How long do you need to prove to would-be investors and mentors that your business idea is sound, promising and worth taking a chance on?

Is it possible to do it in 60 seconds? Yes it is, according to experts who were the judges in a contest of business ideas held two weeks ago in Nairobi.

The competition, dubbed the BluePitch Elevator Contest, was literally about the participants being in a lift with judges who determined the viability of one’s business idea. Each contestant was allocated just a minute to make a case for their start-ups.

The event was hosted by Nairobi’s Radison Blue Hotel.

After all the contestants had ridden the elevator, and their ideas distilled, the list of participants were whittled down to three.

The finalists went through another a 10-minute rigorous vetting process where they answered a number of questions related to their enterprises. And when all was said and done, Nicholas Kiama, a third-year finance student at Kenyatta University emerged the winner.

Mr Kiama impressed the judges with his clothing idea that involves recycling old clothes into trendy and fashionable outfits.

The intriguing contest highlighted what start-ups need to do in order to put out a winning pitch. The judges said owners of business ideas and startups have to have a crystal clear picture of their vision and be able to demonstrate the potential of their ventures to expand.

“We felt Nicholas had an authentic idea, is passionate and has a model that is sustainable,” said Diana Opoti, one of the judges at the BluPitch Elevator Contest.

The eight contestants pitched business ideas on clothing design, farming and tracing lost personal documents, among others.

Retail and business entrepreneur Trushar Khetia who will be mentoring Mr Kiama noted that the best business pitch is one that incorporates a positive impact on the society. Presentation skills, he added, also count for a great deal when pushing your idea to attract investment.

“The business pitch has to be scalable, unique and disruptive. To win support, the entrepreneur ought to exude confidence, clarity and passion for what they are selling,” he said.

The judges said potential investors normally look beyond what a start-up entrepreneur tells them and the business model.

“They look at the entrepreneur’s character, personal drive, knowledge of the subject matter — products, service, target industry, realistic projections as well as business goals,” noted Mr Khetia.

He said businesses that have something tangible and interesting are an easier sell than those that simply come across as concepts that still have a long road to go before they take concrete shape.

Beyond the pitching, experts said, an entrepreneur’s appearance matters as this speaks volumes about the person’s level of organisation and self-respect.

A major stumbling block to brilliant business idea is procrastination, the judges said, adding that during pitching it is easy to know someone whose implementation stage would take a while to occur.

“Playing the ‘when-then game’ is an indication that the entrepreneur lacks confidence in what they are bringing to the table,” Mr Khetia said.

Apart from wooing investors, pitching could also be aimed at injecting more capital into the business, or for a partnership deal or simply for mentorship.

Experts counsel that it is always prudent when pitching to show potential business growth, the ins and outs of it, “ to understand your competition, know exactly what you want from an investor and above all, own your idea”.

“There’s something beautiful in chance meetings. If you are really passionate and clear about what you want, you can land yourself a very good deal,” said Ms Opoti.

Radisson Blu General Manager Ian Rydin said the idea behind the elevator ride — which will be an annual affair— is to scout for talented entrepreneurs.

“We were looking to find a determined and passionate local entrepreneurs in the contest. This is our way of us giving back to the business community since they make the bulk of our clients,” he said.

The competition, he added, received thousands of applications that were narrowed down by a select committee to eight finalists.

The two mentors assigned to Mr Kiama will train him on how best to differentiate his products in a competitive market, strategies on pricing, marketing and financial management.