Thea Myhrvold, the founder of TeachMeNow.com, a Dubai-based online tutoring portal, explains that entrepreneurs often hear about amazing start-up and tech events in the US and Europe, but they rarely look to the East.
The rest of her story can be summed up by the phrase “Veni, vidi, vici” (‘I came, I saw, I conquered’).
As the winner of Infiniti Speed Pitching, a start-up competition developed by Infiniti, a Hong Kong-based automotive brand, and its partner Nest, Myhrvold recently won a cash prize of $40,000 in seed funding.
The event was part of Infiniti’s special entrepreneurial initiative to provide to Middle Eastern entrepreneurs an opportunity to present a thorough, intelligent and innovative commercial proposition. In the end, of course, that proposition turned out to be TeachMeNow.com.
Based in Dubai, it is a global marketplace for education, focused on one-to-one learning in real time, where anyone can teach and everyone can learn. All the classes happen through virtual classrooms that have live audio, video, interactive document editing, whiteboards and more.
The platform has thousands of teachers from around the world using the website to inspire and teach students from Australia to Saudi Arabia. The majority of their tutors are Ivy League graduates from institutes such as MIT, Yale, LSE and Princeton, as well as certified teachers and experts.
The MENA-focused Infiniti Speed Pitching is part of the automotive brand’s larger entrepreneurship initiative – the Founder Series, which is based on three pillars:
• The Infiniti Lab, a co-working space for entrepreneurs in Hong Kong
• The Infiniti Accelerator, a start-up development programme driven by Nest, an early-stage investment company
• The Infiniti Speaker Series, a leadership programme to encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship in Hong Kong
Myhrvold’s story of victory started last year when she took part in Infiniti Middle East’s first ever speed pitching competition held at the Dubai Autodrome.
Along with 30 other hopefuls, she was given seven minutes in the Infiniti Q70 to pitch her business idea to the competition judges, who looked for GCC-based and GCC-focused innovative commercial propositions.
“You often hear about an elevator pitch and this was certainly a new spin and fun challenge, and slightly dizzying!” she says. “We had to stay focused on our message and the individual judge as we drove around the track.
“This kind of speed pitching prepares you to pitch anywhere!”
Infiniti selected three start-ups from that region – letsbookr.com, a booking app; fallound, a social media site based on audio clips; and TeachMeNow.com – for a three-day business development programme at the Infiniti Accelerator in Hong Kong.
“The top three represented a mix of the Middle East with Kuwait, Lebanon and Dubai,” Myhrvold explains. “We were flown to Hong Kong together and after the jet lag wore off, we all had a chance to bond despite the unspoken sense of competition that was brewing.
“We all represented very diverse businesses. It was great to learn from each other and see how the others pitched their concepts.
“Asia is a massive market for us. It was fascinating to connect with mentors there.
Since TeachMeNow.com is looking to expand into Asia, this competition is a great launch pad for us.”
According to various estimates, the global tutoring market is valued at $103 billion, with Asia and the Middle East leading global demand. Myhrvold adds that Asia is an interesting market with huge untapped potential for regional start-ups, especially for fintech, the Internet of Things (IoT) and education start-ups.
The three-day intensive mentoring and coaching programme culminated with a final pitching competition in front of a panel of Infiniti and Nest senior executives.
Myhrvold says: “The feedback and questions we received during this time was a great way for us to learn more about what the judges were looking for. Also, the final event in Hong Kong was different in structure than the event held in Dubai.
“Each of us was offered a chance to deliver a professional, 10 minute-long detailed presentation with a full Q&A session afterwards.
“The stage was set, audience and judges were ready, lighting, microphones, teleprompter, action! It felt like being at a TED event!
“Getting to the global final was a great achievement in its own right. However, there was a lot riding on the final prize.
“The other finalists were also fantastic and the pressure was on! My focus was on my team and how they would react if and when we won!”
Hong Kong has a mix of British and Chinese influence which makes it an interesting place to do business and work, Myhrvold explains.
“When pitching your business to anyone, it is important to refine and adapt your story to the audience. When pitching your business in Asia, we were quick to learn that efficiency and numbers are key,” she says.
“The best feedback we received was how to structure our pitch in the most efficient and direct way. We concluded by offering TeachMeNow.com as a white labelled platform for mentorship with Nest and Infiniti. Since we are now creating enterprise solutions for companies, this is a fantastic cooperation to expand our work.”
Infiniti shares a number of synergies with TeachMeNow.com’s purpose. “Entrepreneurial spirit and innovation are deeply rooted in its brand DNA,” Myhrvold explains her insights.
“With the initiation of ‘Infiniti Speed Pitching’ the corporation is now able to continue to build on this DNA blue print by supporting like-minded individuals on their journey to success.”
Speaking about TeachMeNow.com, Francesca Ciaudano, deputy general manager of marketing and PR at Infiniti Middle East, said: “The decision to award the prize to TeachMeNow.com however was unanimous as she demonstrated a thorough, planned and thought-out execution for her idea.”
Myhrvold considers the winning of a global competition to be a great validation of her business. “I can highly recommend this experience to other start-ups!” she says.
“The long-term benefits have been more than just monetary value. The lessons I learnt in Hong Kong helped me successfully pitch my business to Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, during his recent visit to Dubai.
“It resulted in TeachMeNow.com strengthening its partnership with Microsoft.”
Thea Myhrvold’s tips on pitching in Asia:
• What is the problem your business solves?
• What is your solution?
• What is your market?
(Define the landscape and how you are positioned)
• What is your product and what are your key unique selling points?
• Why can you execute? Who is your team and what results do you have?
(Mention press, this is a great time to showcase your achievements)
• What are your numbers, business model and growth potential?
(Be prepared to answer detailed questions about your numbers, highlight traction and stickiness)
• How is it relevant to your audience?
(Your closing statement should make your audience want to buy or invest in your company)For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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