Since Discovery Park Ventures launched last year, I have listened to dozens of pitches from early-stage life sciences companies, most recently spun out from universities.
Being an investor has provided unique insights into how young companies can be taken seriously by funders. Of course, your science must be strong, the hypothesis exciting and with potential to scale, but that in itself is not enough.
Here are my five insights for early-stage companies to consider when thinking about funding and preparing to pitch to investors:
Build and utilise your network: Find a mentor – Look for someone who is a ‘critical friend’, someone who will challenge your thinking and help you to navigate the inevitable bumps in the road.
The skills of business are very different from the skills of science. Successful start-ups identify mentors and collaborate with peers, building a network. Mentors can help you to navigate obstacles and overcome hurdles, as well as providing fresh perspective and valuable feedback before you pitch. Renos Savva, Head of Innovation at Discovery Park is the best of the best when it comes to mentoring and supporting new entrepreneurs.
A good idea is not always a good business: Put yourself into the mind of your investor and be sure to articulate clearly the commercial opportunity in your scientific discovery. How will you make money from your idea? And who will be your potential customer?
Approach pitches from the perspective of an investor, focusing on the problem your process or application can solve, and the benefits this could bring. All the companies who received investment from Discovery Park Ventures focused on the product and did not become over-enthused by the joy of discovery.
Understand the market: Do your research – understand the size of your market. Are there any time constraints? Who are your competitors? What is your next milestone and where and when might your eventual exit be?
An investors’ job is to probe for weaknesses, to identify where new technologies are adding unnecessary complexity or where start-ups have failed to research their competitors. Always take a step back to reflect on the bigger picture and how you play into it.
People matter: Much of the investment decision is based on who’s in the team and what have they done previously. The investor needs to believe you have the drive and ambition to deliver, so demonstrate all the skills in your team, not just technical know-how!
Investors don’t just look at the science, it’s an investment in the people driving the business. This means showing your personality and demonstrating that your business ethic is as strong as your laboratory know-how.
Know your elevator pitch: You must be able to clearly articulate your proposal in just a few minutes and remember that investors may not have a scientific background, so keep it smart and simple.
Discovery Park Ventures was amongst the sponsors at BioSeed 2023, providing early-stage life science companies with access to potential investors. For participants, the five minute slot provided probably didn’t feel like sufficient time to explain the principles behind their ideas and convince investors to come onboard, but in reality, if you can’t sum up your proposal in less than half that time, potential backers can switch off and lose focus.
Harnessing the wealth of exciting science emerging from across the UK is a national priority and Discovery Park Ventures has ambitious plans for expansion. Within three years, we expect to have grown the fund from £1m to £25m and we are constantly on the search for exciting new start-ups.
To all entrepreneurs and early stage companies, this is your moment. Policy and investors have never been more supportive and geared up to recognise life science talent from all avenues. Now, happy pitching!