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MassChallenge finalists drill business pitches at startup ‘boot camp’

Fred Destin, a partner at Altas Ventures of Cambridge, coached MassChallenge finalists on how to pitch investors during the final day of startup “boot camp.” (Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)
Fred Destin, a partner at Altas Ventures of Cambridge, coached MassChallenge finalists on how to pitch investors during the final day of startup “boot camp.” (Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe)Credit: The Boston Globe

Julie Tittler feels most at home in front of a computer, writing code, so she was out of her comfort zone Tuesday morning when she found herself at a podium in front of more than 100 people, practicing the pitch she’ll make to prospective investors in her life sciences startup, MoFin Technologies.

“I’m the consummate engineer, but I’m not necessarily a people person,” Tittler said after surviving five days of “boot camp” in the MassChallenge business competition.

Tittler and entrepreneurs from 128 companies and a dozen countries spent much of the last two weeks in training for more rigor to come: a four-month accelerator program in which they will develop their products, services and business strategies at a shared office in South Boston. They will collaborate but also compete for a total of $1.3 million in cash awards. They’ll be introduced to venture capitalists and connected to experienced mentors, but also endure long hours and intense pressure.

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“It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” MassChallenge president Akhil Nigam said of the boot camp. “This is how you do marketing, this is how you do sales, this is how you think about finance. You’re getting bombarded.”

The roster of speakers included iRobot co-founder Colin Angle, former ZipCar chief executive Scott Griffith and Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor.

On the last day of boot camp, the finalists were coached on pitching investors by Fred Destin, a partner at Cambridge-based Atlas Ventures. A few brave souls volunteered to deliver one-minute spiels for critique.

Some walked away reassured of their presentation skills.

“We have a problem that we’re looking to solve and we’re really passionate about that problem, so for me it’s really easy to go up and talk about it,” said Nick Dougherty, chief executive of Verbal Applications, which aims to help nonverbal patients communicate with their health care providers. “It’s also great to have the opportunity to get feedback from your peers and from people who’ve been there before.”

Others left saying they now know what to work on before the audience is a real investor.

“Shame on me: I bulleted out like four new things that weren’t in the structure of how we typically present what [the business] is,” said Shawn Harris, chief executive of Nyopoly, a budding online retailer that lets shoppers negotiate purchase prices. “Lesson learned.”

Nyopoly marketing director Joe Shartzer chimed in with some encouragement: “Maybe the first version you’re not going to knock it out of the park, but that’s what’s awesome about this whole process—workshop on the fly.”

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