‘Shark Tank’ entrepreneur offers students tips to ‘pitch like a pro’

Use simple slides.

Be ready for anything.

And, above all, keep it short and sweet.

These were the main takeaways Shark Tank veteran Melissa Gersin offered at the the University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute in her Pitch Like a Pro presentation Tuesday.

Gersin is an entrepreneur who created Tranquilo, a vibrating fabric mat designed to mimic the movement and sounds of the womb and calm crying babies. She came up with the idea while working as a maternity nurse in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

She pitched her idea on the TV show Shark Tank in 2016, and the episode aired the following February. Her company has since expanded with the help of her Shark investor, Robert Herjavec, who offered her $200,000 for a 15 percent stake in the company.

In 2017, the company sold 17,000 units and did more than $1.3 million in sales, Gersin said. For 2018, Gersin projected $2 million in sales.

Gersin began Tuesday night’s event with her own pitch and then broke it down to identify aspects necessary for a good pitch. She said there is a common formula effective pitches should follow:

  • Introduce a problem
  • Introduce a solution — the product
  • Acknowledge market competition
  • Explain why your product is superior — here’s where you get into the details
  • Address the market you’d be entering and why there’s opportunity
  • Introduce your team and explain why they have the expertise to make the idea work

Gersin emphasized the importance of keeping pitches streamlined, simple and short. When pitching to investors, Gersin said, she never talks for more than 10 minutes; on Shark Tank, she cut her pitch to two minutes.

This leaves more time for potential stakeholders to ask questions, which Gersin said is valuable to build relationships and showcase expertise.

“Questions are the most important part,” she said. “The audience will want to engage with you.”

Tuesday’s event was held in conjunction with the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s student competition, in which journalism, engineering and business students develop projects to address problems in the media world.

In April, student teams will pitch their ideas to judges, and the winner will have the opportunity to meet with technology and media executives in May.

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