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  • Writer's pictureJenni Lien

What I’ve Learned Pitching a Christian Startup to Investors

I’ve been sitting on writing this post forever. Let me tell ya… building a business is not for the faint of heart! Pursuing a God-given dream is for the brave! Especially when it feels too big and you feel underqualified… but isn’t this how God works? All our favourite figures in the Bible… how many of them said “Yes, God, I’m going to do this and it’s going to happen!!!”


So in writing this post, I’m going to do it my way. In my style. I thought about making it super polished and professional and SEO-able etc. But who knows how long it would take to write then.


Instead here I am, sitting at the Graduate House at the University of Waterloo, armed with a cup of coffee and the enthusiasm of having the privilege of walking through various pitch competitions and investor meetings these past months and hoping, praying that the people God wants to find this post will find it and it will help them get started in pursuing their God-dream of building a business.


Whether it’s a lifestyle business, social enterprise, charity, or venture-backed scalable startup — may we do what we sense God is leading us to do, and if we don’t know which it is yet, that’s OK. Let us continue to seek God, work strategically, give him our best — and truly leave the future to him. Our responsibility is not the outcome but obedience.


Also, this life with God? It’s never dull 🙂


Women at Stu Clark Venture Championships

Stu Clark Venture Championships in Winnipeg, Manitoba


You may have heard me mention on the podcast or on social media that January to April were super hectic months. I started my Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) with a vague sense of what God might be leading me to but in working through the coursework for my New Venture Creation course, I quickly narrowed down on what God used to transform my walk with him: emotional health and healing. Then it was just one month until our first on-campus investor day and then another month to when student pitch competition season kicked off. This meant lots of work trying to shape that desire in my heart into a concise Executive Summary for submission to pitch competitions (most happen during the winter term).


The first one I applied to was a national pitch competition called the Stu Clark Venture Championships run by the University of Manitoba. My advisor helped me with my Executive Summary, thought it was in good shape, but also gently encouraged me to temper my expectations as pitch competitions aren’t just about whether an idea is good. The judges also have their bias and perhaps if they were from a completely different industry (e.g. construction), they wouldn’t relate to my venture focused on young Christian women. I understood, let it go, but was full of faith that God would do his thing. So when a few weeks later, an Instagram friend DMed me to say she’d just seen my application as she happened to work at the University of Manitoba, I excitedly ran into my advisor's office to say “See!” Whether or not I got into the competition was secondary to being able to say that God’s people are everywhere. :)



Anyway, in a nutshell, I got in but found it really challenging to write a whole business plan and predict the next five years when I hadn’t had time to test, pilot, and validate. My personality… I can’t fake it. I can’t lie. So I was really in my head but did my best pitch, got really valuable feedback from the judges, met incredibly inspiring young entrepreneurs, and left the competition wanting to try again once I was able to get some traction. The ventures that made it to the finals were often the ones that had this (e.g. existing sales, patents, one had even recently been acquired!). They were also confident and polished — a friend I made who won second place in her category said she’d done dozens of pitch competitions prior to this one. I left this competition inspired to keep working hard.


Students at Greenhouse Social Impact Incubator University of Waterloo

Social Innovation Fund by GreenHouse, United College at University of Waterloo


During the winter term, I was also part of a social impact incubator called GreenHouse which is for students who want to make a social or environmental change. It was wonderful to be part of a community of peers pursuing a social mission. There was also a weekly community dinner which was a real treat — and during one of the first weeks, I ‘randomly’ met a girl (a fellow sister in Christ!) at the dinner who said ‘I was literally just googling a solution to this’ last night when I told her about my venture idea.


For this competition as well, I was still at the idea stage and, similar to the feeling after Stu Clark, was encouraged to compete again once I had some traction as the ones who won high amounts had this (e.g. prototypes, signed agreements with government partners). But GreenHouse will always be special to me as I received the first funding cheque ($500!) from them. Excited to put this towards a pilot.



I think the most exciting part of this whole experience was the encouragement I received from fellow believers after my pitch. Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, some I knew and some I didn’t, came up to me to say how proud they were to see Jesus mentioned and glorified in such an environment. For one of my slides, I had “Jesus heals” in big text — he does! Blessed are we to have opportunities to testify directly and indirectly.


Christian Entrepreneurs at a Praxis Lab in Toronto by Tyndale University

Toronto Redemptive Business Lab


In this season, I feel really blessed to have discovered various Christian entrepreneur networks like Faith Driven Entrepreneur and Praxis, as well as so many Christian entrepreneurs on campus. Within the full and part time versions of my program, I regularly speak with six others and feel we really testify and encourage each other from the heart! To hear God-given dreams and see prayers answered for our fellow brothers and sisters — it is so encouraging.


Faith Driven Entrepreneurs runs 8-week foundation groups where Christian entrepreneurs can build community with others in their region. I joined an online group for Toronto and surrounding area entrepreneurs and one of the women there introduced me to the Centre for Redemptive Entrepreneurship at Tyndale University in Toronto. It was one of those “that centre sounds cool and she has great things to say about the Director — I’ll look that up once I’m less busy” things. Then came March, and I was reminded of the Centre again, looked it up, and saw they’d just announced they were having a 3-day Lab for early-stage Christian founders to “deepen their imagination and accelerate their practice of redemptive entrepreneurship … through mentoring, peer community, and spiritual discipleship, this Lab is designed for the growth of a founder’s leadership and venture.”


Sign me up!


Though my venture was earlier stage (i.e. still at idea stage, rather than post-revenue) than the others, I was accepted and just drank in the experience.


Jenni Lien entrepreneur

During the first night, we all shared our testimonies and I was floored at how creative God is and reminded of how God’s stories are not linear — how we sometimes make decisions that totally change the direction of our lives. Then on the second day, we had some sessions on the redemptive entrepreneurship framework, pitched our ventures, and then had four 1-1 sessions with mentors, some of whom are leaders at Canada’s most well-known incubators.


I really believe God has me in the MBET because he wants me to learn practical business skills. Sometimes I pushed back against what I was learning in the classroom because it just seemed to focus on growth and revenue — and I wanted to focus on the mission. But attending this Lab helped me see that the two can go hand-in-hand. That there are Christian funds who want to invest in Christian founders and businesses and also want them to be scalable. It was an incredible experience and I’m continuing to put a lot of what I learned at the Lab into practice.


***


Throughout this year, there have been other meetings and pitches but these are the three that have really shaped and stretched me. Right now, I have just one month left of classes but I’m also part of Velocity Digital (our on-campus incubator) which will run until the end of August. I’m also starting to prepare for life after graduation and praying over what this looks like in terms of continuing to build this venture. Lots of thoughts. Lots of prayer to come. But for now, again, wanting to document what it’s been like to start building a Christian business in business school in hopes that it will be useful to someone else who’s about to embark on their journey. May we keep pursuing God and his plans for us — in that order!

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