Comprehensive Guide to Running a Virtual Pitch Competition
12 min read

Comprehensive Guide to Running a Virtual Pitch Competition

Comprehensive Guide to Running a Virtual Pitch Competition

A pitch competition is an event where people quickly pitch their business ideas to an audience and a panel of judges, where there are often prizes for winners.

I'm sharing here a comprehensive guide to planning a virtual pitch competition. In December 2020 I helped plan and run the virtual Contrary Boston Pitch Competition. Our event lasted one and a half hours, and we had over 250 RSVPs and around 200 live attendees. Pitch applications were open to university students and recent alumni (less than two years out of undergraduate and graduate school) from schools in the Boston area. We received 50 applications for our 10 pitch finalist positions, and the event was judged by four judges:

The event was planned by VP’s at Boston College, Northeastern, Harvard, and MIT, with help from Julie Chen and Nina Stepanov.

It's useful to think of some overarching guidelines for your pitch competition; for example, are you allowing anyone with an idea to pitch, or will you end up favoring pitches that have traction (progress towards their idea)?

These are the exact steps we took to make the Contrary Boston Pitch Competition happen. There are lots of ways to host virtual pitch competitions, so feel free to use these steps for inspiration or deviate from it for your pitch competition. I wanted to include our exact tech stack and email templates in case they'd be useful.

Let's get into it!

Planning the event

Before the event's launch

Create a Google Drive folder that will hold all materials related to the pitch competition, then share it with the event team. Meet with the  team (recommended: > three people), and decide on:

Team member roles

Dates and times

  • Event: pick an evening time (after work for judges, after school for applicants)
  • Event: pick a midweek date, not in conflict with finals, holidays, or big events
  • Pitch applications: pick a date and time where applications will close
  • Pitch applications: pick a date and time when applicants will be notified

Judges outreach

  • Do this ASAP; lock in some high-profile judges so the marketing push can start
    • Good / recognizable judges will boost RSVPs after marketing
  • Have judges be specific to your pitch competition (geography, sector, etc)
  • Have a balanced judging panel (gender, race, backgrounds, etc)

Prizes and eligibility

Determine the structure of prizes or awards. Here's what we did for the Contrary Boston Pitch Competition, consider setting prizes for at least these levels (and perhaps consider a second and third place prize as well):

  • Winner (selected by judges): $1,000
  • Crowd favorite (selected by Zoom poll): $250
  • Audience raffle: $15

Decide who's eligible to apply and pitch. For example, for the Contrary Boston Pitch Competition, we limited applicants to current university students or recent graduates (< 2 years out) of Boston-area schools (including grad schools).

Find someone’s Zoom link for the event that won’t expire after 45 minutes (may require some sort of paid Zoom account).

Event blurb

Write a general marketing blurb for the event that will be used everywhere (Splash page, social media posts, newsletter outreach, etc).


Here's a sample 1.5-hour schedule I'd recommend using:

4 mins per pitch + 2 mins of Q&A = 6 mins per pitch * 8 pitches

  • 6:50 – 7:00 PM: Dry-run with finalists (DON'T ADVERTISE THIS)
  • 7:00 – 7:10 PM: Wait for people to show up + opening remarks
  • 7:10 – 7:35 PM: Teams 1-4 pitch
  • 7:35 – 7:40 PM: Break + audience gift card raffle + buffer time
  • 7:40 – 8:05 PM: Teams 6-8 pitch
  • 8:05 – 8:15 PM: Judge deliberation + audience questions / vote / raffle
  • 8:15 – 8:25 PM: Winners announced + closing notes

Here’s what we used for the Contrary Boston Pitch Competition. I think the time allocated for pitching was too short (two minutes) and Q&A just too long (three minutes) so I modified this for the recommended schedule above (had to reduce the number of pitches from ten below to eight above). Even so, feel free to check out what we ran during our event:

2 mins per pitch + 3 mins of Q&A = 5 mins per pitch * 10 pitches

  • 6:50 – 7:00 PM: Dry-run with finalists (DON'T ADVERTISE THIS)
  • 7:00 – 7:10 PM: Wait for people to show up + opening remarks
  • 7:10 – 7:35 PM: Teams 1-5 pitch
  • 7:35 – 7:40 PM: Break + audience gift card raffle + buffer time
  • 7:40 – 8:05 PM: Teams 6-10 pitch
  • 8:05 – 8:15 PM: Judge deliberation + audience questions + audience vote
  • 8:15 – 8:25 PM: Winners announced + closing notes


Determine the main point of contact for the event; this doesn’t have to be the group leader. Their name and email address will be displayed for people to contact with questions on the pitch application Google Form (for founders to contact with questions about the application) and possibly the Splash page. Pick one person to be the public point of contact; if it’s a group email or multiple emails, no one has the responsibility to respond and likely responses will get delayed.

