Jay Bigelow’s column is part of a weekly series. Why Jay? Because he’s charged with meeting and learning the needs of entrepreneurs all over this region and connecting them with the resources and people to help achieve their goals.

One of the biggest challenges any new or emerging venture faces is getting noticed—whether it is by potential customers, investors, partners or employees. Often, the challenge is compounded because the venture lacks funding to pay for a lot of exposure.

Sound familiar?

New tech ventures need to take advantage of pitch openings, competitions and showcases to help raise their profiles and gain critical exposure. Learning to pitch your company and doing it well is one of the most important skills a founder/CEO must develop if his/her company is to succeed. For example, The Startup Factory (by the way, TSF’s deadline for the next cohort is today) requires founders to stand up in front of fellow entrepreneurs and pitch every week for 12 weeks before they allow can pitch to outside investors.

Another example of the importance of the public pitch is NC IDEA, which requires grant finalists to pitch to about two dozen judges as the final step in potentially securing $50,000 in grants for their company. While the applications are thoroughly read and reviewed by teams of experts, the pitch is often what separates the winners from the runners up. I know this as I have been a NC IDEA Grant application reviewer for the last several years.

So where do you start to perfect a pitch? First, pitch hundreds of times in front of your inner circle of family, friends, colleagues and advisors. Once your inner circle approves, look for opportunities to move to bigger and broader audiences of people un-affiliated with your venture, crowds of 500, 1,000 or more. Aim to get these people excited by what you are passionate about and what you have to offer. Mom may have given you rave reviews, but to really accelerate your business, you need complete strangers to take notice and engage. For more on how to pitch well, see TSF co-founder Chris Heivly’s column in Inc.

Looking for the opportunity above to get in front of hundreds of people in the tech community? Well, here’s your chance. For more than 30 years, the CED Tech Venture Conference has been the premier venue for NC-based tech companies to gain this exposure. Companies like ChannelAdvisor in 2002, Bandwidth in 2004, Digitalsmiths in 2008, SchoolDude in 2010, Sharefile in 2010, and Bronto in 2012; have all pitched at the CED Tech Venture Conference. Here’s your chance to share the same stage as these successful companies.

Apply now for one of just 15 showcase spots (the bar is much higher this year!) during the September 16-17 conference. And start practicing your pitch (then practice again, then practice some more) so the world can see your passion and innovation.