Too smart for your own good: Why biotech funding pitches fail.

I’m only going to write this once because I’ve said this about a hundred times in person.

A successful first pitch doesn’t get you the money.  A successful first pitch only earns you a second look.

Biotech pitches fail because the presenter spends too much time on the science and not enough on how the science is going to change the world.

When you’re pitching to raise money, don’t try to educate in your pitch.  Sell!  Sell now!  This may be your only chance!

Pictured: Pink fluid in flask, eye-protection and aggressively handsome jawline. The Google image search result when I typed in ‘average scientist’. 

The problem with scientists is that they’re scientists.  They’re bursting with knowledge and they try to jam all of that knowledge into a 10 minute pitch.  If I’m lucky, they only send me a 20 pager to review.  If they’re like most, they send me a hundred pages of data, graphs and supporting studies.  Don’t do it.  It’s not going to be read by anybody.  Nobody is going to read the deck until they hear you pitch it in person.  Just send the two-page teaser.

Let’s cut to the chase.  If you’re trying to raise money for a potential world-changing cure, your chances are slim if you’re knocking on the private equity door.  Everybody knows that taking a drug from animal studies to human therapy can take decades and failure rates are high.  Whoever bites knows that it’s money they may never see again.  But there are people who want to participate for various reasons.  And don’t forget foundations and universities.

This is important stuff and I don’t want to minimize it with a cheesy list but I’ve only got 600 words to work with.  Here are 4 things you should think about before your next pitch.

1.  Know your audience.  Most people won’t understand your science.  Make sure you have meetings with money-groups or facilitators that specialize in raising money for these types of projects.  Don’t waste your time chasing after capital that will never come your way.

2.  Don’t educate.  Sell!  If you’re in front of someone who is interested, now is not the time for the hardcore science.  Now is the time to boldly (though cautiously and within legal bounds) claim; “We may have a potential therapy candidate for _______ based on our research.”  Now is the time to answer the “What’s your point?  Why does it matter?” question of all funding pitches.

3.  Go very light on the jargon and don’t assume any previous knowledge.   I know it’s hard to escape the jargon when it comes to hard science.  But you have to try.  If you’re using jargon, pair it with a common-place analogy.  For instance, this summer I had to review a pitch for a possible Parkinson’s Disease therapy.  The therapy worked by preventing the cascading progression of the disease, stopping neuronal loss (nerve cells) in its tracks.  We decided to pair it with the imagery of stopping a vase from falling off a tipping pedestal.  (This is way over simplifying but NDA rules in place.)

4.  Your presentation should be about the possibilities.  The data and support should be on a hand-out.  Do not jam your deck with numbers.  The data you present on the deck will never be complete so don’t even try.  Just post the highlights.  The supporting stuff needs to be on a properly presented report or hand-out.

What you’re doing is important work.  Make sure you put just as much attention when you’re preparing your pitch.  It could be the difference between closing the lab and curing cancer.

You’re my heroes.

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