Fintech Demo Day Adapts To Pandemic Conditions

Fintech-bank product pitchesendure despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 27, 2020, the 10 startups (chosen out of a pool of some 300) presented their technology, value proposition, and the problem they solve to an audience tuned in from home offices as part of the Fintech Innovation Lab sponsored by Accenture and the Partnership Fund for New York City (PFNYC). Afterward, participants could listen to more in-depth presentations and interact with the founders during a 30-minute moderated Zoom call. There was also a fireside chat with Maria Gotsch, president and CEO at PFNYC, and Fred Wilson, Partner at Union Square Ventures. 

“Demo Day is their coming out party, and it is a chance for [the startups] to be public with their new messaging,” said Gotsch. During the three-month lab, startups worked with mentors from financial institutions to refine their business strategy and technology offerings as well as develop a more customer-relevant pitch (as opposed to a technology pitch). “They talk more about the problem they’re solving and leading with that as opposed to ‘let me tell you about this cool thing that I’ve invented,’ and because they’ve worked really hard, [Demo Day] is a really great public forum for them to get that message out to a broad group of people.”

For attendees, along with learning about these startups, Demo Day provided an opportunity to understand the latest tech trends within the financial industry. “You see who the big financial institutions—you have more than 40 big institutions—they choose to mentor these companies because they’re interested in them,” said Felix Kühlmann, Insurance Executive in Residence at the FinTech Innovation Lab. “When you attend Demo Day, you see what topics are interesting. To a certain extent, the topics remain the same if you attend several of them, but you see certain trends if you look over the years.”

The in-person Demo Day consisted of a 1.5 hour presentation where each startup was introduced by a bank mentor before giving a seven-minute presentation with slides. Afterwards, attendees asked founders specific questions at their booths.

“It’s live, a little bit more high wire and high risk,” said Gotsch.

There was a technical rehearsal to prepare for the live event where founders practiced presentations, handing off equipment to the next presenter, and entering and exiting the stage so there weren’t any 30-second gaps.

With any event though, the format should work to achieve the event’s goal, and for Demo Day, that was to provide the companies with an opportunity to talk about their product and their progress with the financial institutions. As there’s no interactivity back and forth, their presentations needed to keep people’s attention so that the audience stayed the entire time.

This year, many viewers were unaware that the online Demo Day was pre-recorded. Coordinating seamless handoffs between a total of 23 speakers—including 10 representatives from financial institutions that gave one-minute introductions and the 10 founders that gave two-minute pitches—from 23 remote locations would have been impossible logistically. The fireside chat was edited down to 20 minutes, with the entire 45-minute conversation available to view on online.

“This is about making the companies look good so if you throw a bunch of technical problems in the middle [of presentations], people will give up and go home,” said Gotsch. “Because there’s no chance of Q&A back and forth, there was no reason to do it live.”

Like any format, online events have pros and cons.

Pro: Practice Makes Perfect

Producing an online event is more time-consuming than a live event. Each founder filmed their pitch using tips from a technical document that outlined how to film so that each video had a consistent look. The founders were given feedback on their videos from Accenture and the PFNYC, and then they filmed their pitches one final time.

“The way that we set it up because we prerecorded, the companies could practice their pitch and do multiple versions of it and pick the best one,” said Gotsch. “You can’t do that on Demo Day. You can practice it multiple times, but if you happen to flub it up on Demo Day, you flub it up.”

Pro: A Targeted Audience and Event

“In the virtual world, you have more focus on the specific companies and less informal chat with other participants from the industry,” said Kühlmann.

The post-presentation 30-minute breakouts “were very targeted, and it was a very nice, relaxing discussion,” said Anastasia Dokuchaeva, head of partnerships for ClauseMatch. We knew those people joining were familiar with [our company] and were there to ask questions that were relevant.”

Con: Limited Networking

People attend Demo Day to interact with the startups and the audience: banking executives and investors. While the online event provided a mechanism for attendees to follow up with companies for one-on-one meetings to further the discussion, the virtual world does not provide an opportunity for spontaneous participant conversations that can lead to fruitful business relationships.

“It’s not about what’s happening during the meeting, it’s around and after,” said Dokuchaeva. “Because of the remoteness, that gets lost. You have the Zoom meeting, but because there’s so many people, there isn’t an opportunity pull them aside and have a private conversation or there isn’t the ability to network and target the network—that’s what Zoom doesn’t give.”

Pro: Scheduling Flexibility

“For Demo Day in person, I blocked the day and had no conflicts,” said Kühlmann. When the event is online, “I attended part of it and watched the rest on the recording. It gives you flexibility.”

People schedule in-person events at a specific time and location, but for an online event, people can watch these live or at their leisure—more people may watch at a later date than they would a recording of an in-person event. No matter when someone watched, they still had the ability to follow up with the company to schedule a one-on-one meeting.