15,000 of touted value in the grand prize for the Icehouse Fast pitch competition.
There are prizes for winners in four categories, and one overall winner. The categories are Best Funding Opportunity, Best Intellectual Property, Best Presentation and People’s Choice.
The category award winners get:
- BNZ: Cash Prize $1000 plus BNZ bank account (final wording TBC)
- Microsoft: 1 suite of Microsoft software package: Office professional, Vista Business and One Care (Value $1717) (final wording tbc – they no longer distribute One Care)
- Gen-i: 1 Telecom T Stick (C597) Mobile Broadband USB Modem (Value $349) (final wording TBC)
- NZTE: Escalator Investment Ready Consultation (Value $3000)
- The ICEHOUSE: Opportunity to pitch to investors
- NZ Business Magazine: 12 month subscription
- Ideolog Magazine: 12 month subscription
- The ICEHOUSE Certificate
The best funding opportunity prize winner also gets a “business consultation session” from Ernst and Young. Oh – and this list is pasted directly from the competition webpage – including the embarrassing “final wording TBC” comments.
The grand prize winner also receives:
- The ICEHOUSE: 3 months residency at the ICEHOUSE’s leading incubator ICE Accelerator to develop your business dream (Value $10,500)
- Microsoft: A Microsoft Small Business Server (final wording TBC)
So it seems the grand prize is worth over $15,000, and the total prize pool is over $45,000, whch makes the category prizes worth $7,500 each.
I disagree with those values.
Instead I calculate that the grand prize is worth $2,700, the total prize pool $12,000 (73% less) and the category prizes worth $2,327 each.
The real dollar value of the prizes comes from donations from BNZ and Microsoft – whom we should genuinely thank for their contributions.
Smaller value comes from Telecom – a data stick is valuable but also an invitation to spend money.
Consulting firm Ernst Young offers a business consulting session – but that’s something that you could have with me (come November) or anyone else for the price of a coffee. A single session really isn’t that useful either – real value comes from an on-going relationship, and that can get expensive with a big name firm.
The 2 magazine subscriptions are nice, but not worth a lot of money.
However the downright shonky value comes from including Escalator program and from the Icehouse’s prizes.
The Escalator program is actually free. It is a government funded and privately delivered program to match funders with SMEs. If you meet the criteria, as I assume the category winners of this competition easily would, then you pay nothing. In fact it appears from the escalator website that you cannot buy the services at all. Go check it out, and even apply.
The Icehouse itself provides three prizes – the opportunity to pitch to investors, an Icehouse certificate and, for the grand prize, 3 months in the Icehouse.
None of that is actually worth anything.
A certificate is obviously worthless and a Google search for “Icehouse certificate” yields exactly one (invalid) result.
An opportunity to pitch to investors is more than adequately provided from by the Escalator program – it’s their job. Meanwhile the FastPitch event itself is, well, an opportunity to pitch to investors. Idealog will be there and will no doubt be covering the event, so the word will get out as well. We should remember also that New Zealand is a small place, and you can easily get in front of investors if you drink enough coffee.
The stated value of the grand prize of a 3 month Icehouse residency is troubling. Why would anyone pay $10,500 to be at the Icehouse – or any incubator – for three months? (I’ve heard that the going rate for the Icehouse is over $2500 per desk per month.)
That’s a serious amount of money spent that would be better off invested into your business.
The successful Y-Combinator program invests US$10,000 or so into its companies, while giving them free coaching, providing free legal help with incorporation and entree into VC firms. In return they get 2-10% of the companies, and provide a 3 month “don’t call it a boot camp.” During the three months the companies work on their products, not on their pitches.
Is the Icehouse perhaps a reverse Y-Combinator – taking $10,000 away from companies rather than investing $10,000 in them? If the Icehouse truly believes their own publicity, then why not turn the equation around – and give start-ups $10-20,000 and free seats in the Icehouse in return for 2-10% of their equity?
I accept that incubators have a place – after all it is fun to work with like minded souls, and you can learn from the people there – but charging this sort of money is nothing short of extortion.
If you are starting a business then you need to think cheap, think cost effective and think smart. Work from home or short-term rent one of the empty offices around. Even better find someone that is willing to let you camp in their office for a month or two – you’d be surprised at how many spare desks there are, and if you are in Wellington in particular, then advice from people that have done it before is a walk to Mojo away.
So here it is – in summary form.
Overall I feel the prize package, as it stands, is worth lot less than advertised.
The entry page states that:
The total prize pool is valued at over $45,000 and is supported by ICEHOUSE founder The University of Auckland Business School and corporate partners BNZ, BCG, Ernst & Young, HP, Gen-i, Microsoft, Minter Ellison Rudd Watts and Telecom.
While it’s good to see Ernst Young and Telecom in the mix of prizes, I don’t see anything from the rest (though Gen-i is owned by Telecom). How about it?
That doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t give it a go – you should. There is value here in three ways:
Creating your pitch. It’s hard to crystallise your business or idea into a short pitch, but it is a very healthy exercise. You need to be able to clearly articulate exactly what opportunity you are going after, why there is value there, how you are going to do to capture it in the face of competition and how you will execute quickly and well enough. And you need to do this in 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, one hour and so on. Your pitch should be the same, but the length and depth varies according to the audience and the forum.
Doing the Pitch: The FastPitch competition gives you time in front of people with knowledge and money. At the very least you should get some good questions that will help you refine your idea or business. You may even get an introduction to someone that can help you more formally with ongoing advice or money. Remeber that neither are free, but that you can pay with the best currency of all – equity.
Getting the word out: Idealog will be there, and I would hope there will be other coverage in the press. Use the pitch to generate a little publicity for your business, and see if you can attract your first customers, like minded people to work with you or even just a few followers on your twitter account. Use the experience to share your idea with as many people as possible, and run as hard and as straight as you can towards your first revenue.
If you win – then take the prizes on offer. Use the Icehouse as a base, if it makes sense, accept the consulting advice and so on.
However make sure you spend the time and advice on kickstarting your business – and not on the search for capital. Those with money are far more likely to invest in a company that has shown real traction over the three months, and if you do it right then they will hunt you down.
Note: I seem to be copping a bit of association with the word curmudgeon – and blog posts like this probably don’t help. Therefore I am offering free coffee, along with an hour or more of help, to all top ten finalists in this competition. You’ll be getting a lot of other help, but if you want that latte then do contact me. Just wait until November when I am back from Mozambique.