Note to Startup Competitions: I Want to See How the Sausage Is Made

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So I’m on my fifth straight day of watching startup competitions, and if you cut me a mixture coffee and RedBull would probably pour out of my veins. As soon as Disrupt ended, Endeavor’s International Selection Panel started in Pebble Beach and I drove down to check it out.

Endeavor is a nonprofit that finds and helps some of the best entrepreneurs in the emerging world. I’ve written about them a few times and attended selection panels in the mountains of Patagonia and the beaches of Rio. This one is a little less geographically thrilling  for me, as it’s just in Pebble Beach– a place people usually come to golf or look at cars. But for the entrepreneurs pitching, being a few hours from Silicon Valley is exhilarating. More than a few big name venture capitalists from firms like Benchmark and Redpoint are down here to check out the contenders.

The contrast between how we pick startups at Disrupt and how Endeavor picks them is pronounced and has me thinking a lot about how startup competitions work. Both events come from a place of loving great entrepreneurs, and the teams do a ton of work vetting the entrepreneurs who are invited to compete. But that’s where most of the similarity ends. At Disrupt there are thousands of people watching and the pitches are short. At Endeavor’s selection panels there are the judges, the startups and only a handful of observers. The entrepreneurs pitch for 45 minutes at a time, and the judges have a well-researched dossier about each company, including financials. So it’s less about a quick first impression, and it’s less about entertaining a crowd.

But ironically, Endeavor does one thing that makes it way more entertaining: They let everyone watch the deliberations. Well, everyone except the entrepreneurs that is– they’re left to stew elsewhere. But the rest of us get to see a no-holds-barred, sometimes impassioned debate about each company by a panel of expert judges. Unlike a typical startup competition, there’s no quota on how many entrepreneurs will be let into Endeavor’s portfolio– it could be all or none. But it has to be unanimous. It’s like spying on an investor partner meeting. And in the case they can’t all agree the judge who voted no, has to sit down with the entrepreneur and explain why, in an effort to help make them better.

Wouldn’t you have loved to watch the fights, hear the lobbying, understand the pros and cons between why Qwiki beat out its competitors? I would. Not even TechCrunch staffers are allowed in that tent. I’m starting to think Disrupt– and most startup competitions– are keeping the most entertaining and informative part of the process off stage. If entrepreneurs could see why certain companies resonate with the VCs, investors and entrepreneurs we invite to judge them, it could not only help future companies compete, but it could help entrepreneurs better pitch investors in general.

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