Learn how to avoid these common mistakes in biotech pitch decks.
For biotech startups that are in need of funding, one of the most well-known avenues is to pursue venture capital investment. As venture capital firms are often inundated with requests for their funds, the process of pitching gained popularity so investors can more easily compare companies and choose those they are interested in supporting.
A pitch is a presentation to investors that describes your startup’s business plan in an effort to convince investors that your company can generate the return on investment they desire. An integral part of most pitches is the pitch deck, or slide presentation that outlines the business plan. Often, before actually pitching to a venture capital firm, the investors will want to see the pitch deck to decide if they want to hear the presentation, so in that way it acts as a gatekeeper. Thus, the pitch deck is a very powerful tool.
Here, we will describe many of the common mistakes that enterprises make in specifically biotech pitch decks. Because many biotech startup founders are scientists who have learned a specific way to craft a presentation in academia, many of these mistakes amount to unlearning the things that worked in an academic setting so you can learn what works in a business setting.
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Whereas sending a business plan consisting of dozens of pages to a venture capital firm used to be the norm, nowadays investors do not want to spend that much time on a single startup. Therefore, it defeats the purpose of a pitch deck if it is too long. The point is to concisely convey the most important information about the startup. An excessively long pitch deck can give off a negative impression--either you are not adept at explaining what your company does, you are not confident in your company’s ability to succeed/strength of your data, or you are rather narcissistic and want to talk about yourself more than is necessary. A concise presentation portrays confidence and expertise in your value proposition.
A good rule of thumb is to aim between 10 to 15 slides. If you’re tempted to go over, see how many pieces of information are only necessary if someone asks a specific question, and place those at the end for your live talk. Then, if that question comes up, you can simply progress to the “extra” slides at the end to give your answer. This works especially well for things like additional data, whether it’s regarding your technology or about the market.
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The instinct to write full paragraphs on presentation slides is fairly common in academic scientists, so if that is your background it may be worth looking into. The problem with verbose slides can be multifold. For a large number of words to be legible, that is often at the expense of the visual element of the slide. Moreover, if everything you’re going to say is already written on the slide, and the investors have seen your deck ahead of time, that can make the presentation feel redundant.
The point of having a deck and using it during your presentation is that it should aid the talk, making it easier to understand and more entertaining to your audience. Slides serve as a visual aid so you can show photos, diagrams, and graphs that illustrate your points more clearly than words alone can. Of course you’ll still include words on your slides, and the deck should be clear enough on its own that when you send it to investors they understand what your company is about, but there should be enough left of the story that the live presentation adds value.
The most common mistake that biotech entrepreneurs make in their pitch decks is that they end up sounding like an academic talk. By this, we mean the structure of the deck is not goal-driven and there is more data than is necessary to make a point. Academic talks usually start with the background of the area of study, then discuss the hypothesis, followed by experimental methods, and then finally results and a discussion of what those results mean. In contrast, a pitch deck should describe the problem, the size of the market opportunity for a solution, the solution/technology, the competitive landscape, and why that team is uniquely qualified to pursue this. There are a few specific places where an academically trained entrepreneur may get hung up. They might end up talking about the background of a disease more than the problem it is causing patients/doctors/insurance companies, they may want to include the nuances of a particular experimental methodology rather than summarizing, and they might forget to pay sufficient attention to whether their solution will cost more or less than current therapies.
A pitch deck is short, so there isn’t room to indulge in what may be very interesting aspects of the research. It must be kept to-the-point with a minimum amount of time spent on what might be the most interesting parts to a scientist.
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Alongside the tendency of scientific founders to present a pitch deck that is too much like the academic presentations in which they are adept, is the frequent use of terms that are unlikely to be understood by anyone who does not hold a Ph.D. in that area. In other words, too much jargon.
Sometimes, people continue to use jargon because they think it makes them sound intelligent. The problem with this is that no audience is interested in being made to feel comparatively unintelligent by hearing terms they don’t know. Since the point of a pitch is to convince your audience to give you funding, it’s a good idea to keep them feeling positive about themselves and about you.
Ideally, limit the use of jargon throughout the pitch deck. However, sometimes a technical term really is the best word to use, so just make sure that you explain it. A good rule of thumb is that if you do need to use jargon, make sure to define it the first time it appears in your deck. This way, you are teaching the audience, emphasizing that you are the expert in your field and keeping your potential investors feeling good about themselves.
Another one to watch out for is abbreviations that are not well known to the audience. Undefined abbreviations are always a bit risky, but sometimes a term is so long that it seems silly to repeat it in-full each time. Therefore, use the same rule of thumb as for any jargon, and define the abbreviation the first time you use it in the deck.
The one part of a pitch deck that is fairly similar to an academic talk is the results of preliminary experiments. Presenting data to show that you indeed carried out the experiments as stated and found data that supports your hypothesis is an important part of a pitch deck. You have to prove that your technology works. However, some entrepreneurs have made the mistake of presenting that data in ways that are difficult to understand. Remember, your potential investors have to be able to understand your data by simply looking at your deck. If it requires you to be there to explain it to them, you’re probably not going to get the chance to explain it at all. They’ll put your deck in the “reject” pile.
How can a founder make sure that their data is easy enough to understand? Think about making it intelligible to a 6th-grade student. This is a good measure for explaining anything to an adult. Keep the presentation of the data minimalist in style, such that only the necessary information is shown. Label the axes, columns, photos, etc., clearly, and make sure the part you want the audience to notice is emphasized. The images should be large enough to be easily viewed on a small computer screen or from the back of an auditorium during a presentation. Do not sacrifice scientific correctness, however. If there should be error bars on your graph, include them. Just because you need your data to be digestible to everyone does not mean that it should be anything less than scientifically rigorous. (Plus, investors are bound to have a scientist perform due diligence on your work.)
A mistake that is not unique to scientific founders but still detrimental is leaving out competitive research. When an entrepreneur says there are no competitors in the market, it signals that the entrepreneur probably did not do their market research very well. Even if no other companies are producing a similar product to yours, there are probably other existing therapies either on the market or in development. And if you are truly the only company creating a therapy for which there are no competitor companies, you still have to compete against the current standard of care or lack thereof. Never underestimate the power of inertia for keeping people from adopting even the most helpful solutions.
Making sure to address the competition in your market reassures the investors that you have an accurate understanding of the risk involved in your venture.
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There is no such thing as perfect, but there is such a thing as “good enough.” Avoiding these mistakes will help your pitch deck reach the “good enough” mark, and the rest is a combination of hard work, perseverance, and luck.
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