SATURDAY, APRIL 12. Melanie Witkower can't get the visual for her presentation to open up within the one-minute setup period. The timekeeper tells her to get started. Three judges-who have gathered to select the winners in the RvD IDEA Awards competition-stare at her expectantly. Witkower walks up to the front and begins to present. One of her teammates waits nearby while the others anticipate a text message from her after the presentation. Witkower is eager to share Screen-Bridge's potential as a finalist and win the competition that comes with $10,000.
"We won no funding from the RvD IDEA Awards, but to my surprise it was not because of the technical difficulties," Witkower says. "Based on the feedback provided by the judges, it seemed that the concept did not resonate as we had anticipated. In fact, my notes contain remarks like 'Could this be a fad?' regarding the growth of social media. My takeaway from that experience comes in two parts: one is to be confident in what you know because a visual is helpful, but what you say is most important. The second takeaway is to not take every critic's words to heart because sometimes they are not experts in your market."
The possibility of cold hard cash made the trial worthwhile. It was also a good warm up, as Witkower and her team competed in another competition the same day-two hours later. Their hopes in winning twice as much money to help fund Screen-Bridge, plus prizes, motivated them to enter the Panasci Business Plan Competition at the Whitman School of Management. The stakes included $20,000 in cash and prizes. However, the prize money is almost incidental. Entering the competition includes mentors that give invaluable feedback and a night course that met once a week for three hours to explore the different elements in more detail.
With nearly 40 entries, 16 companies were picked to create 15-minute pitches for judges in a Shark Tank-style competition. After the first day of competition, five teams were selected as finalists, including Screen-Bridge, and moved forward to the next day and a new set of judges. That evening there was a ceremony, awarding Screen-Bridge first place and $20,000.
"I know plenty of startups that are thriving, and they have never written out a business plan; however, after creating one to enter the competition, I realized its true importance," says Witkower, who is a recent graduate of Syracuse University. "If you cannot talk about every single part of your company with ease and detail in front of a judge, investor, or client-you are unprepared. Nobody is going to know your company better than you, so take the time to understand everything from the smallest details in year five to what needs to get done today."
Witkower didn't have a formally written business plan when I interviewed her for the Social Media Today social startup column. So I was glad when she reached out to me to share Screen-Bridge's win. It was the perfect opportunity to spread the good news and updates about the startup that creates high-quality, unique social content for TV shows. Plus, I asked Witkower to share business lessons she's learned thus far:
1. What is the first thing to do with a business idea?
When you have an idea, write it down and talk about it," Witkower says. "Encourage as many people as you can to poke holes in your concept, because if those potential issues are ignored, they will likely be much bigger problems down the road.
2. What is your advice when it comes to social media and analytics?
In terms of looking at analytics, it is vital to be using data that is accurate and detailed. Screen-Bridge depends on these numbers to understand trends and create insights for television series. As for the bigger picture, do not take the numbers so literally that you forget to listen to your audience. Quantitative data is not the only way to measure value.
3. What challenges are you facing and what's your plan to solve them?
When we talk about the massive way media consumption is changing, we meet tons of skeptics. It is our job to educate those people about how this change is happening and why it is important for everyone to pay attention to the new ways a story can be communicated. We plan on teaching this through action. Screen-Bridge is a big idea that is far beyond a service or product-we are trailblazing the future of the entertainment industry.
The morals of Witkower's story
- Believe in your business because it will come across when you talk about it and in your body language-whether it's in front of a crowd or on an elevator with someone.
- Keep your heart out of your business so you don't take critics' opinions personally. Remember, their comments are not about you, they're about your company. Keep in mind that the feedback is to help not hinder, and always consider the source (i.e., Are they experts in your industry?).
- Be able to discuss every detail of your business. It shows prospects, investors, and clients you're prepared for what's to come today, tomorrow, and years from now.
- Listen to your audience; not just the numbers. Don't multitask, focus, and ask questions.
- Educate your audience. They may not know what they don't know. It's your responsibility to teach them about your industry and company, and why it should matter to them.
These lessons will serve the Screen-Bridge team for years to come. And the $20,000, will allow the social startup to buy its own production equipment instead of depending on rentals. Additionally, they have begun creating a minimally viable product of a platform that will aid their entire internal communications process.
"Our team has actually grown since we last spoke. Adam Reynolds recently moved from our Advisory Board to a more active role as our Chief Operating Officer. We also have brought on Justin Dorsen, another recent graduate of Syracuse University with a passion for social television, as our Director of Communications," says Witkower, the dual major in television/radio/film and marketing.
Please stop by Screen-Bridge's website to learn more about this innovative social startup or to apply to join their team.