Community, events, News

PIE Demo Day 2020 moves to online only

We regret having to share the following news.

In the wake of the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus outbreak, PIE and its partners have made the decision to cancel the traditional in-person PIE Demo Day, slated for March 19, 2020, at Revolution Hall.

There are any number of reasons for making this decision. The primary reason is our effort to ensure the safety of the Portland startup community. Of equal concern was — given the current atmosphere of anxiousness and fear in which we find ourselves —an ever increasing lack of ability to create an event that truly reflects the positivity and support that has become the hallmark of PIE Demo Days. We truly didn’t feel we could achieve the tenor to which our community has become accustomed.

Rick Turoczy, cofounder and general manager of PIE, issued the following statement on the change:

“This decision does not come lightly. Year after year, PIE Demo Day has proven to be an impactful event for both the companies we serve and for our organization, itself. And we greatly appreciate the support that the Portland startup community has continued to show for each founder appearing on stage, over the past 10 years.

“Eliminating opportunities for founders goes against the very nature and ethos of why PIE exists. What’s more, we recognize the untold hours of preparation already incurred represents a sunk cost that impacts both the founders and the companies that they are building.

“Still, given our current understanding of the virus, we feel it would be irresponsible, at best, to bring hundreds of people together in person, simply for the sake of our demo day. The risk is too great. So while it was a difficult decision, we truly feel that canceling the in-person event is the most reasonable course of action to ensure the safety of our founders, mentors, investors, media, and the community at large.

“We always say that the ‘E’ in PIE stands for ‘experiment.’ As such, PIE staff, partners, and startups have made the decision to move forward with the event in an experimental format for us—by going fully virtual. And we would love to have you join us on March 19, 2020, at 2:00PM PDT from the comfort of your Web browser to hear the pitches from the founders in the latest classes of PIE and PIE Shop.”

PIE and PIE Shop startup discussions

Before making the decision to go forward with an online demo day, we shared the news with our current startups. In the interest of transparency, we would like to share that with you, as well.

The following was posed to PIE and PIE Shop founders:

There is really no way to say this without being dramatic. But I’ll give it a shot.

With the current state of the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus outbreak, we’re in the midst of a health crisis — and ever mounting anxiety — which continues to snowball throughout the world and shows no signs of slowing. Even with the most optimistic of outlooks.

Personally, I’ve spent the past few weeks wrestling with this. Knowing that, at some point, I’d need to make a decision. And now, we no longer have the luxury of time to weigh options. That runway is exhausted.

Given our current understanding of the virus, PIE and our partners feel it would be irresponsible, at best, to bring 750+ of our friends and family together in person, simply for the sake of our demo day. The risk is too great. In addition, we recognize that the positive and supportive environment that has become the hallmark of this event would likely be difficult, if not impossible, to come by, for both presenters and audience members.

And so with that in mind and with a heavy heart, we have made the decision to cancel the PIE Demo Day 2020 event at Revolution Hall on March 19, 2020.

Obviously, this was not an easy or welcome decision. We recognize the amount of time and work you’ve already put into preparing for this event. We understand the promise of this event for both you and your company. And we regret that the Portland startup community will not be able to gather in celebration of what your companies have achieved. (To add additional insult to injury, PIE stands to lose thousands of dollars for canceling at this time, which is difficult for any company, let alone a nonprofit.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Huzzah! No more cranky Rick tearing apart my presentation.” Hold your horses. Not so fast, tiger. This is an experiment after all.

We believe that we have two potential paths forward. And we wanted to invite you to take part in helping us come to the final decision on where PIE Demo Day goes from here. Before we communicate anything to the broader PIE family and the general public.

Door #1: We cancel demo day altogether. While we understand that this would be anticlimactic, we also recognize that you have businesses to build and run. And that this continued drama can be a detrimental distraction.

Door #2: We embrace the “E” in PIE and move forward with a new version of pitch practice. In preparation for an experimental online demo day, we’ll shift to working on recording a screenshare of your slides with a voiceover. The next week will be spent practicing in that format. Once the recording is to your liking and you have received PIE staff approval, we will upload the video to the PIE channel on YouTube. On March 19, PIE Demo Day 2020 will consist of releasing the pre-recorded pitches and amplifying them on social.

Door #3: You don’t have a definitive decision but are comfortable proceeding with the popular vote.

Given these choices, how would you like to proceed? Please advise. We need to make this decision so that we can communicate to attendees and the broader community. I’ll give teams until 5:00PM PDT today, March 9, 2020, to decide.

As a result of the vote, the decision was made to move forward with an online event.

Frequently Asked Questions

Have you considered livestreaming the event?
A live stream is a really hard format to do genuinely if you’ve never done it before. It’s actually more stressful than performing on stage. And it takes a long time to get comfortable pretending that you’re getting the same feedback from an audience on the other side of the camera that you would from a live audience.

We don’t have an opportunity to practice in that sort of environment, so it’s fraught with peril and failure. We need the PIE Demo Day experience to have a positive outcome for our founders.

Whereas with the pre-recorded format, you have the opportunity to put your best foot forward. You can practice in that environment innumerable times.

Admittedly, we were initially thinking that going down the live stream path would be an option and had already secured a venue and staff to make that happen. But given the additional cost and likelihood of a less than positive outcome, it seemed best to take a different tact.

Have you considered postponing demo day until a later date?
That was a consideration several weeks ago. However, given that we’re already seeing May and June events rescheduling for fall or even next year, it appears highly unlikely that we’ll have the opportunity to reschedule Demo Day before the next class of PIE begins.

Will startups have the option of recording a video rather than a screen share with voice over?
Founders are more than welcome to submit multiple versions of their pitch for uploading to the PIE YouTube channel. For the sake of consistency, however, the only version that will be uploaded during PIE Demo Day 2020 will be the version that is consistent with the format we have proposed. We will upload additional videos to the PIE channel at a later date, should we both agree that it provides additional value for the founder and/or their company.

Have you considered…?
Woah, tiger. Let me just stop you right there. Yes. Yes we have considered that. PIE staff, partners, and mentors have been wrestling with this decision for weeks. Please accept that we’ve thought through every possible scenario and are doing what we believe to be in everyone’s best interest at this time. It’s not perfect. But based on our experience, it has the highest likelihood of success.

How do I attend PIE Demo Day 2020?
To participate in PIE Demo Day 2020, follow @piepdx on Twitter or subscribe to PIE on YouTube.

We’re going through something similar. Can we borrow some of your language?
If any of the content above can be helpful to you with internal or external communications for your company or event, please feel free to borrow liberally. We’ve been in a bunch of these conversations, lately. And it’s a challenging topic. If our efforts can make your life a little easier, it would be nice to see some good come of this.

How can I prevent COVID-19 from spreading?
For more information about preventing the spread of COVID-19, please visit the official CDC Prevention Web site.

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