BMW, TechCrunch Disrupt force entrepreneurs to give their pitches in a speeding 5 Series

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KBS film shows what happens when the pressure of seeking VC funds is amped up by g-forces.

Agency folks know pitches are stressful. Months of work, and maybe years of the future, all hinge on how well the next few minutes go. Dry mouth, sweaty palms and memory lapses all threaten to end the endeavor before it’s even begun.

Now add g-forces.

In its latest campaign from MDC Partners agency KBS, BMW pits would-be entrepreneurs against the fundamental forces of nature by making them give their elevator pitches while flying around a racetrack at 100 MPH in the newest 5 Series sedan, the M550i. Nine business hopefuls made their cases for products like a networking service for job seekers, a coffee company and a razor with the form factor of a credit card.

A car on the high-speed, winding track was "the ultimate metaphor for the challenging and ever-changing environment that entrepreneurs endure over the course of their startup experience," said Lisa Judge, national marketing manager for BMW North America. "The M550i has several features which contribute to increased mobility," like gesture control and integrated wi-fi, she added, so it seemed natural to target tech-savvy consumers.

But the spots eschew a focus on the car or its features, instead zeroing in on the experience of the contestants—their trepidation before the driver hits the gas, their resolve to recite persuasively and their relief as the lap ends.

"A lot of brands have startup incubation programs and find new ideas to innovate, which is cool," said Chris Polychronopoulos, executive creative director at KBS. "But mostly the public doesn’t get to see any of that. With this idea, we wanted to have fun in a meaningful way and literally be the vehicle to help some startups connect with real VCs."

BMW works with technology site TechCrunch and sponsors the annual conference TechCrunch Disrupt, which runs for the next three days in New York City. TechCrunch’s database offered a list of entrepreneurs that the creative team reached out to, soliciting video pitches. From there, the submissions were trimmed down to the nine finalists.

In the end, the winner was Erica Lee, a 23-year-old Johns Hopkins dropout with a background in chemical engineering, and her startup DeepFarm.ai, which uses artificial intelligence to predict crop issues on farms before they become apparent through conventional means.

Lee and the other contestants made their pitches for the benefit of Patrick Gallagher and Susan Hobbs, partners at CrunchFund, a venture capital firm that specializes in new companies that are trying to get off the ground. "The VCs deliberated on which startups had the most compelling ideas and which founders exuded the most poise and passion under pressure to deliver their pitch," Judge said.

Lee spent days practicing for the lap "outlining the main points in a clear and concise way to explain the complex industries that I work in—AI & Agriculture," she said. "My pitch was clear, and my idea is combating a global problem with a social and environmental impact." Ultimately, that won her the contest, and its prize: an onstage introduction at TechCrunch Disrupt.

But the other contestants don’t walk away empty-handed. BMW is running all nine in-car pitches in their entirety online. In addition to showing the full business plan from each of the entrepreneurs, the spots direct viewers to each product’s website. Some are fully functional e-commerce sites, like CreditCardShavers.com, the home of Xavier Clemons’ Michigan-based business. Others, like Lee’s own DeepFarm.ai or the site for Fenix, Kyle Cooke’s personal health coach app, are still in development.

Previous campaigns for the 5 Series have used unconventional methods as well, like last year’s branded content film "The Escape," by Geisel Productions and Anonymous Content, which marked the 15-year anniversary of the groundbreaking BMW Films.