As Babson College graduates donned a cap and gown at the undergraduate Commencement ceremony in May, Swarna Shiv ’23 was pitching her startup venture at the end of a six-week marathon in which she competed in five high-stakes entrepreneurial national competitions.
And, while Shiv would have loved to walk the stage with friends and family looking on, the hands-on practice was worth it.
“I am so grateful for the whole experience,” Shiv said. “I was able to meet a lot of great startups, and I got a lot of inspiration.”
Shiv won several cash prizes for her venture, Unsmudgeable, a green anti-smudge lens coating that resists smudges on eyeglass lenses. The ability to pitch her startup and get feedback from well-known investors such as Tim Draper, however, was almost more valuable.
“My pitch from March, when I started, to the pitch I presented in May has improved so much. It’s really evolved completely as a result of these competitions,” Shiv said. “My actual product has improved, and my network improved thanks to these experiences.”
She already had received acclaim for her venture in 2022, when she was a finalist for the B.E.T.A. (Babson Entrepreneurial Thought & Action®) Challenge, one of Babson’s signature pitch competitions. The national competitions, which were held at various universities across the country, helped take her pitch game to the next level.
“One of the biggest things I learned was that investors aren’t looking to invest in your business, they’re looking to invest in you. So how coachable you are, how well you retain feedback and incorporate it will determine how much you can succeed,” she added.
She also tried not to focus on the outcome of the competitions as much as the process. “I always go with the mindset of, ‘Expect nothing and be grateful for everything.’ That’s my motto.”
Shiv didn’t win anything at her first competition of the season, which was held at the Collegiate Brand Competition in Georgia. She did receive some vital feedback, however, that she immediately incorporated into her pitch deck.
“It’s a really delicate balance between explaining your business so a 5-year-old would understand it while providing enough complexity so anyone can see the potential, where it’s going, and what you’re planning to do with the business,” Shiv said. “It was a lot of sessions of me late at night, working on the pitch and rehearsing it till my throat was sore.”
Which was another lesson for Shiv.
“I started to view my pitch performance as a reflection of how I’m taking care of myself,” Shiv said. “I’d have to reassess my habits like, like, am I sleeping on time? Am I eating? I feel like all of those things factor into and contribute to how well I pitch at the end of the day.”
Entrepreneurial Competition Advice
Shiv also has advice for Babson students considering the competition circuit, and her first suggestion is to start applying early and to get experience pitching from wherever you can.
“Fun fact, I applied to some of these competitions last year, and I didn’t get in,” Shiv said. “Take the applications seriously.”
But, don’t get too discouraged if you’re not accepted right away, she says. “You never really know how it’s going to turn out, but each time, you learn something that you can improve on. It’s a good opportunity, so put yourself out there.”
“One of the biggest things I learned was that investors aren’t looking to invest in your business, they’re looking to invest in you. So how coachable you are, how well you retain feedback and incorporate it will determine how much you can succeed.”
Swarna Shiv ’23, founder of Unsmudgeable
Shiv strongly recommends that students who come to Babson to become entrepreneurs should immerse themselves in the College’s intense entrepreneurial network at the Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship as soon as possible.
“Babson is the best place to start your startup. And, if you’re considering an idea, go to the Blank Center and get involved, go to eTower and get involved,” Shiv said. “There are great resources and good people who genuinely want to help you.”
Shiv also participated in Babson’s Summer Venture Program, a 10-week intensive program that helps build entrepreneurial skills and accelerate ventures.
The idea for Unsmudgeable came during Shiv’s first entrepreneurship class, and Babson provided her with the network to build her team and receive funding.
“Make sure to take advantage of the resources at Babson, take it seriously and put in the effort,” Shiv said. “Also, have a positive attitude. There’s a lot here that can help you.”