Top tips from investors on pitching your company at BioPharm America™

September 14, 2016 Erin Righetti

A group of seasoned biotech investors gathered at BioPharm America™ 2016 to meet with innovative biotech companies, and to participate in “The Perfect Pitch: Do you have what it takes to win over investors?” as pitch judges. The session gave participants the opportunity to give a 30-second elevator pitch to win a one-to-one meeting with a leading life science private equity investor.


Doug MacDougall of MacDougall Biomedical Communications moderated the session, and seven investor judges sat on the panel, including: Sinclair Dunlop of Epidarex Capital; Carolyn Green of Pfizer Worldwide R&D, ERDI; Sam Hall of Appletree Partners; Rick Jones of Broadview Ventures; Dennis J. Purcell of Aisling Capital; Jeremy Springhorn of Flagship Ventures; and David Steinberg of PureTech.


The winner of the competition was Michael Winlo, CEO of Linear Clinical Research Limited who pitched on his Perth, Australia-based dedicated early phase clinical trials facility.

But Winlo is not the only winner, since the best tips from the investors are provided here for you, below:


Try to be really clear as early on as possible about what you’re doing that’s unique—because some of these pitches sound fairly generic, not in terms of therapeutic approach, but what specifically differentiates you in the field that you’re pursuing. – Dunlop


It is important to include a discussion of efficacy or even early hints of how well your drug is actually working.– Springhorn


Stage of development should be part of your pitch for sure. Think about what’s going to be the most important hook that the investor wants to hear. Individual investors want to hear different things so try and stay away from the hyperbole and get to the hook. – MacDougall


Explain how you’re protecting your IP, and how you’re protecting your product and your ideas. – Steinberg


Add in something on the team, or about yourself very briefly, although information about your team is critical. – Dunlop


Consider doing a SWOT analysis of your company on the strengths and opportunities of your company, and pick one or two of the strengths and opportunities to focus on. – MacDougall

Your pitch is very much like the paragraph you might pitch in an email in order to get them to open up and read your executive summary. In emails, people only ever want to read that first paragraph. – MacDougall


It isn’t a good idea to mention every disease area in the human body for the applications for your technology. One of the things you really need to do is to show focus. ‘I’m looking for money for what.’ And the ‘what’ should be practical and something doable. Having a target that hits everything, a VC will probably react ‘Oh my God, I’m going to have to fund this for the rest of my life.’ – MacDougall


I think it’s great to tie your pitch to the problem you are solving, and how you are solving it, and why that solution is unique. I also think bringing the problem to light can be helpful. And to me, that all feeds into directing what you are actually going to do with the money, because you focus on a problem so that it all fits together. – Hall


Be sure to include the value inflection point to which you are funding, i.e., where will this round of funding get you? Convince your audience that value is going to be created by the amount of funding you are going to get in this round. – Dunlop


Go with a direct approach that tells people exactly what you’re looking for. – MacDougall


We have a lot of clients who want to make sure that they throw the kitchen sink in their pitch, just in case there may be a hit with a venture capital group. VCs look at those and they say ‘These guys are bogus, they don’t know where they want to put the money.’ To get in the first door you need to show that you’ve got a plan, and the pitch is pretty important for that. Once you’re in the door, they may change the plan on you, but you want to get in the door and show that you really understand what you are doing and you’ve got a plan to get from point A to point B with their money. – MacDougall


My sense is there’s always one or two things that really hook you in. We see 600 to 700 pitches a year. What’s the one thing that hooks you in? You can’t cram everything into 30 minutes.The whole point of the first meeting is to get a second meeting. – Purcell


Come prepared with a high-level overview covering all the significant bases. But be prepared for a conversation that could go any number of different directions. There are two big turnoffs in presentations. One is that the presentation is so focused on one point that they waste 25 minutes going into extreme detail about an area of science that you could know within the first 10 minutes is interesting or not, and then they don’t want to talk at all about some of the other issues in the company. The other extreme is where they come in and it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. They really don’t want to talk about any of the details because it’s all protected and you have to go under CDA and they believe it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. So just be prepared with a reasonably comprehensive overview. You don’t have to go into tremendous detail, but be prepared for a conversation. – Jones


