A fundraising pitch involves vastly different style and substance than a scientific talk. Entrepreneurial scientists and engineers need to understand and manage the differences.
By David Rubenson, Wendie Johnston and Ned Perkins.
Many scientists hope to translate their discoveries into something useful and financially profitable. A biologist, for example, might hope to create a new line of health care products. Many use special grants or family resources to establish small companies. However, given the enormous challenges in the healthcare market, virtually every nascent enterprise needs outside funding; whether from wealthy “angel investors,” venture capital, or investment from large pharmaceutical and device developers.
The first step in enticing investors is often a 10-15 minute fundraising pitch. We are all members of a review committee for a regional biotechnology trade association. As such, we evaluate numerous pitches. Many fail for substantive scientific or financial reasons. However, many others fail due to poor presentation technique. When that happens, a worthwhile technology may never reach the starting gate.
These communication problems arise from the significant differences between a scientific talk and a fundraising pitch. Those accustomed to scientific seminars must understand these distinctions and learn to work with a vastly different format.
Differences in content
A fundraising pitch has a broader disciplinary span
A successful fundraising pitch integrates scientific and engineering information with equally important financial, regulatory, marketing, and organizational concerns – it can’t just focus on the science.
It is more formulaic
A fundraising pitch is expected to contain specific elements. A pitch generally should have between 10-15 presentation slides that describe:
- The problem (in our case, this focus is around a specific healthcare problem)
- The unique idea that solves or combats the problem
- Representative data demonstrating progress toward realization of the idea
- The competitive landscape and business strategy
- The capabilities of company personnel
- Timeline and possible exit strategy (any plan to sell the company or key patent)
- The funding request (what the person pitching is asking for)
Such lists are widely available and may vary slightly. But even when aware of required content, many speakers fail to adapt to the style and format of a fundraising pitch.
Differences in style and format
The goals are different
Scientists often try to validate research results in their talks. Prospective funders typically review numerous pitches and their initial goal is often limited to determining potentially attractive ideas.
Validation of results occurs later in the process. The speaker’s goal is to secure that follow-on meeting. In other words, you don’t need a full explanation of why something works; but you do need a convincing argument that it is important.
The audience is different
Many scientists focus on communicating with subject matter experts. In contrast, the typical funder is a generalist, experienced at listening and analyzing, and likely to come from a business background. Subject matter experts will attend subsequent meetings, should they occur. Initial pitches should be focused on a generalist audience.
Time constrains are different and more stringent
Whereas many scientific talks can last a full hour, fundraising pitches are 10-15 minutes. This constraint is critical. The typical funder has little patience for verbosity. The cost of exceeding time limits exceeds any benefits of additional information.
The information density is different
Scientific slides typically involve a high density of information in an (often misguided) effort to demonstrate rigor. Pitch slides should contain the minimum information needed to support a slide’s key message. For example, a slide discussing company personnel should describe unique capabilities, rather than provide text-heavy biographical summaries. Nor can you show all your data. Show one simplified data slide and invite a closer examination of research results at subsequent meetings.
The story is more important
Many scientific talks (unfortunately) lack a narrative, but can succeed by discussing research methods and data analysis. Building a narrative is fundamental to a fundraising pitch. Developing a pitch is more analogous to a lawyer building a case than to a scientist addressing colleagues.
The following techniques can help scientists and engineers transcend the distinctions between scientific presentation and fundraising pitch.
Develop an elevator pitch before building a presentation
To ensure brevity and coherence, first develop a two-to-three minute oral summary without any supporting materials. This establishes the minimum essential information, makes the 10 minute limit seem less constraining, and helps form the story mentioned above. Practice the elevator pitch with close colleagues as well as those unfamiliar with your technology
Do full dry runs with listeners outside your company and outside your field of expertise.
It is extremely difficult for a scientist to know if they have successfully communicated with a generalist. Full slide presentation dry runs, obeying time constraints, are essential.
Follow best practices in making slides
Numerous lists and tips for best practices in slide making can be found. A particularly critical tip is to tightly focus the oral presentation on explaining the slides. Don’t digress. Don’t display information you don’t discuss. Talk about what you show, show what you talk about.
Use the notes view for handouts
Leave a written record of your talk by including the key oral narrative points beneath the half-sized slides in PowerPoint’s notes view. Writing the text also helps to focus your oral presentation on the key points.
Sensitize yourself to the above distinctions and employ these strategies to get in the door. Focus on telling a simple story well. Rigorous scientific testing comes later in the process.
David Rubenson is director of the scientific communications firm nobadslides.com
Wendie Johnston is the Lab Director at the Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator
Ned Perkins is a R&D Advisor to the Pasadena Bio Collaborative Incubator