Event goals (optional)

Set some goals in advance for the event. Some suggestions:

  • Overall qualitative goals of the event
  • Number of founders that apply to pitch
  • Number of people that RSVP to attend the event
  • Maximum number of people watching on Zoom at the time of event

Once you've decided on the things above on your initial call  or completed them after the call (like judge outreach): you can create the next two resources. These are the page where people can RSVP to watch the pitches (event registration page), and the place where founders can apply to pitch at the event (pitch applications page).

Event registration page

View our example at

A Splash page works great for this (create at As far as Splash pricing goes, creating the page is free, and emailing attendees costs: $15 to send 300 emails, $50 to send 1,000 emails, etc.

Include the info from the following sections you completed above: dates and times, judges outreach, prizes and eligibility, zoom link, event blurb, schedule, and contact. Also include a link for founders to submit their pitch applications (see below).

Pitch applications page

View our example at

Try to ask questions about applicants' startups' market, product, business model, traction, etc directly rather than asking founders to upload their pitch decks alone. The best decks don’t have much text on them, so if you only ask for pitch deck links you can miss a lot of key details about your applicants' businesses. You can still ask for the deck, just make sure the founders have room to describe their business through other questions directly.

In the form description, include all information from the Splash page as described above (completed sections of dates and times, judges, prizes, etc).


  • Reach out to good founders (both in + out of your network) who should apply
  • Promote through your organization's accounts (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc)
  • Have everyone planning your event post from their social accounts
  • Reach out to relevant online communities and forums
    • Write who’s reaching out to where in ONE DOC to avoid VP double-posting
    • For young founder pitch competitions, consider these groups:
      • Ladder community:
      • community:
      • Intern.Club Slack
      • Product Buds Slack
      • GenZ VCs Slack
      • Accelerated Slack
      • Bunch of Founders Slack
      • Regional Facebook groups & communities
      • Jumpstart VC community
  • Reach out to relevant newsletters. For student-focused pitch competitions:
    • Create a big list of schools, reach out to get into their newsletters
    • Newsletters could be entrepreneurship clubs, computer science clubs, etc

Finalist selection

  • After the app deadline, go to the pitch application responses Google Sheet
    • Duplicate the responses tab at the bottom
    • Add a "feedback" column to write feedback during the evaluation process
      • You can choose to send feedback to rejected applicants
  • Have multiple people in your team score each applicant in the Google Sheet
    • You can also discuss qualitatively; scoring works well at scale though
    • Scoring can be done asynchronously
    • Each team member records a score out of ten in their own score column
    • Create an average score column, then sort the sheet by this
    • After scoring has been completed, your team can jump on a Zoom
      • Qualitatively discuss the top-scoring 10-20 pitches, pick finalists
  • Send applicant acceptance and rejection emails (use templates created earlier)

Before the event

  • Send judge check-in emails (as mentioned earlier, copy templates):
  • Send attendee check-in emails
    • You'll create this through Splash
      • In the event's Splash management page, click Email or Guests -> Email
    • Prepare this email MULTIPLE DAYS before the event
      • You may need to get "approved" by Splash and this could take time
      • Have this ready early in case there are any issues with your approval
    • Get your finalists on OnePager and work with Open Scout's team to create a specific page for your pitch competition like Remote Students (now Ladder) and AWS
  • Send finalist check-in emails (copy our template here)
    • For that email, create a doc to track finalist info (copy our template)
    • Start creating a draft of a blog post highlighting finalists
    • Have this blog post ready to go, so you can post right after the event
    • Here's a link to our blog post for inspiration (kept it simple)

Make a decision on if you would like to incorporate all finalists' pitch slides into your master slides for the event (recommended, smoother) or if you'd like applicants to have their slides ready to screen-share themselves when their time comes. The first option is much more professional, prevents awkward gaps, and gives more control to you as the event host. If you choose the first option:

  • Ask all finalists for their final slides to be used during the pitch
  • Integrate these slides into the main slides for the event

Running the event

  • During the event, stick to the script and the slides you've made!
  • Keep track of what questions are asked in the Zoom chat for finalists
    • Founders will answer these questions in the audience Q&A at the end
    • We made a Google Doc for this and had someone updating it live
  • Audience raffle: download (as late as possible) a CSV of attendees from Splash
    • Google random number generator – 1 to (# rows) – to pick a random winner
  • Judge deliberation: have judge coordinator in the judges’ breakout room
    • Walk through the judging template, guide discussion
    • Make sure they pick a winner fast (audience is waiting!)

