So how much is too much? “I’ve always been curious as to why people think pitching should be free,” Ultra Light Startups founder Graham Lawlor wrote in an email. “I think each event is unique and startups should evaluate paying to pitch as an investment, alongside their decision of which lawyer or web host to use. I like to believe startups that pitch at Ultra Light get far more than $50 worth of value in exposure and feedback (and sometimes prizes). I suspect the people who think pitching should be $0 are not running many events themselves.”
I have no problem, in theory, with companies paying to present at an event. However, let's call that what it is: it's a promotional presentation. Presenting it as "pitching", i.e. as an activity directed at investors for the purpose of getting funding, is misleading at best, and downright dishonest in some cases.
It's a sign that you're entering hugely, hugely seedy territory if you ever are asked to pay to receive offers of employment, scholarships, or investment. First, many out-and-out scams operate that way. Second, if the opportunity were legitimate, there is an adverse selection risk. Meritorious candidates for employment/scholarships/investment have no interest in paying to get a chance at them, so those candidates would avoid that opportunity like the plague. The decisionmaker, if they have two brain cells to rub together, knows this and charges anyway. Why would you ever take investment from someone who had a declared policy of only entertaining pitches from the bottom of the barrel? (Plus, egads, what does that say about you to follow-on investors or other parties you need to sell?)
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