Pitch deck tips for biotech and medtech start-ups


[This post originally appeared on the MassBio blog on May 23, 2017.]

Pitch decks are a rite of passage for biomedical startups – but it can be hard for first-time founders to find good advice suitable for drug, medical device or diagnostic newcos. Many blogs on pitch decks are mainly intended for tech start-ups, and a lot of examples are better suited to a “Shark Tank” bakeoff than a serious discussion with an experienced healthcare investor.

Here, we’ve compiled some key ideas and resources for biotech and medtech start-ups on how to prepare for a “first date” meeting with an industry-savvy partner or funder.

The pre-work

A common weak link in many first-timers’ pitch decks is how well they define the clinical value proposition of their new drug, device, or diagnostic.Before opening up PowerPoint, we strongly advise entrepreneurs to get in the right frame of mind with two posts by longtime Atlas Venture partner Bruce Booth (on pitching VCs and raising startup capital) and Bill Aulet’s Disciplined Entrepreneurship.

As Bruce explains, experienced healthcare investors and partners want to hear a clinically sophisticated take on how patients currently progress from symptoms to therapy, what the key needs are along the way, and how your product can address them. For a therapeutic, this often means identifying a subset of patients who are particularly under-served by the available options. For a diagnostic, there may be a very specific clinical scenario in which a test with greater speed, higher accuracy, or lower cost and complexity would have a huge impact on patient care. It’s often helpful in a pitch deck to show a flow chart of how patients are diagnosed and treated, so you can indicate the key needs or pain points your new product will address. (Search online for “diagnosis and treatment algorithm” to see some examples.)

Bruce’s posts explain the “why” of defining and articulating your clinical value – and Bill’s book tackles the “how.” Even start-ups with experienced physicians as founders or advisors need to “get out of the building” to understand the current diagnosis and treatment landscape and how their new product might fit. The most compelling pitches combine well-vetted diagnosis and treatment algorithms with first-hand reports from doctors and patients on the key pain points, needs, and opportunities. Bill’s book is the clearest guide available on how to define and articulate your “product-market fit,” and his advice is highly relevant to biotech and medtech start-ups.

The outline

Although most online pitch deck guides are intended for tech startups, there are several good resources for biomedical entrepreneurs:

  • This workbook from Harvard’s Healthcare Innovation and Commercialization course

  • This blog post by BioSource Consulting

  • Two posts (here and here) by experienced medtech entrepreneur Jay Caplan

  • This post from Life Science Nation

Together, they thoroughly review the structure and key elements that most healthcare investors and companies expect to see.

From these outlines, you can identify specific components that warrant extra emphasis based on your particular situation. For example, a therapeutics company may spend more time covering the lead asset’s novel target or mechanism of action, whereas a diagnostics firm may stress its business model, reimbursement strategy, and predicted profit margin.

However, there are generally two must-have pieces of a biomedical pitch deck in addition to the clinical context: the preliminary data and the path to the next milestone. Early on in a pitch, healthcare investors want to see data on your new technology – but remember, this is an investor presentation, not a lab meeting, and the key is to clearly present a few critical pieces of information, not overwhelm the audience with a slew of graphs labeled with a 10-point type. (More on slide design in a moment.) Near the end, investors will want to understand what the next milestone is: how you’ll get there, and how much time and funding it will take. In other words, how will their money methodically advance and de-risk the company, and how (and when) will they potentially reach an exit or know whether it’s worth investing more.

The slides

There’s a fine line between aesthetically pleasing slides and over-produced eye candy, and we find most serious healthcare investors are turned off by decks that look too “slick.” The most successful biotech and medtech pitches are informative, uncluttered, and easy to read, but don’t make it seem like you spent more time making slides than data.

So instead of searching  “best startup pitch decks” for inspiration, check out articles like these on scientific presentations and graphs and charts that provide basic tips on fonts, colors, images, titles, and bullet points. If you take their advice, you probably won’t win any artistic awards, but you’ll avoid a lot of rookie mistakes that many first-time founders make in their initial pitch decks.

Final thoughts

In most cases, a pitch deck has one purpose – to get you invited back for a second meeting. Don’t let your inner scientist mislead you into cramming every interesting detail into a single presentation. As long as a pitch deck covers the key elements, it’s rare for an experienced investor or strategic partner to complain that it’s too short – and anyway, that’s what the footnotes and appendix are for. If all goes well, after your presentation you’ll get a “second date” (and a third, fourth, and fifth!) to go into the weeds in pursuit of a deal or investment – and be qualified to advise a new generation of biotech and medtech founders on how to make their own pitch decks.