After the event

  • Create a post-event feedback form (copy our template)
  • Send post-event emails to these three groups:
  • Giving 1-1 feedback to all pitch comp applicants is tedious. If you do it:
    • Send out a team Calendly link where people can book a time to chat
  • Post the blog post highlighting finalists (already drafted)
  • Now share the blog post link everywhere you can!
    • Share on your organization's socials (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc)
    • Email the blog link to a bunch of relevant newsletters / journalists
    • Email the blog link to the finalists’ organizations (schools / clubs)

Our advice (after running our pitch competition)

Here's a bit of advice we have for you after running the Contrary Boston Pitch Competition. The event went well, but there's always room for improvement.

Start planning the event early, so you can publicize it early. However much time you think you should allocate for marketing, give yourself at least a week more. We gave ourselves one week to plan and three weeks to publicize the event; this felt okay but it would have been great to have more time for marketing. More time for marketing means more attendees and more pitch applicants (leading to a better-qualified top-ten finalist group).

Minimize awkward breaks. This was something we heard about through our attendee post-event feedback form. The break in the middle of our pitches was a bit awkward. If you think having a bunch of pitches in a row for an hour is too long and a break is needed, definitely go for it, but I’d suggest augmenting it with any of these things (the more the better):

  • A visible countdown timer (so people know how much time is left)
  • Some sort of visual, maybe the photos and logos of the finalists, for example
  • Music playing in the background (goes a long way to make it less awkward)

For music, have a Spotify playlist ready, and when you screen-share your master presentation at the beginning of the event, check the box that says “share computer audio.” Before the event, test this out: drag Spotify's sound output level (bottom right) while screen-sharing, and have someone else on the Zoom telling you what the perfect level should be.

Allow over two minutes for each pitch. This was another piece of feedback we got from the post-event feedback form, I agree with it. There's a tradeoff between the time allocated for each pitch and the number of pitches you can feature (anything more than an hour of pitches might be a bit long). As described in my recommended schedule earlier, I’d suggest three or four minutes per pitch, and maybe two minutes of Q&A from the judges. Our pitches felt a bit fast and most of our finalists were probably used to giving pitches that were closer to five minutes. You can adjust the schedule according to your event's needs (if you're trying to feature more startups, you can have faster rapid-fire pitches, for example).

Have the link to the event be a recognizable Zoom link. I thought it would be a good idea to make a specific zoom link for the Contrary Boston Pitch Competition:, since we own the domain and can add a subdomain and have that redirect to our actual Zoom link. It turns out that since this didn't look like a normal Zoom link, a lot of people didn’t know to click on it and were asking for the real Zoom link. Make sure you have a (perhaps shortened) recognizable Zoom link for your event

In pitch applications, don't ONLY ask for pitch slides, also ask text-based questions. This was described a bit earlier. We mainly asked people for their LinkedIn’s and pitch decks. This was a problem because sometimes the best pitch decks don’t have a lot of text on the slides. For example, we had a promising startup with a beautifully-designed deck that was based around graphics and images; with no other information, how were we supposed to determine the details of each slide and what the startup did? I’d recommend creating questions on the Google Form for pitch applications asking directly about the team’s market, product, team, business model, meat, etc. Then, you’ll have more information to put the pitch slides into context.

Final note: these are the steps that we used to plan and execute on the Contrary Boston Pitch Competition. It might work well for other pitch competitions focusing on young founders (undergraduate or recent grads). That being said, every pitch competition will be different. You'll have different requirements, so this isn't a one-size-fits-all template, but still hope it could be useful!

Here's a link to a lot of the documents (forms, email templates, etc) referenced in this blog post, if you wanted to look at everything mentioned in one place.

Virtual Pitch Competition - Google Drive
Google Drive folder with most of the documents mentioned in this article

Good luck with your pitch competition. Let me know how it goes and if you have any feedback on this post, I'd love to hear from you, I'm serious! Text me at (650) 863-8151 or email me at

Thanks for checking out my post! If you have any questions or comments don't hesitate to reach out to me via my contact info below. Thanks!

Jack McClelland – LinkedIn | Twitter | Email

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