At The Grand Final Of Northern Stars 2016

Elizabeth Clark at Tech North's Northern Stars 2016
Lights. Camera. Action! Elizabeth Clark, CEO of award-winning Google Shopping specialist Dream Agility, relives the hope and the glory of the Grand Final of Tech North’s Northern Stars pitch competition.

So here I am at Old Granada Studios! For over half a century the headquarters Granada Television, this 1950s style building is the spiritual home of Corrie and, until 2013, the oldest operating purpose-built television studios in the UK. Today, the space has been rebranded as Manchester’s newest cultural destination.

But I’m not here for the pop-up markets, weekend food festivals and live music events. I’m here in an actual TV studio, teeth clattering not sure what is causing it more: the cold or my nerves. I’m waiting my turn to deliver a three-minute pitch in the Grand Final of Tech North’s Northern Stars.

So how did I get here? Dream Agility entered a series of Regional Pitch events that over four months of intense competition aimed to identify the best tech startups in the North of England…like The X Factor for digital entrepreneurs.

And now we are 20. And half of us would be returning home empty handed.

No pressure. No pressure at all.

First up: media duties. I was steered into a darkened room which was lit by a ferocious lamp that was angled towards my face…God I hope my mascara can stand the heat. “We have ways of making you pitch!”, I thought as I was (politely) cross-examined. And not for the last time: this was merely the amuse-bouche.

The event kicks off with an introduction from the man who made it happen, Tech North’s Matt Jeffs-Watts. Next up was our host for the evening: TV presenter, gadget guru and tech journalist Georgie Barrat who sought to soothe frayed nerves. 

The event was to be divided into two halves. As Tech North writer Martin Bryant said, "20 pitches in one go would be too much for any mere mortal." And mere mortals pretty much summed up how all us pitchers felt right now. I certainly did and I’ve presented on stage countless times.

I’m third on. Fab. A little time to study the pyrotechnics but not too long that my teeth fall out with the cold.

It is six minutes and counting and I am in prep mode. A camera is pointed at me. Not now surely? In a rather intimate manoeuvre, a microphone is fed through my hair and down to my trousers. Added to the anxiety that I already felt was now a worry that one tug on this black wire would see me instantly disrobe in front of my peers.

I’m stepping onto the stage now. I’d been told that a big screen was to have displayed my name and company. I wouldn’t have to waste a single second from those precious three minutes introducing myself.

Bum steer, it didn't!

My brain skips a beat.

Too late! Cue spotlight, cue ticking clock. 

…hold on, my slides aren’t moving. I’ve been on the second one for over a minute. I’m talking about the A-Team whilst, seemingly, shopping for an “18ct white gold 1 carat diamond ring”.

Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair. PEBKAC.

I actually manage to finish on time! For anyone who knows me, this is a complete and total miracle. And it dawns on me that I’ve delivered a three-minute pitch in a single breath.

No time to relax, though. I turn to the judges: Karen Kerrigan of Seedrs, Harry Davies of Open Future_North and Simon Calver of BGF Ventures.

This is meant to be a two-minute Q&A session. They stare back. Blankly. I stare back. Panickly.

Finally, I hear a question. Then another and another. And then the jackpot revenue question!

Bless you Simon Calver! Does this mean that he is interested in me…us?

I stagger offstage for yet another press-related interrogation during which I felt myself repeating what I'd said earlier.

I head to the free bar but progress is slow. I am manhandled and high-fived by many, many amazing people. Some strangers, some friends and one saviour: Simon Calver. This was a networking break to end all networking breaks!

I get email requests for my pitch deck, LinkedIn and Twitter are going bonkers with DMs, loves and Wohoooooos.

I continue to socialise throughout the second dose of pitches, daring not to look (or hear) too hard.  I’d been bowled over by the quality of my fellow finalists and had already marked myself down as an also-ran. The free bar is a welcome distraction.

As the pitches conclude and the judges huddle, I feel myself starting to relax. 

Suddenly names are being called out. One after the other. Name. Applause. A handshake and a pat on the back, a kiss for some. More applause. My heart pounds (again).

And then…

"DREAM AGILITY!!!!"

How could I have ever doubted?

I am at the back of the studio, Dream Agility co-founder and CTO Glyn Powditch was — strategically — at the front. As soon as he hears our name, he makes for the podium where Matt and Georgie are waiting and applauding.

HOLD YOUR HORSES...I DID THE PITCH!!!!

I leg it towards the stage, pushing chairs and bags and bodies out of my way as if I were on the Krypton Factor assault course. Without pausing to recall that the programme was filmed in this very studio, I grab the trophy from someone (hopefully Glyn) and hold it aloft. Wahey!

(It was later pointed out that we were the only Northern Star winner with two people on stage.)

Well…I can REALLY start to enjoy the evening now. I see my new chums from the Tech North Silicon Valley expedition last month – Nick Black of Apadmi, Jon Leighton of iResources and Adam Mitcheson of my2be. Close at hand is Dream Agility’s very supportive and very vocal rent-a-crowd – most notably TEDx veteran Naomi Timperley, NatWest Enterprise Manager Heather Waters and the Manchester Tech Trust guys I met at the Manchester University SVC2K event, Peter Lusty and northern tech supporter Ed Prior from GP  Bullhound.

And then I’m in a room again! Getting (politely) cross-examined again! This time the words fall copiously into place. Relief and joy are a fatal combination for a journalist on a tight schedule.

God this event is well-documented!

Well-documented and so very beneficial: the camaraderie, the experience and the exposure. I cannot recommend the event highly enough. Tech startup entrepreneurs out there: enter for 2017!!

Congratulations to the other startups crowned hottest in tech: Airtime Rewards, Ash.tv, DueCourse, LivingLens, ProxiSmart, Radio.co, Swapbots, TopicDNA and Valuechain.

For those that didn’t win this time? My advice, for what it’s worth, is this:

The great thing about being an entrepreneur is our inherent ability to bounce back every time we get hit in the nuts. If I had a pound for all the people who rejected my idea, I wouldn't have needed investment. Stick at it and you'll get there. 99% persistence, never mind perspiration.

Onwards and upwards lovelies!