Gone in 60 seconds: DMZ hosts rapid-fire pitching competition

Michael Chang presents his company, Needle, during the DMZ’s event. (Alexa Huffman / Ryersonian Staff)

Michael Chang presents his company, Needle, during the DMZ’s event. (Alexa Huffman / Ryersonian Staff)

It took only a minute for two Digital Media Zone (DMZ) companies to impress a group of judges.

Then again, that was all the time they had.

The DMZ’s second annual 120 Minutes in the Zone, held on Nov. 12, had the entrepreneurial hub’s startups pitch their products and services in 60 seconds to a panel of judges and a crowd of journalists, experts and advisers.

The pitches were split into two sections, one for later-stage startups and another for those still in early development phases. The first section had 14 DMZ-bred companies pitching, while the latter had 11.

Kevin Shaw of Zagga Entertainment, the winner of the early-stage category, described his company as “Netflix for the blind” during his pitch. His product, Zazemo, is a website and app that offers described video on-demand.

“Like you, I like to watch film and TV, but today’s TV technology is inaccessible. What’s worse is current VOD services don’t offer described video,” said Shaw, who, like the people he aims to help with his company, is also blind.

The other pitch perfect startup was Kira Talent Inc., which dominated the later-stage category.

The 15-person company’s product, also named Kira Talent, provides a YouTube-like environment for job applicants and employers.

Through the service, employers can send questions to applicants, receive their responses and then compare them with a hiring committee, all via uploaded video.

David Singh, the company’s vice-president of strategy and operations, said what made his company stand out during the pitch was the fact that it is addressing a real problem with the hiring process.

The company aims to slash interview scheduling costs and times for employers, as well as provide a more in-depth look at candidates.

While the judges held up coloured cards to indicate how they felt about the pitch, the crowd got to use their mobile devices to also determine how they felt, using the QR code or website shown on the screen.

Green stood for “I’m sold,” blue was “on the fence,” yellow was “get back to me in six months,” and red was the dreaded question: “You do what?”

The judges also gave comments on the delivery and persuasiveness of the startup’s speaker, as well as the clarity of the company’s pitch.

“It was intimidating,” said Rosemary Westwood, small business publishing lead for the Toronto Star and one of the judges for the late-stage startup portion. “There’s a lot of really good ideas up there and your base instinct is to be rooting for people.”

Daniel Shain, one of the judges for the early-stage startups, said the key to a short pitch is practice.

“Sixty seconds sounds like it’s the sort of pitch where you can just wing it,” he said.

“But pitching in 60 seconds is a lot tougher than doing it in five minutes because there’s only so much you can squeeze in a pitch.”

The winning startups received $100 gift cards to Milestones to reward their employees or schmooze with potential investors.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on November 20, 2013.

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