Beyond the Business Pitch – Plan, Build Relationships and Deliver Succinctly

This year’s virtual J.P. Morgan Week is spurring companies to expand meeting slots throughout the month and conduct more relaxed, productive encounters, even while biotech executives bemoan the lack of chance encounters at networking events, coffee lines and elevators.

Epidarex Capital is representative of investors in that, “We are using the whole month of January to set up more robust, virtual meetings,” Kyp Sirinakis, co-founder and managing partner of this early-stage venture capital fund said during the Demy-Colton Virtual Salon, Beyond the Business Pitch at JP Morgan: Key Issues for Emerging Companies and Investors in 2022.

The advantage is that execs are more likely to meet with large companies that typically have packed meeting schedules. The disadvantage, however, is that decision-making may be prolonged, Andrew Strong, partner at Hogan Lovells, observed. “The deadlines of getting to J.P. Morgan Week make people commit to that time period,” he explained, and many decisions are made shortly afterward.

Long before any meetings occur, however, Clifford Stocks, founder and CEO of OncoResponse, Inc., advised deciding whether you will focus on partnering or attracting investors during the year.

The panelists each stressed the value of getting to the point quickly. Executives, particularly inexperienced ones, tend to spend too much time getting to know the people in the meeting – where they went to school, where they’ve worked, etc. “You can do this online beforehand,” David de Graaf, Ph.D., CEO of Abcuro, said. Instead, “Talk about yourself in a 20-second soundbite and then move on to business.”

De Graaf favors “old-fashioned flipbooks (that attendees can annotate) that feature 10 key slides.” They highlight the key details of your program and company, so you can engage in more robust discussions.

Sirinakis cautioned company execs to “Follow-up and send the slide deck as soon as you finish the pitch meeting, while we are still processing what we heard. We move on to the next company immediately afterward.”

De Graaf said he sends his slides the night before the meeting, He also tends to text rather than phone. “We have something to sell, so we need to make it as easy as possible to buy.”

For J.P. Morgan Week, the process of scheduling meetings begins in early November for Stocks. “I send out an updated slide deck (to potential investors or partners), saying I will be at J.P. Morgan, and ask to get on their schedules so they can meet the team. Often, they say they haven’t set up their schedules yet, ‘but you’re on the list.’” Around Thanksgiving, he tries to schedule specific meeting times and continues that throughout the conference. “Some meetings come together when the companies see they have open slots, or we may arrange a brief coffee meeting at the end of the day.”

In terms of finding the right companies and investors to meet with, Sirinakis urged biotechs to lay the groundwork early. “Meet with potential partners and investors when you’re not trying to raise money. As an investor, we’re investing in people, primarily, and would rather invest in those we know and like.

“Therefore, ensure that what you’re doing aligns with the investors’ thesis,” she continued. “Reach out by email to see if there’s a fit in terms of technology, stage of development, etc. Use your board, scientific advisors and legal team for this. Send your decks over early, and find ways to get in front of the organization you want to meet with. You may not get the meeting if you haven’t gotten something in front of investors first.”

In terms of identifying the companies to target, de Graaf urged executives to eschew a scattershot approach in favor of building long-term relationships with relevant companies. “Develop a list of investors (or potential collaborators) and why they would want to work with your company.”

To do that, “Lean on your board members,” he said. “They have more exposure to the investment community and know the players. So, have board members build strong relationships with you and for you, and lean on that.” He also advised getting to know the investment bankers and analysts in the biopharma space. “Get their advice on who to talk with. They’re fantastic connectors and they may help you find a future board member. Build relationships early on. This is a long-term game.”

Whomever you want to connect with, “When you email them initially, in the first line, clearly state what you want. For example, say you’re interested in a crossover lead, or first-round funding. Be very clear about what you need and why you’re reaching out.” Kristin Connarn, partner at Hogan Lovells added.

“Also, tell them your stage of development – preclinical, clinical, etc. – because many investors have a thesis around that,” Stocks said.

Stating the timing of your ask is important too. Sirinakis pointed out that the funding process for Series A, B, or crossover rounds takes an average of six to nine months. “Letting them know you have a lead for a funding round or that you plan to close in the summer gives them a clear perspective (of your deadline).”

Whatever the outcome, keep in touch. “Understand why a company said ‘no’ and respect that, but keep building the relationship. Sometimes ‘no’ turns into ‘yes,’” de Graaf said. Remember, the J.P. Morgan Week pitch is less about how fantastic your company is and more about building mutually beneficial, long-term, relationships.