What's an Elevator Pitch? Explaining Entrepreneurship in North Korea

For some of the workshop leaders on our March trip to Pyongyang, things turned out to be particularly challenging: In a country where elevators are extremely slow and often get stuck, the point of a quick “elevator pitch” isn’t immediately apparent. So when the North Korean audience pitched the business ideas they had developed during the training, 3 minutes often turned into 5, 10, or 15. But since the foreigners and locals acting as VCs were’t exactly in a rush to get to the next meeting, and not distracted by incoming emails and mobile phone calls, it all worked out: By the time a North Korean elevator would have reached the top floor of the Ryugyong Hotel, the pitches were done!

What’s a venture capitalist, anyways? “Someone who provides the capital for your adventure”, one of our workshop leaders explained. Coming up with descriptions like this, to clarify business terms that often have a dozen connotations attached to them, each of which requires thoughtful elaboration, is one of the most interesting problems even experienced professionals are facing when training North Koreans in business. "Testing my consulting methods in this unique environment was an invaluable opportunity”, one of our former workshop leaders said after his trip. And it's true: No matter how well you know your stuff, once you’re in Pyongyang, it’s time to reconsider everything.

During our Women In Business workshop last month, explaining elevator pitches and venture capital wasn’t the only challenge. From “SWOT Analysis” to “Sustainable Competitive Advantage”, and from “Business Model Canvas” to “Key Performance Index”, the March team used plenty of creativity to clarify concepts and make them applicable to the local context. A workshop on good leadership skills completed the visit, a topic that everyone who’s ever had a boss can relate to.

“What was the most important concept you learned?”, we asked the Korean participants afterwards. “All of them!”, someone said. Alright then — we’ll be back in May with more.


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