AACC's elevator pitch competition tests the ups and down of business

The way Anne Arundel Community College student Jesse Alton sees it, the world is one big elevator — hopefully, going up.

Alton is among several students at the community college who will enter in the school's fourth annual Big Idea Elevator Pitch contest, a competition designed to test young entrepreneurs' ability to crystallize their business ideas and pitch them quickly and effectively.

AACC officials looking to give students a boost in selling their ideas created the contest based on the "elevator pitch" concept, which says a person should be able to sell an idea in the time it takes to ride an elevator.

Stephen Berry, an instructional specialist in the college's business management and entrepreneurial studies program, said pitches for the contest can range from a new product to an improvement on an existing product or a service.

As an AACC promotional flier on the contests puts it, "Your idea can be as wild as you want it to be."

A Harvard Business School website that offers assistance on crafting elevator pitches describes the concept by saying, "You have one minute to explain yourself, your business, your goals and your passions. Your audience knows none of these."

For the AACC contest, students will be given the time equivalent of going from the first to the sixth floor via elevator — essentially two minutes — to deliver their pitches to a panel of judges consisting of outside business professionals.

Sponsored by Odenton-based A.J. Properties, AACC's Elevator Pitch contest 30 submissions last year from more than 100 students, some of whom competed as teams. Applications are being submitted for the April 18 contest; three finalists will each receive $500.

Alton, 23, an Annapolis resident and York College transfer, has been at work for several years trying to turn ideas into products, and he believes he might have a winner with Native Flats, disposable sandals that can be purchased at bars, concert venues, proms and weddings.

"They eventually will be biodegradable. In exchange for allowing us to sell [the sandals] at their venues, they can put their logos on them, so they get free marketing. They don't even have to pay for the inventory," said Alton, who added that he came up with the idea after watching women leave several venues barefoot while holding their shoes in hand — seemingly, he figured, because the shoes hurt their feet.

"Once we do launch, customers will be able to log on to our website and create their own custom Native Flats that they can have for their birthday or prom or event," said Alton, who said he has several business ideas at work for the AACC competition.

Alton's sales pitches have already earned him one prize — he said it was a sales pitch to professors at AACC that helped him earn a scholarship. He said he views most conversations as a chance to pitch products to someone whose interest might lead to opportunity.

"The most important part of an elevator pitch is that you have to have a hook," said Alton. "You really have to get them interested."

Berry said some teachers assign the contest in classes as a graded assignment, and most entrants are teams of students.

"The more they tell people about their idea, the better they'll get at telling people about it," Berry said. "It's an ingenious way of thinking about it. Say you're at a conference and you have this idea and you get on the elevator — say on the eighth floor, and you're going down to the first — and the person on the elevator with you is someone who could invest in your product.

"Your task, before you get to the bottom floor, is to introduce yourself, describe the problem and then offer your solution and why it is a viable solution — and why people would buy it," Berry said. "Then the door opens. ...The goal is that when you walk off, this investor says, 'Call my office; I'd like to hear more about it.' "

Berry said in his classes, students are required to stand and give elevator pitches as presentations. He encourages them to practice before a mirror, to write out the pitch as a script, memorize it and have it ready to utter whenever any opportunity arises.

"If they're serious about this idea, they'll have a 30-second pitch, a two-minute pitch and a five-minute pitch," he said. "They'll have those memorized so when they run into somebody and the person says, 'What do you do? What is your idea?' they can say, 'How, much time do you have? I can tell it to you in 30 seconds or five minutes or a half-hour.' "

Alton said he's so serious about his ideas that he once practiced an elevator pitch in an elevator.

"Practicing an elevator pitch to a professor in an elevator is great," Alton said. "The elevator can be a very high-tension area. It's a great practice."

For more details and entry information regarding Anne Arundel Community College's Big Idea Elevator Pitch competition, go to

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