Super Connectors: Where the ‘Power of One’ Meets ‘Always Be Networking’

Drawing from his own powerful lesson after losing a multimillion-dollar deal, TransPharMed CEO Kirk Barnes helps founders and leaders to be primed and ready to connect when opportunity knocks. Will Magruder, VP of partnerships at MassChallenge, lends his expertise to crafting a "handshake pitch" in nine words or less. Here's how.

Plus, the votes are in. MassChallenge announced its Handshake Pitch Winners at Pegasus Park: “We're the Tesla of jet skis,” “Net-zero concrete by 2050 by 2022," "We personalize treatment down to your genes," and more.

Kirk Barnes, co-founder and CEO of TransPharMed, knows a thing or two about the importance of being prepared.

“I lost a multimillion-dollar deal because I was not prepared to meet one person. One person!” the entrepreneur said at MassChallenge’s MC | Innovate in Dallas earlier this month. 

The author, speaker, and “super connector” helps individuals navigate leadership, entrepreneurship, networking, and sales excellence.

“I want to tell you guys—you always have to be ready,” Barnes told entrepreneurs and innovators in a talk on networking. “Every interaction could be the one that changes your life.”

“We’re the Tesla of Jet Skis” and More: 2023 Handshake Pitch Winners.

As a young entrepreneur, Barnes says he was unprepared for a spontaneous meeting with Randy Jackson, a judge and co-producer of the TV show “American Idol.”  At the time, Barnes was close to creating a TV show centered around beat-making and music production, called “America’s Next Hitmaker.”

A meeting with Jackson could have been a gamechanger, he says. But when Barnes ran into Jackson in person, he was caught off guard and unable to pitch his idea effectively.

“The thing is, you never know when that chance meeting could happen,” he said. “As I found out with Randy Jackson, it could be at a hotel, a conference, or even a coffee shop. You have to always be prepared to make the most of these opportunities.”

That valuable lesson shaped the trajectory of Barnes’ career and his approach to networking. And he wants to prevent that from happening to other entrepreneurs and business leaders.

Barnes calls it “the power of one.”

“You’re always just one person away from the future you want—one person away from the connection you need,” he said.

Connections are key, Barnes believes. If you can enter a room not knowing anyone and leave with five or six new contacts, you’re on the right track. But it’s also important not merely to sell a product or an idea but also to know how to explain why it’s valuable.

Entrepreneurs who can do both things well—make connections as well as sell the value—will have a big advantage, he said.

Empowering everyone to grow their business

Will Magruder [Courtesy/MassChallenge]

The invitation-only crowd also heard perspectives on networking and the value of a concise pitch from Will Magruder, Mass Challenge’s vice president of partnerships.

“You’ll hear me say it over and over, and then over and over again: ABN is ‘always be networking.’ You never know that one person that can change your life,” Magruder said.  

“But I believe that networking is actually the key to discovering all these resources that you will need to be successful. So, what if I told you that by the end of today, it will be possible to empower everyone in this room to help grow your business?

“This is possible through the power of networking, and specifically through the power of word-of-mouth marketing,” Magruder went on. ”Did you know that 92% of people trust word-of-mouth referrals more than any other form of advertising? It’s the most effective form of marketing and, best of all, it’s free.”

Citing statistics about people’s lack of short-term memory, Magruder said a simple concise pitch is effective because it generates interest, creates awareness, and fosters a desire for further action.

Creating a memorable one “is easier than you think,” he added.

Advice for crafting your pitch

When it comes to creating an effective pitch, Magruder said, there’s much to learn from real-life examples. Take, for example, the business that describes itself as “Uber for dump trucks.” A clear and compelling message is conveyed in just a few words.

Or consider Lucent Technologies. Its tagline, “We make the things that make communications work,” simplifies complex processes and leaves a lasting impression. Similarly, freight transportation company Old Dominion captures its purpose and value proposition with the simple phrase, “We help the world keep promises.”

What can be learned from these successful examples?

First and foremost, create interest by building from something known. Tap into the recipient’s existing understanding to provide a starting point for your pitch. Share something unique and exciting about your business that sets you apart from the competition. Keep the message concise, using no more than nine words. Avoid claiming to be the best, as this has become commonplace and lacks impact. Instead, focus on clearly communicating what you do and the value that you bring.

The secret sauce of how you achieve your goals can be saved for later explanations, Magruder said. What matters initially is capturing interest and conveying what your business does.

Pitch perfect: Handshake Tagline Winners

As Jeff Bezos famously remarked, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

A quick and concise message—a tagline—can leave that lasting impression, Magruder said.

Enter the MassChallenge “Handshake Pitch Contest,” aimed at helping startups create brief-but-powerful pitches akin to the length of a handshake.

Magruder and Barnes, serving as team captains along with other industry experts and corporate partners, guided the Early Stage cohort in workshopping their pitches in groups.

In a battle of brevity, each group voted for a “winner.” Selected startups took to the stage for a quick pitch to an audience of business executives, entrepreneurs, scientists, investors, and others, who voted for the ultimate tagline.

Kirk Barnes (center) & Will Magruder (far right) with winners of the “Handshake Pitch Competition” [Photo: Jackie Loubriel/MassChallenge]

The nine standout startups and their taglines were:

Dheekshita Kumar, ComplyAI

“We do instant construction permitting to help cities build faster.”

Jack Duffy-Protentis, eSki Inc.

 “We’re the Tesla of jet skis.”

Chimadika “Chim” Okoye, OGA Street Tech

“Net-zero concrete by 2050 by 2022.”

Alexander Ultraman, Azul Bio

“We’re saving the world’s coral reefs with microbiology.”

Max Doherty, Axiom Technologies

“We’re the life raft for when a data breach leaves you adrift.”

Harsh Patel, Rethink Delirium

“We keep your elderly loved ones present.”

Brian Travis, Code 1 Medical Devices

“We save lives on the battlefield through innovative medical devices.”

Andy Wang, Auspex Diagnostics

“We personalize treatment down to your genes.”

Chris Woods, Even Mental Health Inc.

“We’re making Fitbit for your mental health.”

The votes are in…

Harsh Patel’s Rethink Delirium was named the handshake competition’s overall winner.

Rethink Delirium was launched in 2022 to advance cognitive stimulation for the elderly to counter cognitive decline, delirium, PTSD, anxiety, and loneliness. Helmed by CEO Patel and COO Jack Lu, the company’s technology seamlessly amalgamates diverse, research-backed cognitive stimulation strategies into a purpose-built product tailored for the aging demographic.

Powered by AI, the startup’s suite of stimulation strategies offers personalized content to enhance familiarity and engagement.

Dallas Innovates is a media sponsor of MassChallenge MC | Innovate. This story was independently written for Dallas Innovates.

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