Last Saturday, more than 600 people gathered at ITMO University: both novice entrepreneurs who only aspire to start their own company and authors of existing projects — residents of the Future Technologies accelerator, who have been working on development and promotion of their high technology startups for more than four months already. During the Forum organized by ITMO University, Rybakov Foundation, Future Technologies accelerator and the National Entrepreneurial Network, they got the opportunity to get an expert evaluation of their projects by several dozen accomplished entrepreneurs and market professionals, as well as exchange contact information with investors and even negotiate their first agreements.

As Nina Yanikina, Head of the Project Management and Innovation Department, noted, this event is to pave the way for a whole tradition of such meetings between novice entrepreneurs and investors.

ITMO University. Nina Yanikina

"Why is this event so important? ITMO is an entrepreneurial university, so we believe that training our students, lecturers and researchers in ways of business is one of our most important tasks. Thus, entrepreneurial programs aimed at development of the respective culture, competencies, creation of businesses are yet another instrument for the university's self-realization. I really hope that the Saint-Startup forum will become the beginning of a series of such events that will become a great place for communication between novice entrepreneurs and investors, business, industry and anyone else concerned", underlines Nina Yanikina.

During the event, Dmitry Tomchuk, head of the National Entrepreneurial Network, and Oleg Masurov, head of the Practum community, told of the successful nationwide projects by the Rybakov Foundation that were aimed at developing student entrepreneurship; Denis Kotov, CEO of the "Bukvoed" bookstore chain, and Maria Klochenok, founder of the Instabox Company, shared their stories of creating a business — from just an idea to a millions' worth company.

What's the first business like, or the "right way of doing it wrong"

Maria Kluchenuk's experience is a lot different from the usual success story — after getting the initial idea, she succeeded in promoting her Instaboxes all over Russia and covering the primary inputs in a month, yet, she still closed the project that started with such a mind-blowing success.

Maria got the idea for her first startup during her holiday in Turkey, where she first saw the special booths that shot photos and uploaded them into the Internet. Nowadays, they are something common, but in 2013 few knew of these devices in Russia. Thus, Maria brought the idea to Saint Petersburg; the project's name was decided on while sitting on a kitchen, and the first booth was ordered from Yekaterinburg.

ITMO University. Maria Kluchenok

"In some unbelievable way, we've found and ordered the equipment. I suppose that back then, specialists who manufactured it didn't fully understand what they were making. We didn't try to create our own software, but ordered it from the States. We localized what had to do with the user interface, and adjusted it in some ways, but did not develop anything ourselves. The primary inputs amounted to about 300 thousand rubles", remembers Maria Kluchenok.

Soon after, the team went on with the project and decided to produce instaprinters. Their first success was during a party where the young entrepreneurs installed their device and found first clients. As soon as next day, the team started to receive invitations to different advertising and promo actions. In two years only, the client pool of the company included such names as IKEA, Siemens, Vkontakte and others, and the project's geography spread far outside St. Petersburg. The company's strategy always remained the same: to lease equipment for different events but not sell it. Still, despite the success, in the end they had to close the project. Why?

"Did I have a business plan? No, never heard of one. A strategy? None. Sure, we had great tactics, worked a lot and were really persuasive, but that just isn't enough. We never did active sales, all of the clients we had were from events or found us by chance on the Internet, so we've been sitting on warm calls and somehow managed the project. We did no advertising, and that was really bad. Also, we've let the wow-effect slip: I didn’t mind that the product had really short life cycle, also, I didn't monitor what happened in the market, so when we conducted a simple analysis, we found out that we have many competitors," concludes Instabox's founder.

So the project was a failure, then? Surely not, as one has to know the "right way of doing it wrong" - i.e. to learn on mistakes and face the coming challenges. As of now, Ms. Kluchenok’s team focused on a different project, where they use the experience and contacts they already have.

Working with ideas and pitching like professionals

How can one escape doing mistakes, and understand whether the idea works still on the early stages. During the expert session for startupers, tens of novice entrepreneurs who participated in the forum had the opportunity to talk to current market professionals — accomplished businessmen, investors, representatives of business incubators. Thus, they could test their projects against an expert opinion and understand what to do next, or even get business first contacts in their fields.

DemoDay's Expert Session

"I want to start a company that deals in developing, manufacturing and selling of orthopedic goods. Currently, I am working with heads of enterprises that are already interested in the project. Today, I've already talked to three experts and had a chance to meet an investor — this person deals in a field related to the one I want to start my business in. I got his card, contacts and a collaboration proposal, so I'd say this event is effective", shared one of the session's participants, a PhD student Mikhail Erofeev.

