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ConnectWise’s PitchIT Competition For Smaller Vendors Is A Win For MSPs

CJ Fairfield

‘The smaller vendors allow us a lot of flexibility, especially when they’re open to change,’ says Marc Menzies, president and CTO of MSP Overview Technology Solutions. ‘Small boats turn quickly and they take a lot of features that are very MSP-centric and give them to us.’

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Coming off a successful fifth year, ConnectWise’s PitchIT competition is getting a face lift to attract more vendors into the channel community.

The competition, held at ConnectWise’s IT Nation conference each fall, is similar to ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank.” Vendors pitch to a panel of judges for the first-place spot and $70,000. The second-place winner receives $30,000 and the third-place winner gets a free booth on the vendor floor at the conference. The first-place winner also sets up a business plan with ConnectWise to discuss how to best use the funds for their company, according to Sean Lardo, evangelist at Tampa, Fla.-based ConnectWise.

“We want to get more people involved this year, we want to make it bigger,” Lardo told CRN. “We want to put more money into it. We have to make sure that no matter what, it’s a smart investment, collectively, for the vendors, for ConnectWise and for the partners. You don’t want a short-term girlfriend.”

Marc Menzies, president and CTO of New York-based MSP Overview Technology Solutions, thinks what Lardo is doing is “amazing.”

“The smaller vendors allow us a lot of flexibility, especially when they’re open to change,” Menzies told CRN. “Small boats turn quickly and they take a lot of features that are very MSP-centric and give them to us.”

He added that smaller vendors can take current trends “and go with them quicker,” which is ultimately better for the MSP.

Keith Nelson, CTO and CISO of Irvine, Calif-based MSP Vistem Solutions, said through PitchIT he found new vendors to explore “that will enhance my ability to service my clients.”

“The growth of the companies was evident through a series of webinars as I witnessed maturity in presentation skills and modeling for the marketplace,” he said. “The time and knowledge passed on by the mentors alone was invaluable to helping incubate these ventures and the exposure during the webinars and postings.”

[Related: ConnectWise CTO: ‘My Primary Goal Is To Build Solutions That Solve Partners’ Problems’]

This year Lardo’s plan is dive deeper into certain topics, like branding and messaging, as he said many of the vendors needed the most help in that area.

“This is all ConnectWise investments with really no ROI,” he said. “The ROI only happens if they become a bigger part of our ecosystem.”

 A 16-Week Program Providing Elevated Coaching

Those companies that sign up for the program are all a part of the preliminary 16-week accelerator program, which Lardo started when he took over in 2022. The program covers branding, marketing, channel enablement and messaging, among other topics, all while getting more exposure to the channel community. Those in the program even get to pitch to their peers, garner feedback and hear from coaches brought in to discuss particular topics.

In 2021, the program had 10 applicants. More than 20 applied in 2022, the largest pool of applicants the program has had since it started in 2017.

“They have to be something that’s going to improve the lives of the MSPs and also play nice with us,” Lardo said of the participants.

AlertOps, the 2022 PitchTt winner, is a Bloomingdale, Ill.-based, DevOps software company that offers a real-time, intelligent, automated incident management platform.

“The level of coaching that the incubator program provided was super helpful in terms of providing a bit more of a focused lens on how to approach the industry and the market as a whole.”

For Chellasamy Jamburajan, CEO of AlertOps, it was about visibility.

“We wanted to be with the community, build relationships in the community and understand their pain points,” he told CRN.

While the PitchIT competition and incubator are finished for 2022, Srikanth said there are lasting benefits.

“It’s the visibility and meeting more people,” Jamburajan said. “We see that they’re learning a lot from us and we’re learning a lot from them.”

Not Just A Program, But A Community

Those in the program are also in a chat so they can regularly bounce ideas off each other and collaborate in different discussions. The program also allows for a deeper dive of the channel and to help spread their mission around.

“It’s really good to be connected with people who know a lot in the industry,” said Alton Johnson, CEO of Vonahi Security, an Atlanta-based cybersecurity company that developed vPenTest, a SaaS platform that automates network penetration testing, and won second place in the 2022 PitchIT competition. “We’ve talked to some people we would have probably never talked to because of the program.”

Johnson said Vonhai Security joined the program to get more exposure for the company and what it does.

“The biggest thing we got out of it was getting introduced to the community, understanding the community, getting a better understanding how to talk to the community, how to network within the community and then that ultimately helped us with our brand awareness,” Jason Wells, COO of Vonahi, told CRN.

Johnson said the 16-week program “significantly” helped Vonahi with its branding and messaging.

“Having to repeat what we’re saying to different audiences really helped us narrow down what we’re saying in a much simpler term,” Johnson said. “We’ve been able to improve our communication.”

An Ever-Evolving Program

The vendors in the program are also introduced to the Invent Team, which is ConnectWise’s integration collaboration program that combines integration support, readiness and certification along with marketing and visibility activities.

“We give them this well-rounded, very abbreviated education but each week there is a workshop,” Lardo said. “After spending so much time with them, we kind of know where they should be investing. For 99.9 percent of them, their lack of investment was always in marketing and sales.”

Marketing was the biggest aspect Gene Reich wanted to get out of the program. Reich is the co-founder of Newburgh, N.Y.-based Traceless.io, the 2021 PitchIT winner.

“We put [the winnings] directly into marketing,” Reich told CRN. “We did some development stuff and some sales stuff, but a lot of it was event marketing.”

Reich, who also owns a MSP, enjoyed the vendor-driven approach to the program and viewing the channel from a different lens.

He also likes that the program is ever-evolving.

“I think when we were in it, it was a real year of ConnectWise putting a lot more effort into the program, putting some structure behind it and putting some resources to help the businesses,” he said. “Hiring Sean was just another signal that ConnectWise is really dedicated to the ecosystem of innovation in the space, and I think the resources available for everybody was massive compared to my year. The one-year change and growth has been insane.”

Keith Nelson, CTO and CISO of Irvine, Calif-based MSP Vistem Solutions, said he found new vendors to explore “that will enhance my ability to service my clients” through the PitchIT Program.]

“The growth of the companies was evident through a series of webinars as I witnessed maturity in presentation skills and modeling for the marketplace,” he said. “The time and knowledge passed on by the mentors alone was invaluable to helping incubate these ventures and the exposure during the webinars and postings.”

CJ Fairfield

CJ Fairfield is an associate editor at CRN covering solution providers, MSPs and distributors. Prior to joining CRN, she worked at daily newspapers, including The Press of Atlantic City in New Jersey and The Frederick News-Post in Maryland. She can be reached at cfairfield@thechannelcompany.com.

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