Recap: What it takes to win the McGill Dobson Cup (19 tips)

Editor’s Note: For those that missed it, here are the slides from the December info session on the Dobson Cup:

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On January 10th, our program manager Jihane led a presentation on what it takes to win the McGill Dobson Cup 2019 presented by National Bank. We also brought in some past winners from the competition, including the teams from Nimbus Tutoring and Cura Therapeutics, who won prizes the year before. There was plenty of time for audience Q&A, where the founders were able to provide detailed, tailored advice to all the new applicants. We’ve distilled some of that advice so that you can apply it to your business.


1. Pick the right Track

When you pick which track your startup goes into, you need to be thinking about what kind of help you want to get from the judges and mentors. Do you need feedback in the medical field or do you need something with more innovation driven experience and guidance? Narrow down which track your company fits into and then go from there.

2. Know everything about your company and the industry

During the pitches, if you seem like you don’t know your industry, your judges (who are experts in the industry) will call you out on it. Knowing everything about your industry gives you credibility in front of the judges, which gives you a better chance of winning.
This includes: market research at a macro level, market research at a micro level (through customer interviews), the biggest roadblocks that other companies are facing, and why your product can overcome them.

3. Demonstrate and highlight your progress

Being accepted into the McGill Dobson Cup is just the first step of this competition. Making and showing progress is what makes you win. Once your team gets to the Semi-Finals, your judges will be looking for major progress when you approach the Finals. You will need to provide them with a Minimal Viable Product (MVP). The judges need to see that you are working and committed to your company. Show the judges traction, however small it may be, and this will make you stand out.

4. Think long term

It’s great to have an idea and even greater if you are able to go forth and win the McGill Dobson Cup. However, you also need to be thinking about how you are going to take the experience of the McGill Dobson Cup and the potential funding you might get to help build into a long-term goal of the company. The McGill Dobson Cup is a stepping stone towards a bigger journey.

5. The key to success = commitment

The company that you are about to create, or have already created, has to be one of your top priorities in life. You need to be working on this company as hard as you possibly can and the judges need to see this.


6. Assemble an All-Star team

Product is important, but ultimately you need to have the people who have the specialized skills necessary to build that product.


7. Know what you’re being judged on

Judges will look at the feasibility, growth potential and innovation, as presented by the teams. Specifically for the Social Enterprise Track, social impact will be assessed.


8. Make progress between the Semi-Finals and the Finals

If you can show that you’re actively working on your business and that you’ve taken feedback and used it to learn, you’re that much better off when you’re presenting to the judges in the Finals.


9. Show that you are all in

When you’re speaking during the pitch or the Q&A, find a way to demonstrate that you are obsessed with your vision and that you are dedicated to seeing this through.


10. Tell a story

Judges will hear up to 10 pitches a day, so using emotional stories to differentiate your pitch will make their job easier and make your company more memorable.


11. Show your prototype

Bring samples, frameworks, products, or some kind of tangible Minimum Viable Product. You know how it’s said that a picture is worth 1000 words? Well a prototype is said to be worth 1000 meetings – bring one!


12. Talk about early traction

Even a few thousand dollars of revenue or letters of intent are useful. Judges are constantly judging whether or not you’re solving a problem. And the best way to do that, is by showing that people want and are using, what you’re building.


13. Make the most of it by keeping an open mind

Talk to the other teams and ask the judges questions! This competition is meant to embody experiential learning and provides students with invaluable feedback, mentorship and networking opportunities.


14. Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Recall that you have 20 minutes in total: 5 to pitch, and 15 for Q&A. The Q&A is TWO-SIDED! You can ask for specific advice, or even introductions. And bring a small notepad to take notes – it’s practically useful and signals your dedication.


15. Use the competition as a FIRST STEP

Don’t get too attached to winning – ultimately, entrepreneurship is a marathon not a sprint. The most valuable things in the competition are the lessons learnt, the feedback you get, the people you meet, and the confidence you build. Focus on those!


16. Don’t be on time, be early

If you’re even a few minutes late, we will have whichever team is ready take your place. Our competition is scheduled in multiple locations at precise times – we don’t have the capacity to accommodate everyone’s schedule.


17. Re-evaluate your business between the Semi-Finals and Finals

If your financials change, or you uncover a new insight that could change the course of your business, that’s okay. In fact, that’s the kind of learning that happens in any successful business and is a reflection of progress. You may send in updated business plans that we’ll hand off to the judges.


18. If you’re a solo founder, find a co-founder: going into business alone is hard

Sign up for McGill Dobson Match, ask your friends, and go to networking events. But don’t rush into an equity split, you want to take your time while judging what they can bring to the table as well as their character and energy.


19. You don’t have to have a tech company

Roughly 1 out of 3 companies that go through the McGill Dobson Cup have a tech component in their business: apps, patented medical breakthroughs, physical feats of engineering, and unique algorithms. However, there are plenty of businesses that are not technological in nature – ultimately, you will be judged on the value you bring to other people’s lives, whatever form that takes.


Get your tickets for the Awards Ceremony now to find out who wins – tickets sell out fast!  
Dobson Chronicles

Dobson Chronicles

The Dobson Chronicles is the official blog of the McGill Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship.