If you’re looking to increase enrollment for your entrepreneurship program…
Pitch days can be incredible catalysts for growth.
In this article, with the help of Meg Weber, Director of Community Engagement and Lead Instructor, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Minor at Western Washington University, we’ll build on our Improving Student Pitches article to talk about how to use pitch day to increase the size of your program.
Increasing Entrepreneurship Enrollment
Just like we teach our students that their businesses need to solve a problem for their customers:
Students are our customers and finding a job is their problem.
With data from thousands of students who’ve completed the Fears and Curiosities exercise, we know students’ biggest concerns about life after school revolve around jobs:
- Can I find a job?
- Will I like it?
- Will I be good at it?
- Will it pay enough?
If you want to attract new students to your program, the key is to:
Demonstrate that students in your program get great jobs.
Pitch days are fantastic opportunities to advertise the career opportunities your program provides. Below we’ll detail 3 steps to make make the most of yours:
- Identify “high value” employers
- Invite them to be guest judges
- Invite prospective students to pitch day where they can see that students involved with your program get to connect with those employers
1. Identify High Value Employers
“High value” to us means employers that can satisfy the needs of our students in terms of supplying jobs that they’ll be good at, will enjoy doing, and will pay enough. Here are some tips on how to find those employers.
Ask Students Where They Want to Work
Ask students, “What companies would you be excited to work for?”, make a list, and constantly keep these companies top of mind because:
Every person you can introduce students to that works for one of those companies can help you recruit more students.
Students will often tell you they want to work for companies that are associated with brands they love:
Whatever your students tell you, search your LinkedIn connections and keep your eyes peeled for any connections you have to those companies.
Bonus Tip: Start Linking-In with all of your students now. Eventually some of them will get jobs at the companies your future students will love and pitch day will be a great opportunity to invite them back!
Talk to your Career Center
Talk to your career center on campus and ask them for lists of employers who visited previous career fairs / job days. Also, take a look at who is hiring on your school’s job board.
Search Job Boards
Look for job postings on:
Look for companies that are trying to hire students like yours and that can offer high-quality, good-paying jobs.
2. Invite the Employers to Pitch Day
Once you have a list of high value employers, pitch day is the perfect opportunity to create connections between them and not only your current, but your prospective students.
Find the “Right” People
Ideally, the people you invite from the employees are hiring managers: people with some say over who gets invited in for interviews. If you don’t know any, check LinkedIn, ask your career center, alumni office, or use the contact information associated with the job postings you found.
Invite them to Judge
Identify the people who you think students will respond most positively to, and invite them to be judges. Their companies and positions will be part of your marketing material for pitch day, so make the most of these coveted judging positions.
Side Note: Be sure to set judges expectations that you’re teaching a process (not just launching products).
Your judges might be familiar with a more traditional pitch day format, where people are pretending to know their future revenue, sales, growth, etc. You will need to conduct some basic training with your judges so they understand your students are learning a process and not necessarily working on launching investment-ready products or services. They will hear your students sharing what they did, what they learned, and what they’ll do differently next time (as opposed to, “This is a $10B market and if we capture just 1%…”).
Setting expectations ahead of time will be crucial to ensuring your judges (i.e. your students’ prospective employers) think highly of them during pitch day.
Invite Others Employers to Coach
You can only have a few judges, but you can engage more potential employers as coaches for your students. For those interested in coaching, prepare them with a brief summary of some projects that you think will be especially interesting for them. Your students should progress through multiple practice pitches, each of which is an opportunity for a coach to help them (and you!) create more impact:
- Rough draft idea quick-pitch – students pitch the basics of their idea early in the course
- Process pitch – a few weeks before pitch day, students practice sharing their journey (not the outcomes)
- Dress rehearsal – a week before pitch day students practice their final pitch
Invite coaches to your pitch day and acknowledge their contributions. After the event, you and your students should send a follow-up handwritten note to coaches thanking them for investing their time and expertise.
Take every chance to deepen the connection with your students.
Sample Invite Emails
We’ve included some sample email invitations at the end of the article that you can use to recruit coaches and/or judges.
3. Make Pitch Day a School-Wide Event
Open Pitch Day to all Enrolled Students
Pitch Day isn’t just for your current students – it’s an opportunity to recruit your future students!
When prospective students see that your current entrepreneurship students are building close connections with employers they want to work for, they see your program as a way to solve their biggest problems.
Ask your students to present an invitation to student clubs around campus. Start with entrepreneurship-related clubs like:
and expand to other clubs in which your students are active. On any given campus there are hundreds of student clubs. Be strategic about those that have engaged members and related goals around employability and entrepreneurship. For instance, your students can present to entrepreneurship fraternities like Epsilon Nu Tau and Sigma Eta Pi, and professional business fraternities like Alpha Kappa Psi and Delta Sigma Pi.
Expand beyond the clubs and departments that are already intimately familiar with your program. Remember, your goal with a pitch day is to grow your program, so you want to reach out to students from areas you don’t normally engage with.
Use this as an opportunity to strategically connect with departments you don’t normally engage with. Maybe that’s the science departments. Or the foreign language departments. Or the fine art departments. Ask your students to present to their other classes, and to their friends majoring in these departments.
Give your students a chance to practice their pitching skills. Give your campus a chance to be excited by your program.
Equip students with a short template so messaging is consistent – keep to the point of “network with employers” as the main message.
Leverage the power of social media. Ask the university to share promotions on their official social media accounts. Incentivize students to share on their social media accounts by making it a deliverable of their pitching assignment (or extra credit).
And last, but certainly not least, take this opportunity to invite your university’s administration. Enable (and guide) your rock star students to handle these introductions – administrators will appreciate it more coming from students. Many will politely decline, but you can make them aware of what you are doing. And if they do show up, make sure they feel the energy of the connections you’re creating between students and employers.
Work with your enrollment/admissions office to invite prospective freshmen and their parents.
The enrollment/admissions team wants to highlight the best of your university for prospective freshmen. Enable them to invite these students to your pitch day – local students and their parents can attend physically, and others can join via Zoom.
This builds your funnel of freshmen students for your program by exciting them before they even get to campus! You can provide immense value to your enrollment/admissions office. Plus, universities struggle with retention and helping students find their way early on in their university careers. Pitch days can help to inspire and have students see future opportunities.
Provide food and drinks for everyone who attends
People get hungry and thirsty, and having food and drink at an event helps create spaces for connection. You don’t want the typical student event pizza and red Solo cups. But you also don’t want the alumni wine and charcuterie. Go for some very simple (and not messy) appetizers and finger foods along with a selection of soft drinks and water.
Food and beverages don’t always come cheap, especially as your guest list grows. If you have former students running or working with local food vendors, reach out to explore ways to incorporate and highlight their stories. You can also ask areas around campus to help fund this and receive recognition, given the presence of potential employers and donors. Ask your career center, a College of Business, enrollment/admissions office to share the cost and get sponsorship benefits of recognition at your pitch day event. See below for more tips on increasing funding.
During the event, highlight your program to prospective students in attendance
Throughout your event, highlight to prospective students the kind of learning experiences they will encounter in your entrepreneurship program.
In breaks between pitches, or as your judges are deliberating, talk to prospective students about how they too can learn how to pitch companies like they’re hearing. Also, share with them stories of the types of companies and jobs successful students from your program are currently engaged in (these stories will also resonate with alumni and enrollment/admissions staff in attendance).
During the event, facilitate connections between your judges and your high-performing students to grow your list of successful graduates from your program.
Most communities really want to give back to students– as educators we just need to figure out the in-roads. Many of the students at Western Washington University are food systems aficionados. One such student is Arlen Coiley. Arlen entered our entrepreneurship program with a great fervor for coffee- of all sorts- recycling hulls, creating compost, exfoliating soaps, you name it- this guy was ALL about coffee.
During his time in the program, Arlen pitched his coffee fervor to community members, who then hired him for events, invested in expanding his pop-up stand Handshake Coffee, and ultimately helped develop connections and now a vibrant restaurant called Storia Cucina.
Get Sample Emails for Inviting Judges and Coaches
Plus get a demo of how to map out external investors to help grow your program:
In our context here, Meg thinks of coaches and judges synonymously, and refers to them as coaches to help create a collaborative context. Therefore, the email below can be used for both coaches and judges.
Initial Invitation: Time to Coach Email
We are reaching that time in the quarter when our students are eagerly posed for your coaching! ANNND, it’s easier than ever to jump into coaching (dates) with our dynamic Zoom-based engagement! Learn more here (or read below!)
Oh, the ventures are exciting, and our students would love your input! Here are some highlights this quarter: (enter some sample projects!)
- Covid-safe music festival- YES, it can be done!
- Matchmaking and support platform for coaches
- Fresh new food truck idea
- Top-notch designers building brands for our internal student projects
- Artists removing the starving from the equation to monetize and empower
….and so many more!
And what happens to our grads?
- They work at Tesla, they start coaching businesses (with great customer bases), work as engineers and software developers, they run non-profits, they open local restaurants (Storia Cucina), they go to grad school, and the live more vibrant lives that they have authored.
…And we’re just getting started. Opportunities to Coach!
Please tune in ½ an hour early (before student sessions) to learn about our unique approach to Entrepreneurship and Innovation Education.
- Pitch Day 1! Watch first round “Dress Rehearsal” pitches and give developmental feedback- you’re seeing a work in progress- dive in with curiosity and support.
- Pitch Day 2! Watch final pitches and provide developmental feedback. Streaming on Facebook Live and via Zoom [insert link]
Please let us know if you can join us through this quick form here [insert link to a Google Form for gathering basic contact information].
Once again, thank you for being such an important part of our entrepreneurial community! The comments about how you are helping students move forward are consistent and heartening. Your time and investment in these young entrepreneurs and innovators is impactful.
If you’re not subscribed to our newsletter yet, please join in for updates on amazing things that our students are up to or check us out on Instagram, Website or Facebook (etc.)
We look forward to seeing you soon!
Thank you from all of us!
Teaching Team and Students
Mapping Out “Investors” in your Program
There are so many resources available to grow an entrepreneurship program. So many in fact, it can be hard to know all of them and be able to prioritize which ones you should be tapping into.
That’s where Meg Weber’s fantastic tip on network mapping comes in handy. Take a look at this video to brainstorm all of the assets in your community so you can find more people to invite to your Pitch Day!
Go Forth and Grow Your Program
You now have a playbook to use the pitch days we all do to grow your program.
- It’s not just an event for your students to practice pitching.
- It’s not just an event to give your students beer money.
This is your opportunity to make connections between your current students, your next cohort of students, and the people in the community who want to support those students.
Teach the Process
If you’re interested in teaching the process that leads to unforgettable student pitches, check out the Experiential Entrepreneurship Curriculum.
Students complete award-winning experiential exercises during a journey of finding a problem worth solving and then finding a solution worth building.
In an upcoming post, we will share information about our upcoming Summer Summit where we will share some exciting new exercises!
Subscribe here to be the first to grab a “seat” at the Summit.