An NHS clinician, a business development strategist, and a communications expert give their advice for healthtech startups.
1. The NHS Clinician
Sara Nelson is a Senior Nurse with a specialist interest in digital innovations and their impact on staff and patients. She currently works as an “NHS Navigator” at the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator, providing bespoke advice and guidance to healthtech SMEs looking to work with NHS organisations.
Use your time wisely. Whether it is a 60 second or three minute pitch, you don’t have long, but if you try and add too much, or speak too quickly, the whole message can be lost. Ideally with a short pitch, slides can be a distraction, but having the company logo behind displayed behind can help the audience remember who you are afterwards.
Initial impressions matter. Work on knowing the pitch well, so that you feel and look relaxed and open as you present – this has to feel real, and important to you. Take advice from others on your pitch, but accept that it is only advice. If changing the way you present makes you less comfortable, it will have less impact on the people you are speaking to. Think about whether you are coming across as approachable and whether members of your audience will want to come and find you afterwards.
By the same token, if there are a multitude of pitches, how will they pick you out in a room people after the end of the pitches? One company I know wear a company-branded t-shirt to every event, which really helps people to pick them out in a crowd. You may not chose to be that overt, but a colour that makes you stand out from the usual black or grey could help. Remain professional no matter what you wear.
Pay attention to content. Be credible – why are you talking today? You may have a background story, however make sure this is succinct. It may be that the best person in the company to do the pitch is not the CEO – find the person whose skills are in this area.
Be aware of the audience you will be pitching to and what their requirements are and get to the point. If the initial sentences make me think “what is this about?” I miss the next part of the pitch too.
If you are working in partnership with other companies, it may be appropriate to include this if it adds to credibility.
Use statistics with care. What do the numbers you use really say? Is the statistic national or regional? If a statistic sounds unbelievable (even if it’s true) listeners will spend time rationalising this in their mind and miss the next part of the pitch. Give two or three clear messages about what you are and what you do, what impact you have on the NHS, and the ask you have of the audience.
- Tell me you can do everything in your field! Be specific or I could lose trust in you
- Waste time mentioning or being negative toward another product, give the positives of your own
- Use anacronyms – every speciality in healthcare and outside uses different acronyms and this can lead to confusion
2. The Business Development Strategist
Lesley Soden has extensive experience in the healthcare space, particularly in bid design and management. She helped her last trust win over £32M in business in just one year, and has very clear ideas about what she looks for in a pitch. She’s currently the Head of Innovation at the Health Innovation Network, one of DigitalHealth.London’s founding partners.
Don’t waste time. It is common knowledge that the NHS has no money, and hearing it again doesn’t add value to your pitch. Spend your time on facts and evidence of how effective your product is, and the impact it could have. Touch upon the issue or challenge, but balance this with explaining how your innovation addresses this. Be concise.
Demonstrate your credibility within my audience group. At the beginning of your pitch, state where your innovation has been adopted. Which hospital, trust, or NHS commissioner has bought your innovation? This sends a signal about how you stand up with your customers.
Help me remember you. Try to engage your audience by being interactive, an impressive pitch recently was when the innovator asked the audience to get out their phone and swap it with the person next to them, it got my attention in a bunch of other pitches. I remembered the company! In my experience, starting with a personal story often engages the audience, but balance this with remembering that if you’re one in a series of pitches others may do the same and you could get lost in the crowd.
Speak my language. Clearly explain how and what your innovation does in a language that your audience will understand. Balance the technical language you use with clearly explaining how your innovation works.
Be honest: are you really the only one? Only state that your innovation is unique if you have diligently researched the competition and you are confident that it is unique. People hearing your pitch may well have heard about products like it before (particularly if they’ve done their research), so it’s a better strategy for you to focus on the USP of your innovation compared to your competitors.
3. The Communications Expert
Rose de Mendonca leads the communications for the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator, and over the last eight years has worked in communications roles ranging from health to counter-terrorism and human rights. She advises digital health companies on refining their communications, including pitches.
Get the basics right. Regardless of your industry, my advice is to keep it simple. You don’t need to use lingo or long, complicated words to get your point across. Simple, easy-to-understand English can go a long way to helping your audience understand your key messages, and give them enough to want to know more. I apply the “grandma test” in the first instance to everything I see, hear, or read. By this I mean If the explanation was given to my grandma, would she be able to understand it without difficulty? If the answer is no, I advise to look at it again.
Clearly for some audiences, you will need to have information to hand to give further detail, and this may include using specialist language that signals to your audience you’re on their page. But this doesn’t stop you from keeping it simple enough for everybody to understand at least the basics on the first meeting.
Prioritise the order of your messages. My second piece of advice is to think carefully about the structure of your pitch; if you only have a limited amount of time to get your point across – say 60 seconds – what information is absolutely crucial? Order your pitch to deliver the most important information first – the things you absolutely must include for your core message to be understood.
Following this is the information you should include – important to people’s understanding, but not critical. These points may be a bit painful for you to leave out, and can be challenging to separate from the musts, but without them, your pitch still makes sense. Next comes the could include information – the ‘nice-to-have’ points that give extra context, but could be cut with less impact than if the should haves are cut.
The should have and could have will the first bit to be cut, if your time is limited.
This Must, Should, Could (and Won’t) structure is also known as the MoSCoW method.
Look the part. Finally – and I hate to say it – appearances matter. Go into a first pitch meeting assuming your audience doesn’t know you. If their judgement of you by the end will score from zero (“never heard of them”) to 100 (“where do I sign?”), their baseline is zero, and it’s your job to move that dial up. A scruffy pair of jeans, just one too many buttons undone on your shirt, or a late entrance could shift their opening score to below zero, which means you have to do that little bit more to move it into the positive. Give yourself the best chance, and go in looking as sharp as your pitch sounds.
Bloopers. Sometimes it doesn’t go to plan. Your train is late, you fluff a line, or your mind goes totally blank. Take a breath and a moment to think, and start again – we’re all human, and we’ve all been there.