KC area entrepreneurs get blunt feedback from high schoolers during reverse pitch event

KC area entrepreneurs get blunt feedback from high schoolers during reverse pitch event

By Leslie Collins – Staff Writer – Kansas City Business Journal
April 13, 2022, 02:54pm CDT


Jon Broek joked he should fire his web guy. (The web guy was him.)

The CEO and co-founder of Kansas City cloud security startup Tenfold Security intently listened to groups of high schoolers as they critiqued his company’s website and social media presence. The different groups provided consistent feedback: the website was too dark, too masculine, and it needed to explain Tenfold’s offering in simple language that anyone could understand.

“As someone who doesn’t know a lot about security, I found it kind of confusing,” one student said.

Another student was even more candid: “Your website is not really appealing.”

Pure Pitch Rally Reverse Pitch
Tenfold Security CEO and co-founder Jon Broek answers questions about his startup.
Leslie Collins | KCBJ

The student feedback was part of the Pure Pitch Rally Reverse Pitch event Tuesday at Plexpod Westport Commons, which included more than 80 students from 10 area high schools.

Event organizers mixed students from different schools, dividing them into small groups to solve the business challenge given to them by two local tech startup founders: Broek and Risa Stein of SeeInMe, which developed a near-field communication-enabled Instant Connector card that allows family members to share a personality profile of a vulnerable loved one with caregivers, teachers, heath care workers and others.

A goal is to help those who work with the individuals learn more about them and provide better person-centered care.

Valuable feedback

Students also talked about marketing strategies and better ways to connect with prospective customers, such as making Tenfold’s Instagram account less about the startup’s office space and quirky giveaway items, and more about what the company does.

“People don’t want giveaway items. People want deals. … It also keeps the customer longer,” said one student, who suggested discounts for customers that sign up for longer-term contracts.

Broek said he was “blown away” by students’ insights. As a startup, Tenfold’s employees wear multiple hats, and he’s in charge of the website and marketing in addition to being CEO.

Pure Pitch Rally Reverse Pitch
Local high schoolers brainstorm solutions for one of the startups.
Leslie Collins | KCBJ

“I’m terrible at my (marketing and website) job, apparently,” he said. “What’s funny is that a month ago, we had a website that was even worse. We actually put quite a bit of work into this new website. We did a launch for it on LinkedIn, and I’m thinking, ‘Hey, we’re doing alright.’ And then no, they just tore it apart – in a good way. It’s awesome to get that feedback because I’m not getting it from anyone else. I’m not getting it from my colleagues or peers in the industry; they’re not reaching out.”

Both founders challenged the students with helping them refine their business messaging and convey why their product or service is needed. The event culminated with individual groups pitching their ideas to the entrepreneurs, who each picked a winner with the best strategy and presentation.

“Some of the ideas I heard today are just revolutionary,” Stein told the students. “You’ve added so much to my strategizing and my approach to how to move SeeInMe forward. (I heard) some really novel approaches.”

Pure Pitch Rally Reverse Pitch
More than 80 area high schoolers participated in the Pure Pitch Rally Reverse Pitch event.
Leslie Collins | KCBJ
A bigger vision

The Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) Network collaborated with Pure Pitch Rally on the event, which aims to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in students, expand their network and expose them to real-world, hands-on learning.

CAPS Network Executive Director Corey Mohn said he hopes the students also learned that leadership is an activity – not a position of authority.

That theme played out with Jemarcus Harrison, a senior at Wyandotte High School.

“I wanted to bounce my ideas off somebody else that’s intellectually equal and be free to engage in a conversation,” Harrison said. “Being able to tell my heart and elaborate on my ideas, it makes me feel good that someone actually agrees with me on something. You’re able to help someone with their business and make them more successful in the future.”

Pure Pitch Rally Reverse Pitch
Tenfold Security CEO and co-founder Jon Broek (center) talks about his startup and provides feedback on the students’ ideas.
Leslie Collins | KCBJ

Kendel Hamilton, a junior at J.C. Harmon High School, said he liked being exposed to different mindsets, and one of the big highlights was interacting with an entrepreneur.

“It was definitely a lot of energy and collaboration. … I was able to make three brand new friends today,” Smithville High School Senior Ava Robbins said, whose group won the challenge for Tenfold. “My favorite part was after we had done our introductions and we’re just brainstorming. We’re all dumping our ideas onto paper and bouncing off each other back and forth. We communicated super well and collaborated smoothly.”

Mohn said his ultimate goal is that the students felt empowered and knew that their ideas would be taken seriously – and if the ideas were good enough, some of them would likely be implemented by the entrepreneurs.

“What we’ve found in working with students is there’s nothing that beats an authentic project,” he said. “Part of the long-term goal is they will have much more confidence in their ability to exhibit professional skills. So the next time they’re in a situation like this where someone says, ‘You’ve got the day to help me with this idea, and report back to me tomorrow morning,’ they’ll say, ‘Hey, I’ve done this before. This isn’t scary.'”