Promoting or pitching your technology to large pharma – dos and don’ts

By Duncan Young, Associate Director, Academic Alliances, and Vincenzo Garzya, Project Management Director, from AstraZeneca

Scientists can be a cynical bunch. Partly it’s the training; to be critical, look for the evidence and question everything; partly it’s the bitter experiences of one failed experiment too many, late in the lab. Often it’s just a lack of caffeine. But it can make them a difficult audience to win over with enthusiasm alone when it comes to pitching your technology.

Attitudes to business models have changed over the years too – for start-ups and the established players alike. Open innovation, shared risk, crowdfunding and social enterprise have all become commonplace and are approaches that companies from small to large can now leverage to bring their concept to market.

Yet developing new healthcare technologies still relies on a myriad of factors, skillsets and expertise; from Big Data bioinformatics and diagnostics, through tailored drug discovery for specific patient groups, to patient adherence and reporting – so understanding how and why your ideas could be developed faster through strategic partnership is vital to any start-up. By partnering with pharma, you can allow each party to play to their strengths at the various points along the research, development, validation, regulatory approval, and phase IV monitoring highway, and hopefully at the end of it, you will be able to see your innovation come to fruition and share in the success of seeing your product being launched and join us in transforming the loves of patients around the world.

Here’s a few do’s and don’ts to bear in mind when you start your journey of pitching your innovation to large pharma:

Do – share what need your innovation is addressing

Do – cover the points mentioned in the previous post; differentiation, validation, competitors, route to market. These will often represent the most common initial questions Pharma may have around your technology opportunity. Pre-empting them will show forethought, as well as make you stand out

Don’t – forget to say what it is you are looking for! Funding, collaboration, co-development – sometimes this key point gets forgotten with the focus on how great the team and technology are

Do – try to understand who you are pitching to and their role in the decision-making process

Don’t – make the mistake of thinking you have no competition. Even innovation has to overcome the inertia of how things have always been done

Do – share a high-level project plan that shows how you have been thinking in building, growing and sustaining your business

Do – keep things brief and non-confidential at first. Not everything needs a CDA, and avoiding ‘contamination’ makes informed discussion a lot easier. Understand what is truly confidential about your technology, and what you can disclose to get across the key benefits and differentiating factors.

Don’t – take “It’s too early stage” for an answer. Your presentation is a chance for feedback, and if the technology is too early, get them to tell you what more would need to be done, what they would need to see, to make this an opportunity that can act on

Do – follow up, and if you’ve discussed doing specific actions or further developments in the last meeting, follow up with those results in hand.

Don’t – approach a dozen people in the company hoping one will give you the answer or feedback you hope.

Do – your research; don’t pitch a technology to a company that doesn’t work in that field. Most companies publish a list of interests, or non-interests on their partnering sites. Look at recent deals they may have done, areas they may be interested in and what they may have done in this space already.

Don’t – let one negative response knock you back. There can be many reasons behind a ‘no’; from it being out of focus, other internal pressures, budget or resource constraints – many which maybe unrelated to you technology. Chalk up the experience and chance to grow your network, and move on to the next potential partner.

Duncan Young, Associate Director, Academic Alliances, and Vincenzo Garzya, Project Management Director, from AstraZeneca are mentoring start-ups at the upcoming Venture Creation Weekend, organised by the Cambridge Judge Business School’s Entrepreneurship Centre on 23-25 June. For more information and to register your attendance, please visit the CJBS Entrepreneurship Centre website >

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