Tips for winning pitches

Tips for winning pitches

Tips for winning pitches

If you have ever watched Dragons’ Den, then you might have seen nervous entrepreneurs going in to meet the potential investors (Dragons) to present their ideas.  Each entrepreneur has about 2 minutes to pitch their idea and capture the Dragons interest to invest.  The Dragons, if interested, drill down into the details behind the pitch.  Pitching ideas for potential collaborative projects or spin-out company investment in Life Sciences is not too different and requires that you present a coherent story.  The good news is that you can greatly improve your chances by being a bit more savvy about how to sell your idea.  The is true whether you are looking for financial investment, a partnership or collaboration.

Over the last 7 years or so, I have reviewed over 500 research proposals from academics mainly wishing for partnerships with big pharma but also direct investment.  I have seen some amazing science, where the pitches have been in person or by written submission, but I’ve also seen many poor examples where individuals may have had a brilliant proposal but missed out on getting partnerships by simply underselling their ideas, overwhelming the investors with irrelevant details, or just not appreciating the rules of the pitching or assessment process!

Let’s say you are preparing for a face-to-face pitch.  Imagine a situation where the judging panel have been sitting in a room for 6 hours non-stop (if they have had a food break the investors are grateful, but you can’t assume they have had one!) The 19th presenter comes in to present their idea and proceeds to describe in detail their group and university structure, along with 30 slides of data packed with lots of small graphs before finally getting to the part about how this data could be commercialised.  Unfortunately within 2 minutes the panel members will have lost the will to live – or listen.  They simply do not know where you are going with the pitch.

If you are applying through some sort of written submission, please read the instructions.  When I was running challenges to find the best projects to fund, using website analytics I could see on average, how many seconds different pages were viewed by potential applicants; often while several minutes were spent reading ‘What will I get’ and only seconds were spent reviewing the ‘How do I apply’ page! The consequence was that incorrect information was given and that it was an  easy way to prune 300 applications down to 100!

So, how to get that investment? Firstly, tell a story and take the judging panel on a journey with you. A good story follows the pattern of: stating what the problem is, what needs to be sorted, who the user will be, what you have invented or discovered, its novelty and how it will benefit the user.  This information should then be followed by the data that supports these claims including the project’s competitive position (who else are in this space, what advantages do you offer). Most importantly, the panel need to know upfront what they are being asked to take part in, but if this information is only provided at the end they can’t assess if the data supports the idea.  Addressing these points in a concise but comprehensive manner will turn a grumpy, tired and hungry panel member into a happier one, and they will then ask lots of questions. 

One key thing to remember is that panel members often will be investing in you as much as the idea, so a demonstration of expert knowledge in your field, cool clear-headed thinking and professional-looking slides will always be a winner.  Anticipate potential questions and have lots of back-up slides. 

For written submissions, you should be able describe your idea in 300 words or less.  For example if your target is a drug transporter and you want to block it to treat cancer, there is no need to waste space explaining what a medical burden cancer is and how many transporters there are; the panel will know this. They want to know what is unique about your idea (your transporter), and why it can be used to treat a particular cancer that is currently not being successfully treated.

The Babraham Institute's KEC team are always available to offer help in practicing pitches and reviewing slides and submission forms, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!

We also offer a number of resources for projects that have knowledge exchange or translational potential, including a template slide deck for planning pitches, which outlines the type of content you may wish to present.


Danuta Mossakowska
Prof Danuta Mossakowska

Royal Society Entrepreneur in Residence at the Babraham Institute

Prof Mossakowska is a Professor and Director of the Malopolska Centre for Biotechnology, Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. She has significant experience in the pharma industry, where after a post-doc fellowships at Imperial and the Institute of Cancer Research, she has held senior posts in GlaxoSmithKline which have focused on early drug discovery and discovery partnerships with academic institutions. If you would like to chat with Danuta about careers in industry or translational projects, please don't hesitate to get in touch.