Life's a strAIght pitch

There’s a great movie from a couple of years’ back called Ex Machina, an Oscar-winning flick that that will likely go on to become more famous for its subject matter - the advance of artificial intelligence (AI) in the early 21st century - than its various awards. 

At a talk at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics last month organised by entrepreneurial support group Informatics VenturesBill Joos, former VP of Sales at Apple, engaged the gathering on how AI is heading for the mainstream in the years ahead and around other tech trends that are here to stay. As Joos observed, while there is a good dose of trepidation around AI, we most definitely need to appreciate its inevitable progress. 

Bill Joos has a touch of the cinematic about him - you could easily picture him in a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster as a professor or father figure type - and he is able to get to the point and explain complex products, models and systems in near layman’s terms. No surprise then that Joos has advised hundreds of Silicon Valley startups in recent years on how to get their key messages across to investors - a process and way of thinking he has packaged up with the moniker “Life’s a Pitch”.

Joos says there are five types of pitch an entrepreneur has to master - the “handshake intro”, the “one minute pitch”, the “napkin pitch” and the “investor” and “customer” pitches. The self-confessed “pitch doctor” went on to say that “long pitches are lazy” and “brief pitches are hard”. According to Joos, an old Gaelic proverb puts it best, “say but little and say it well.”  

In a valuable takeaway for me, as a PR person who helps companies craft their own messaging, Joos says he favours the ability of a business to describe its activities in under thirty seconds and to also have an even shorter descriptor in seven words or less.  

Referring to his old boss at Apple, Steve Jobs, and an address Jobs made at Stanford University in 2005, Joos expounded the importance of networks to “connect the dots” in terms of populating your entrepreneurial idea with the people that can make a difference to your chances of success. 

Last week, Informatics Ventures announced the sixty early stage tech companies who will pitch to UK and international investors at McEwan Hall in Edinburgh in April. Unsurprisingly, AI is increasingly to the fore in the EIE18 cohort and other emerging trends include HealthTech and what is now commonly described as “business for good”. We hope to draw out more trends and founder sentiment when we launch the second Scottish Startup Survey with Informatics Ventures and the University of Edinburgh Business Schoolthis month.

A major news story this year has been around gender balance - in the boardroom and in the tech world - and approximately 12 per cent of the startup founders pitching at EIE18 are women. That compares to a global average of something in the region of 15 per cent in 2017 so we’re in pretty good shape in Scotland with a bit of room for improvement. 

Former EIE alumnus Leah Hutcheon of scheduling software startup Appointedd won a UK-wide entrepreneurial award in January and another female entrepreneur from the EIE programme, Susanne Mitschke of mobile health app MindMate, herself a recent pitch winner at EIE, is leading a team that are not only positioned for success with a strong base of international venture capitalists, but are also tackling one of society’s greatest destroyers - Alzheimer’s, dementia and other forms of cognitive decline. 

Bill Joos’ tech trends on the rise, in addition to AI, include the spread of Blockchain, the advent of 5G, augmented and virtual realities, autonomous vehicles and omnipresent voice user interface.

Irrespective of developing tech trends, I hope our nation’s daughters gets the same opportunities as our sons when they decide to follow a career in tech. Of course, only if robots have not taken over by then and, as the film Ex Machina hints, brought about the end of the world as we know it.