Credit: Photos by Astra Brinkmann for swissnex San Francisco

Pivoting in a Pandemic: 10 Steps to Success for a Virtual Pitch Event

By Linda Aerne, Entrepreneurship & Innovation Coordinator at swissnex San Francisco

Organizing an online event might sound much simpler than organizing a physical one. There’s no need to worry about the location, venue, catering, floor plan, a/v, name badges etc. Nevertheless, the preparation of organizing an online event should not be underestimated. The key of a successful virtual pitch event lies in the preparation. Therefore, follow these 10 steps in preparation for your online pitch event.

1. Date & Time

Pick a date and time that works for you. The beauty of holding an online event is that people from all over the globe can technically join, so pick a time that is most convenient for your most important audience.

2. Format

Choose a format that sounds exciting. We decided on a 3min pitch, a 4min Q&A, a few seconds transition time and a small buffer. The event will take up about 1 hour followed by 1 hour of virtual networking.

-> Pro Tip: write a detailed runsheet and share it with all involved parties such as the startups, judges and event team.

3. Judges

For the Q&A part of the event, invite 2-4 judges and communicate your expectations to them clearly. How much time do they have to ask their questions, how/whom do they communicate with, if they have tech issues, how do they get the moderators attention that they would like to ask a question ect. If you can arrange it, have the judges joining one of your dry runs.

4. Live pitch vs. recorded pitch

Think about if you would like to have live pitches or recorded ones and communicate expectations with the startups. Live pitches seem to be more natural and also easier from a technological standpoint where recorded pitches are the more secure way to go since you skip the risk of relying on everyone’s individual internet connection.

-> Pro Tip: if you decide to use live pitches, have recorded pitches ready as a backup in case one of the startups has technical difficulties. is a great tool for a pitch recording.

5. Technology

Decide what technologies you would like to host your event on. We decided to go with zoom for the pitching part of the event, because we already have experience with the platform and most importantly it seems very reliable. For the virtual networking we chose which seemed to replicate our physical event space the best, offering tables which we used as “demo-tables” where we sat one startup per table. There are many tools out there. To choose one, focus on which functionalities you need and then start your more targeted search.

6. Get in touch!

Offer attendants a way to get in touch with the pitching startups. We added a polling function on zoom, which we launched after each pitch where we ask “would you like to get in touch with xx startup”, if the answer is yes, the participant was able to add their email address. Zoom offers to extract a csv file after the webinar where you can filter out which attendee would like to get in touch with which startup.

7. Moderation

The beauty of an online event is that no one sees if you read every single word off of your notes! Take advantage of this and write down short and concise notes and practice them.

8. Virtual Networking

We can all agree that virtual networking and physical networking is not the same, but that does not mean you should scratch it completely from your event. There are plenty of technologies that offer virtual networking these days. We choose as it replicates our physical event space by offering “demo tables”.

-> Pro Tip: Practice how the tool works during one of your team meetings, retreats, happy hour or lunch to get a feel for the tool.

9. Roles

To ensure your event is running very smoothly you’ll need the following roles in your event team:

  • 1 Moderator
  • 1 Timer (a timer helps the moderator to ensure the pitches and Q&A don’t go over time)
  • 1 Audience (a person in the audience is helpful to give you feedback on how the event looks from an audience’s perspective vs. from a presenter view)
  • 2 Techies
    • Back-end / production
      • zoom host (muting, unmuting, screen sharing ect.)
      • Ensuring audio & video quality
      • Launching of poll questions
      • Views zoom chat
      • Managing breakout rooms (if used for networking etc)
    • Startup-Audience liaison
      • Answering questions on zoom chat
      • Playing pitch recordings in case of tech issues on startup side
      • Sending the website of each startup after pitch in chat function
      • DM each startup shortly before their turn, so they can get ready
    • If you live stream this event on youtube or facebook you’ll need additional roles

-> pro tip: build a group chat for emergencies with the events team

10. Dry Run

Two dry runs are essential. It is important for the startups and moderator to know exactly what the program looks like, so they can fully focus on their performance. Therefore, schedule two dry runs and run the event from A-Z exactly like you’ll do it during the actual event including all the roles mentioned in step 9.

-> Pro Tip: Ask all startups & judges to join the actual event 30min prior to starting time and check each person’s lighting and audio/video quality.

Of course, that’s not everything there is to know about ‘How to run a virtual pitch event’, but these tips are the most essential ones. If you follow these 10 steps you will be well prepared for your virtual event! Check out the swissnex virtual demo day for more details.

Good luck with your event!

swissnex Startup Team