Springboard’s Dolphin Tank Helps Young Entrepreneurs Pitch to VC’s

This post originally appeared here and was written by Carl Pierre.

Most people are familiar with the concept of entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to VC’s through ABC’s tv show Shark Tank. The show involves promising entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to a board of “venture capitalist sharks” that either tear their pitch apart or laud them for their concept and throw investment offers at them. Like all good television shows  it involves a lot more drama and yelling than what actually happens at a real investors pitch, but it’s accurate none the less. Springboard Enterprises, one of the country’s most well-known accelerators for women-led businesses, decided to take the same concept to help out GW students and prospective entrepreneurs hone their pitch.

The twist: less yelling, and a lot more constructive feedback.

The purpose of the Dolphin Tank is to provide young entrepreneurs with a chance to pitch to a panel of experienced founders and business owners without the stressful, high-pressure experience usually involved in the aforementioned tv show. Springboard gives each presenter an opportunity to give an elevator pitch, describing it in a short prompt:

Each presenter delivers a two minute business pitch that quickly, concisely and compellingly communicates their business opportunity (and its viability and scalability so investors will be sufficiently intrigued to schedule a follow-up meeting.

The panel is supportive, and posits ways each entrepreneur can improve their pitch and highlights the things they did well. Hence, a relaxing “dolphin tank” instead of a heart-attack inducing “shark tank”.

The Dolphin Tank I attended last night was quite an experience, and I heard some incredible ideas pitched to the faux panel of investors; the ideas ranged from starting a prominent DC pole fitness studio to a matchmaking site for aspiring founders and entrepreneurs. The panel that critiqued each of the pitches included Jim Chung, GW’s Director of Entrepreneurship, Tonya Harmon of the Founder Institute, Marie-Louise Murville with Delight Me, and Bobbi Kurshan of Educorp Consultants Corporation. It was fascinating to watch each of the pitches, many of the entrepreneurs took different  approaches and had unique methodology as to how they would sell the idea to the investors, but at the end of the session it was intriguing to see how each member of the panel reacted to the pitch.

The best part about the Dolphin Tank was that the whole room was invited to engage with the entrepreneurs pitching their ideas, offering praise or constructive criticism as to how to better their product or concept. After all the pitches were given it felt as if the whole room was on some level invested in each of the ideas considering how much we all questioned and postulated on each pitch, and the level of crowd involvement with all of the concepts that were talked about.

I personally think that holding a Dolphin Tank for students is brilliant because it offers a supportive method to better the skills and ideas of young entrepreneurs, as well as polish their small business skills. This is a stark contrast to having to learn things “the hard way” when you pitch to real VC’s and investors, which is much more daunting and frightening than pitching to a room of smiling, supportive people who have extensive experience in startups and entrepreneurship.

After experiencing my first Dolphin Tank, I’m certain I’ll attend the next one if not just to hear some refreshingly original concepts from young entrepreneurs, and to help them execute on some amazing ideas.

Carl Pierre is a writer for In TheCapital and lives in Washington, DC and covers DC news.