Mistakes Founders Make When Pitching a Science Startup

You’re building a science startup! You’ve probably spent a lot of time in the lab, writing papers on the initial results, and building simulations or prototypes. Now you’re going to start a company and commercialize your work.

Time to raise seed funding?

Scientists are used to giving talks to other scientists. However, pitching to startup incubators and investors is a very different experience than giving talks to their peers and colleagues. Here are some common mistakes I’ve seen when scientists first pitch their science startup.

   View from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

It’s not an academic conference.

The number one issue with founders involved in research is that they use their conference talks to pitch their startup to investors. The first version of a science founder’s pitch deck tends to focus on the exciting aspects of their research.

The problem is that you get a deck with overly technical terms. But the investors won’t bite, because:

  1. no one likes feeling stupid, and
  2. no one wants to invest in something they don’t understand.

You’re not there to show that you’re smarter than them.

Some of the idea’s uniqueness comes from the technology, since you’re likely on the cutting edge of the field. However, you do not need to present the nuances of every step of the process.

Instead, focus on what makes you and your team uniquely qualified to achieve your goal. Are you the person who pioneered this technology, or has worked hands-on in this industry, or has a deep expertise in the market that this technology can be applied to? This expertise is valuable and makes for a more compelling case of why they should invest in you.

*On a personal note, I found that pitching in New York and the Bay Area were drastically different experiences. Different things worked to get the first investor call (since the initial pitch is just about getting that call to discuss your startup further.) New York investors honed in on the traction/market numbers; Bay Area investors wanted the story and the future vision. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Treat your science startup like a business.

You are not building an academic lab. Your performance indicators are not the number of papers or citations. Timescales are short, resources are scarce, and you must focus on the critical path. The pitch must reflect the reality of running a business.

Cyclotron Road (Bleximo is in Cohort Four) released a cool new resource, called Techonomics, to help science founders start putting dollar amounts on their innovations. It’s absolutely critical to show that your innovative company can also be a sustainable business. These videos and models can help you start to answer some of these questions.

What’s the vision?

The technology and the startup has to have a vision.

Keep asking “So what?” If you build the technology, manage to commercialize it, the numbers make sense. So what? Who will use it? How will it make their lives better? How the world will be better off?

As Jessica Livingston said, “Seed investors are looking for promise. Series A investors are looking for performance.” While science startups tend to operate on longer timescales than software startups, you have to be rapidly progressing toward your goals.

Science startup founders, what did you learn when pitching for seed funding?

If you want to turn your research into a startup, consider applying for Cyclotron Road. They provides 2-year fellowships for entrepreneurial scientists developing solutions in electronics, energy, advanced manufacturing… and quantum computing.


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