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Pitch Karaoke: Selling by the Seat of Your Pants

Innovation Hub Uses Improv to Help Students Learn to Sell

And they sent in the clowns. During his turn at Pitch Karaoke, sophomore Sarorn Lin was ready for the next slide, having no idea it would be a series of clowns. Photo by Edward Brennen
Sarorn Lin, a sophomore electrical engineering major, headed into Pitch Karaoke prepared to handle whatever clues the game had in store. And then came ... the clowns.

By David Perry

“I came here tonight for extra credit,” said Alexandra Conceicao. She broke into a smile. “And I’m leaving with $75.”

Conceicao, a freshman business major, wowed the crowd and three judges at the first edition of Pitch Karaoke, a competition hosted by UML’s Innovation Hub and the group Women Accelerators at which contestants had to improvise an unrehearsed pitch for a product or service, receiving information about it on the spot. UML students took two of the top three spots.

Conceicao wove a storyline as slides popped up behind her showing a new cart, a Rubik’s Cube, a pair of queens – the rock band Queen and Queen Elizabeth – and finally, a s’mores dessert. Somehow, she wove it all into Chris’ Cream, a cure-all.

Thanks to TV shows like “Shark Tank” and UML’s own DifferenceMaker program, students are well-acquainted with the art of selling a product to a panel of judges. But Pitch Karaoke flipped the script on the familiar format.

For example, contestants were introduced and the slides began, depicting things that ranged from clowns and a medieval catapult to the actor Kevin Bacon. Contestants had three minutes to make sense of the subjects and sell them as a product.

Six contestants worked with a series of often hilarious slides on a screen behind them that was visible to the audience of 50 attendees at the Innovation Hub in downtown Lowell. 

The event, which was part of Lowell Women’s Week, was the rare karaoke night at which no one sang a single clunky note.

Winner Ann Marie Messier, a creative business growth strategist, said pitching was “really unnerving. It’s hard enough pitching, but really hard when you don’t know what you’re talking about beforehand.”

Her first slide was a split screen of Kanye West and a person jumping rope. She pitched herself as CEO of a company making a get-out-of-bed product. 

The evening was the brainchild of marketing expert Susu Wong, who founded Tomo360, a digital marketing agency in Lowell, and Lisa Armstrong, associate director of the Innovation Hub. 

Last year, Wong attended a business conference that featured Pitch Karaoke. It struck a chord with her. “I thought, this is so much fun. We have to do it up here,” she said.

Joey Banh, a 2010 UML business administration alum and the perpetually passionate entrepreneurship enthusiast and Lowell Plan program director, served as the event’s host. 

Sophomore electrical engineering major Sarorn Lin, who is interested in public speaking, took third place and $50.

“I came here tonight because I’m also a member of Toastmasters,” he said. “And hey, I like karaoke. I was surprised how competitive it was. I’ve done something like this before in a different form, but these people were good.”

Kim Meninger, president of the Lowell chapter of the Women Accelerators, a group dedicated to promoting the advancement of women, said it was the group’s third event since launching in September.

“It was all fun and exciting,” said Banh after the event. “I love supporting Women’s Week, and I love hosting, getting people involved. So this was great.”