The pitch deck has been an important part of any strategy for attracting investment since early in the 21st century. The story may be apocryphal but may commentators credit Facebook as the first company consciously to use it, although it was not so much a new technique as a repurposed one.
What is a Pitch Deck?
Traditionally known as a presentation, its nomenclature was upscaled with the term ‘deck’, borrowed from the world of cards. A single slide in the presentation is analogous to a playing card, and a group of them equates to a deck. There is also an implicit suggestion that the cards can be shuffled into any order, but whether this is a wise practice is a question for another time. What is settled is the status of the pitch deck as an essential tool for any startup or scaleup seeking funding.
Pitch Decks and the Life Sciences
In many sectors, the creation of a persuasive pitch deck is relatively simple and follows the established rules of conventional presentations. You need to grab the interest of your potential investors immediately, tell a compelling story about the problems identified, the solutions devised and the expertise already in place. The appeal for investment and resources follows naturally.
A life science pitch deck is essentially the same, its imperative being to create a convincing and attractive business case through a clear and compelling narrative. Where it differs markedly is in its substance. Biotech is an inherently difficult sell. Any enterprise founded in bioscience or related technology will inevitably be complex which makes the challenge of grabbing and holding attention from the beginning to the end of the story a significant one.
The essentials of any pitch deck are a statement of a company’s values and mission, an overview of the organisation, an explanation of the problem to be solved, an analysis of the nature and size of the market, an assessment of the competition and key stakeholders and an explication of your proposed solution together with an account of your team’s expertise.
For healthcare and life science, entrepreneurs such as early stage European biotech companies who need to attract venture capital, this simple basis is complicated by a dearth of industry-specific resources to translate the message into a narrative that is both concise and clear enough to speak to industry outsiders.
There are two specific challenges that must be addressed. One involves the nuances that are specific to various sub-sectors of the industry. The other is the question of the time frame, because investment in the life sciences is a longer-term commitment than in most other industries. Development and testing cannot be rushed, and it’s vital to allow for the extra time required to meet rigorous regulatory obligations and possibly even the peer review process. Capital investment must be sufficient to provide adequate support throughout this extended process.
Key Elements to Include in a Life Sciences Pitch Deck
First and foremost you need to give your audience a clear understanding of possibly complex issues. Explain in simple terms the unique value of the primary asset and the target market. It is tempting to overload your pitch with detail that you know to be important but which can be stripped out without weakening the appeal.
Present a simple timeline for the clinical development process. While acknowledging that you are heading into uncharted territory in pursuit of genuine innovation, it is preferable to emphasise a sense of direction rather than the unknown. It will help investors to understand the commitment you are asking of them if you clearly delineate the junctures to be negotiated on the journey. Be specific about the milestones that mark both pre-clinical and clinical development phases along with the expected costs, distinguishing between those that are operational and those required by research and development. You are seeking significant investment and part of winning it is being open about its level and its justification.
In making your case for the investment needed to get the product to market, it is helpful to anticipate key questions regarding the asset’s commercialisation play, the strength of the unmet medical need, and the size of the market. You should support this with calculations that quantify the total addressable market (TAM), the serviceable addressable market (SAM) – the proportion you can realistically reach – and the serviceable obtainable market (SOM), which identifies your current capacity.
Other important supporting material should include evidence drawn from research about the likely take-up of the product by clinicians and patients as well as the chance that it will be accepted as a standard of care asset across the life sciences industry. It will also be helpful to name leading industry figures, either within your organisation or sympathetic to your aims, on whose advocacy you can rely to carry the finished product into the healthcare domain where it can enjoy major competitive advantages. Similarly, investors will be impressed by a significant IP track record and capability, not only as indicators of your operational strengths but as proof that you are prepared to defend your position in a competitive market.
In the pursuit of venture capital, startup and scaleup companies across the industry are in fierce competition with each other. As we’ve considered, the life sciences sector routinely encounters obstacles that rarely trouble other industries. For this reason, a life sciences pitch deck must go an extra mile or two down the road. The requirement of a coherent, compelling narrative is as essential as in any other sector, but for many investors, this will be new territory with unfamiliar demands. Awareness of this crucial difference should guide you in planning your pitch, which needs to project openness but tempered with a realism that is positive and persuasive.