Posted by: Carol | July 7, 2011

Pitch It!

One of the more common characteristics attributed to “Gen Y” or “millenials” is their strong entrepreneurial spirit.  It’s true however, that starting a small business and driving it towards success can be a tricky thing – according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), about half of all businesses fail within 5 years of their start. And as a friend of mine recently observed, on a drive past a strip-mall with several  empty storefronts that spurred a conversation about the challenges facing small businesses, “sometimes businesses close because the owners just didn’t do a very good job.”

In a tough economy, where consumers are cautious about their spending and counting every dollar, entrepreneurs need to leverage every strength and work even harder to avoid the types of mistake my friend was talking about. The Mira Costa College Youth Entrepreneurship Program (YEP) recently provided some young entrepreneurs a rare and valuable opportunity to get some feedback on their business ideas so that they could do just that.

Contestant Abraham Anaya presents his pitch.

“Pitch It!” was one of Mira Costa’s YEP competitions held this past year. The concept was simple but powerful: participants had a chance to present their business ideas and plans to a panel of angel investors, who listened to the pitches, interviewed the contestants, and then gave their feedback on each idea, before choosing a winner. Prizes ranged from an iPad 2 and cash to membership in a business association and a free haircut/style from a local hair salon, but the contestants – whether they won or not – felt that the feedback they received on their ideas from the angel investors was the real prize.

The judges deliberate on the contestants and their pitches.

And as an added benefit, Mira Costa’s YEP coordinator, James Hayes, took video of all the finalists’ pitches and posted them on the competition’s website. Not only was this a great way to share with the larger public, it turned out to have added value for the participants as well. We spoke with several of the contestants about their experience with the competition, and every one of them mentioned (without prompting, by the way) that they’d reviewed the videos of their presentations and feedback from the judges, on their own time. There were multiple take-aways from the videos for these young people, from being able to see and evaluate their own presentation and public speaking skills (something that all the participants noted as an area in which to improve for future opportunities) to the advice and insights provided by the angel investors on each of their business plans.

Vista High School's ROP Virtual Enterprise Class Contestants & Guests

One participant – a recent university graduate – has already begun the process of launching his business plan, and reported that he found the feedback of the panel invaluable in helping him refine and adjust his operations and roll-out. A high school participant was approached by a local entrepreneur after the event, to discuss the possibility of making her idea for a build-you-own-burrito bar a reality.

First place winner, Jon Tucker with James Hayes, YEP Coordinator

Contestants ranged in age and experience, and included high school students (one of them, Cameron Harris, tied for third place!) to college grads, who’d already been out in “the real world,” for a couple years. Hayes recruited the contestants through a variety of channels, including emails to local ROP and business instructors, Facebook page postings (check out their page here:, and other avenues.

For more information on MiraCosta YEP’s Pitch It! competition and its other offerings, check out their webpage or contact James Hayes at

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