As the deadline for Ignite Capital applications is fast approaching, we recently invited past winners to share their insight on how to create a winning entry and deliver a winning pitch. On August 23rd, we were joined by five panelists for a discussion style panel where some of our past winners and judges answered questions and shared tips on how to achieve success in the competition. The discussion was lead by Pat McNamara, the Founder of Ignite Capital, who also shared her expectations for applicants and her passion for entrepreneurship.

Former winners, Emily Rudow (Founder of Oneiric), Jordan Stevens (Founder of Tiger Building Services) and Ryan O’Neil (Founder of Detailing Knights) were joined by former Ignite Capital judges Sarah Hashem and Kyle Monczak. The discussion started off with a brief description of the speaker's background and quickly transitioned into a question period that instantly highlighted what all entrepreneurs have in common: the desire to grow their business and the difficulty with accessing capital. Here are some of the responses to the most common questions asked by entrepreneurs:

  1. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while growing your business?
    Emily of Oneiric talked about the cost of manufacturing and the challenges of obtaining funding. 2013 Ignite winner, Ryan O’Neil said after growing his business over the last several years his challenges have changed to managing employees and creating opportunity. Jordan, of  Tiger Building Services said he struggled to transfer the craft of window washing to his employees.

  2. What do judges look for in a business plan? What makes a plan stand out?
    Kyle stressed the importance of being consistent throughout your plan and sticking with one idea. However, Sarah looks for precise market research. She said too many people focus on an industry at large instead of focusing on the niche where they fit in the industry. If you’re selling socks, don’t focus your market research on the retail industry at large, focus it on the market for socks, your competitors and where you stand amongst them.

  3. What’s more important: the scalability of a business or stability?
    This was argued for both sides by our former judges. Kyle favoured stability saying “you need stability in order to have scalability”. Sarah prefered hearing about the scalability of a business because it gives us insight into your goals and dreams for your company. Scalability means that you have plans to grow, and the Ignite Capital fund is to help grow small businesses.

  4. What makes a strong business pitch presentation?
    Past winners took the lead with this question by sharing the things they believe made their pitch successful. Emily Rudow says she knew all her numbers when doing her pitch, while Jordan Stevens says he brought a window as a prop and did a demonstration of his window cleaning service. The judges chimed in with advice for participants. Sarah and Kyle both agreed that participants need to steer clear of any jargon during the pitch. Judges aren’t always experts in your industry, so avoid too many technical terms. Instead of trying to teach your audience, try to convince them they need the product or service you’re offering. Don’t be afraid to show your passion and share your story.  And don’t forget you only have 10 minutes to sell the judges, so rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!

As a reminder, applications for the year’s competition are due September 10th. The online applications form is available at  For questions relating to the competition contact