Be balanced. In due diligence we’re going to find out what the problems are, so hit them up front. We’ve all had our fair share of failures, so we’re used to it.  But it’s truly hard to find out that there’s a deal killer late in the process. Ask yourself, what keeps you up at night, what should we be worried about? Show some balance. – Purcell


If you’ve only got 30 minutes, like at an event, I teach companies to do a SWOT analysis and build a slide show presentation around that. And the strengths and the opportunities are the things that you want to pitch. But the weaknesses are the most important part of the slide show, because a lot of times that’s the use of proceeds. ‘I can’t get there because I don’t have this,’ or ‘I don’t have human data’ or whatever. Admit that, and that’s what you want their money for. It turns negative things about the company around to positive. And the threats are the first questions that they are going to ask you, so be prepared for them. – MacDougall


From our perspective at Appletree, it’s ideal to have a discussion about an idea and know that you’re entering a partnership with people with whom you can discuss any problems and any solutions. I really respond better to meetings like that than meetings that come off as someone knowing all the answers. – Hall


The best slideshow is five slides, because the deal happens in the Q&A. You want to have a quick overview and remind them of who you are, then hit them with the key points. Have backup slides if you need them, but it’s in the Q&A that the second meeting gets decided on. It’s not on ‘Oh wow that was a great presentation, I want to meet with them again.’ There has to be interaction. In preparing for those interactions, practice verbally explaining it without slides so you can insert the passion behind it. I’ve heard it said, ‘If I don’t want to go and have a beer with this person, I’m not going to want to put money in them.’ You do have to build that kind of relationship, too. – MacDougall


One thing that works well is if you have a record of success, whether in prior endeavors or in this particular endeavor. Talk about it. One other point is body language and posture. Don’t be too nervous but also try not to be too casual with your hands in your pockets and stuff like that. It just comes across even though it may only be 30 seconds. – Steinberg


Research your audience to know which partners or which associates in the team you’re presenting to. Do a little bit of your homework—our bios are usually on our websites. And that can probably give you guidance as to the way the conversation is going to go. If you do a little homework on your audience you can probably preempt or guess some of the places the conversation is likely to go. And again, as I’ve said already, it is a conversation. Unless it feels like a conversation, it’s not going well. – Dunlop


If you’re talking about the weather, it’s not a really good conversation. Find a point of common ground. Do your research and really understand who you’re meeting with on a personal level. See who they’re LinkedIn to and other people they know that they’re LinkedIn to, but you need to build that personal relationship. It’s very important. – MacDougall


When you have a language barrier, and this includes Americans in Europe, when you’re doing some kind of a pitch to people, slow down the first 30 seconds. It takes people a while to understand your accent. If you rush in with your accent, you’re not giving your audience time to catch up. In the business world when pitching, slow down to start. – MacDougall


If you want to get a meeting, ask. Pfizer takes an enormous contingent at JP Morgan. We typically meet with a lot of folks there. But it helps if we’ve had some sort of prior interaction. We publish a partnering brochure online that gives you the direct email address of the specific individuals that are evaluating these opportunities in every single therapeutic area, and you can actually have a conversation with the scientist who evaluates. And hopefully, intrigue him enough to take that meeting at JPM. – Green


I am going to go a little bit against the grain here. I think from the company point of view, JPM is a terrible place to meet with investors, just because it’s so crowded and so busy. Investors leave with 100,000 business cards in their pocket and it takes forever to get back to them. It’s much better to try and meet at a place like BioPharm America or a place outside of conferences. Personally, at Broadview, we spend most of our time at places like JPM meeting with other investors, and what we’re trying to do is look for people who either have leads on companies that we might be interested in and it’s too early for them, or we’re trying to raise money for the companies that are in our portfolios. – Jones


We’re the same way. Speed dating interactions can be unsatisfying there. So don’t be too ambitious. We’re happy to say hi and connect, but subsequent interactions should probably take place somewhere else. – Hall


Access the industry's premier life science partnering event to connect with strategic partners and get your innovation funded. Register for BioPharm America™ 2017 taking place September 26–27 in Boston. Special pricing is available for biotech startups. 


About the Author

Erin Righetti

Editor-in-Chief, Insight

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