According to the experts, there is no way to forecast whether the project will succeed if it is yet on initial stages. All one has to do is rely on every communication skill possible and start selling. This may seem too simple and obvious, but it's all the more effective.

"The projects of many participants I met were still in their initial stages. Many of them asked me if their idea is any good. Yet, there is no sense in doing that, they just have to find a client and try selling. Our company started the same way: first, we sent one of our acquaintances abroad, then another… and gradually we became an agency. There's no secret to it: you just have to find at least several people who will pay real money, and that'd be the best approval", shares Dmitry Kravchuk, chief technology officer and co-founder of the Lingua Trip Company.

ITMO University. Anna Aubi

"Novice entrepreneurs come with different problems: some don't have a team, some don't understand the market, and sometimes they already have a product or a service, but can't start selling. No one likes sales. Usually, if a person knows his product, has developed it, he won't want to deal with sales. In this case, one has to search for a partner to do it, or overcome oneself and study entrepreneurship - everything including legal aspects, accounting, and marketing", adds Anna Aubi, PR specialist of the First Municipal Business Incubator.

The participants also got the chance to learn how to present a project during the "Ideal Pitch" content show by Evgeniy Turvinenko from the Venture Club and Vsevolod Horunji from the "Vverh" business school. They've analyzed different aspects of a presentation, from when it’s inappropriate to hide one's hands to how one can explain his idea in just a minute. The participants could also try themselves at making presentations, and then work on mistakes.

ITMO University. Evgeny Turvinenko

DemoDay: the startup battle

10 startup teams from the Future Technologies accelerator that participated in the DemoDay got the chance to put all they've learned to practice — try presenting their project in just four minutes and win the support of an investor. After the pitch-session, three projects got into the top. "Photonics systems" is a project of a 3D printer with printing precision of up to 10microns, and the MPMVision's team offers an affordable high-speed portable camera.

The winning team was GUTTE Project. Its authors have developed and plan to produce small-sized furnaces for glassblowing, which combine three different functions in one item. This will allow small businesses to take up glass production.

As Denis Kozminyh, jury member and founder of the BAZAAR project, notes, even though the projects have yet to find the necessary investments, working with them is surely worth the effort.

DemoDay's participants

"There are many promising projects that can be improved further. Some of the teams have to stop working on details and switch to more fundamentals tasks, others — strengthen their marketing and improve their sales. All of them need additional competencies", comments Denis Kozminyh. "In other incubators, there are few teams that have such high level of technical training. Those are mostly about entrepreneurship, and these teams are great in the technical field. This means a great opportunity for collaboration. One should take these talented technical talents, strengthen them with marketing specialists and give them a mentor — such team will definitely have success".

During the event, such specialists as Evgeniy Turchenko, Vsevolod Horunjy, Alexandr Gavrushenko and Dmitry Tomchuk also gave practical advice on making ideal pitches, preparing for presentations and meeting investors. We've decided to publish the top ten.

10 tips on presenting your project

1. Always know the goal of your presentation and enunciate it clearly. When you meet an investor, it's not just about talking about your project. If you're looking for investments, it' one thing; selling your project is a whole different story. But you must always know beforehand what you are aiming at.

2. Work on your vocabulary. Don't use too many words that only narrow specialists are familiar with; also, explaining the special terms can be a good idea — you can do it on a special slide, for instance.

3. Provide real numbers backed up by marketing research. During your meeting with the investor, the economic part of you project takes priority. The investor has to understand how do you plan to earn, and how he will earn with you.

"Ideal Pitch" content show

4. If you want to attract investments, mind in which tranches you plan to receive them. Every advance has to be related to some accomplishment — this will calm the investor.

5. Do not read from slides; save time. You have to briefly explain what your project is about, and in some three phrases — why it can be interesting to the investor.

6. In your presentations, always refer to your mentor, who must be someone with a good professional background and experience in the market.

7. If you have a signed offer, show it. Investors must see real agreements with real people with whom you already started to collaborate.

8. Prepare answers. You should know the weak and strong points of your project, and be ready for any questions. Provide the investor with short and precise answers. Remember that investors prefer numbers, not long speeches.

9. Train for the pitch. You should rehearse your pitch several — or sometimes tens of times. If you rehearse, you will definitely stay within the timing. Do not hesitate to train at home, or ask for professional help. If you are interested in your project succeeding, go to events like Saint-Startup, train, and get feedback. Try yourself in real sales, aiming to cover as many people as possible. If you are not ready to do that, find a good specialist for your team.

10. Don't be afraid, and believe in yourself and your project. Remember that you do not ask the investor for his money, but make a proposition.