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Elite Startups Get in the Ring

Cameron Cushman

cameron_w_cushman PFLast night I had the privilege of watching the first ever Get in the Ring Competition in the United States. Though this competition is in its sixth year, this was the first year that the United States had participated. The process began in August with groups of judges sorting through about 300 applications from startups all across the country. After several rounds of judging, the final eight startups were invited to Kansas City to participate in the U.S. version of Get in the Ring, the American Startup Clash.

The event was a perfect example of what a good entrepreneurship event should be. It was fun but substantive and funny with some serious teaching moments mixed in as well. You can watch the recording of the event here. But what impressed me the most was the incredible quality of the final eight contenders. Each startup clearly had the idea, the team, the pitch and the ability to execute that put them among the elite startups in the country.

The eight finalists were:

So here are a few of the lessons I learned from watching these elite startups perform last night. Since the participants had to describe their businesses in four rounds or “clashes” of 25 seconds each, I’ll follow this same pattern for the five topics that the contestants had to address in each clash.

Business Model

In some sense, this was the most important part of the competition. Describing your business model in 25 seconds is no easy task. Many of these companies had very complicated things to describe, but they were each able to boil their business down into a true elevator pitch. Their “WOW statements” had clearly been crafted over many months, but they were expressed with an ease and clarity that the whole audience could understand.

Making $

The GITR participants had clearly thought through how they would make money and who would pay them for their product or service. They knew their customers well and what it would take to get them and keep them. In several cases, these startups had multiple ways of making money. So, if one particular revenue stream didn’t materialize, they had other ways of making their product or service profitable. Many startups make the mistake of making or building something cool and assuming that people will pay them for it. These elite startups had managed to dodge this mistake.

The Team

Each of the entrepreneurs had surrounded themselves with incredible teams. Startup literature is full of examples of founding teams that either made or broke the startup, and last night’s clash seemed to be no different. Team members had built brands for major companies, held multiple patents and many were on their second, third or fourth startup. The team members behind these startups were clearly not in their first rodeo.


It was clear that this was not the first competition for these startups. Each had a long resume of accomplishments to announce, from winning business plan competitions to being featured in some of the most important media channels in the country. Plus, the underlying technologies behind these companies were truly novel and they had the patents to prove it. Several of the entrepreneurs had large numbers of users and had exhibited tremendous growth. Their achievements were more than just winning awards. They also showed that they were excelling in the only categories that matter, growth and profit.

Why should you be the winner?

The elite startups that made it to the final round all exerted one thing - confidence. None of these entrepreneurs were lacking in confidence and rightfully so – their startups are capable of being the next big thing. And, I don’t mean that they were necessarily cocky or arrogant, they were just confident that their startup, their team, their business model and their idea were truly the best in the competition. It was as if their startup dreams would not be denied.

In the end EyeVerify, coincidentally a Kansas City company, won the opportunity to represent the U.S. in the global competition taking place in Rotterdam on Friday. Based on all the categories above, the judges felt as if EyeVerify’s product would have the most success in the global market, backed by a solid team and understanding of the need they were meeting in the market.

Maybe if your startup can follow a track similar to these, perhaps you can enter the ranks of the elite entrepreneurs as well. And, maybe we will see you at next year’s American Startup Clash.

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