Pitfalls When Speaking with Industry
Great news – a company has asked to set up an introductory meeting to hear more about your invention!
These meetings are great opportunities to take steps towards bringing your technology to market through a license agreement or an initial research collaboration. The inventor’s primary job in the meeting is to not only describe and “sell” your invention but also to listen to the company’s needs such that you can further explain how your invention meets these needs.
It’s rare that an invention is a direct match with a company’s strategic interests at a particular time. Even if a license agreement isn’t realized, these discussions can still be beneficial. Additional information about the market landscape can inform your next steps and expanding your industry network can lead to sponsored research, consulting opportunities, or future licenses.
Increase the chances of furthering a company’s interest in your invention by avoiding common pitfalls when pitching to industry listed below.
Using the background slides from your research talk
It’s common in academic talks to start your story with previous research in the literature or your lab and build to how this project was eventually realized. While this information is helpful for other scientists to orient themselves to your data, it does not always overlap with what’s needed for pitch presentations. Industry contacts need you to explain the problem or unmet need that your invention solves and answer questions they may have after their initial review of background materials. The hope is that the problem you’ve solved is one that the company would also like to address.
Explaining your solution without being clear about what sets it apart
It can be tempting to spend the entire meeting getting into the nitty-gritty of the novel solution you’ve developed. However, you want to make sure that you’re using this time to effectively communicate your “value proposition” and to listen to the company’s concerns and questions. What makes your solution better than what’s currently available?
Presenting all of your relevant data
While western blots and initial experiments can be valuable to reviewers for journals, they aren’t typically necessary at this stage of industry discussions. Focus your presented data or remarks on the stage of development you’ve reached, the best evidence you have that the invention works in the real-world for the intended application, and your thoughts on next steps required to move the invention closer to commercialization. As an example, these next steps can include prototype development, animal testing, or alpha/beta testing for software. This data helps companies understand how much risk they’d be taking if they were to commit time and resources to further developing your invention.
Assuming it’s obvious to the company how they could use your technology
Sometimes opportunities can be missed because an indication or use that seems obvious to you, the expert, wasn’t actually communicated. Walk them through what it could be like for them to commercialize this technology. Emphasizing ways this fits into their current processes is most effective.
Sharing too much
Unless a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) has been filed ahead of the meeting, it’s important to only stick to information that can be publicly accessed in a publication or published patent application. If you’re unsure of what you can include, don’t hesitate to ask us ahead of the meeting.
Being unprepared when asked about next steps
You’ve made a great pitch for your invention, and the company is intrigued. A common question from companies at this point of the meeting is “What are the next steps and what do you need to get there?”. Inventors commonly interpret this question by speaking to the next steps in their lab and the funding that would be required. However, the question actually being asked by the company is “What else is needed to bring this invention to market and how could we fit into that process?”. They need to understand the time and resources that would be required to commercialize your technology so they can assess if it fits into their capabilities and priorities.
Forgetting to listen
Remember that these are often experts in the market that you’re hoping to commercialize a technology. They may provide more information about the problems either they or their customers are experiencing that could help you tailor your pitch. Their feedback can also be valuable to incorporate into next steps for your research projects.
Discuss strategy ahead of the meeting with your licensing manager
OTC will likely have already provided published materials on the invention or additional materials under a confidentiality agreement, so the company has had an opportunity to review certain information. OTC will also provide you information on who from the company is attending the meeting and their role at the company. A “pre-discussion” on the expectations for the meeting is important for discussing: 1) what questions, if any, has the company already asked; 2) your desired outcomes of the meeting; 3) the general flow of the meeting.
Overall, every presentation boils down to remembering what information your audience cares about and staying focused on the goals of your conversation. In this case, industry cares about whether this could solve a problem they care about, what kind of advantages it would give them over the competition, and if they could easily incorporate it into their current R&D and manufacturing processes with a reasonable investment. The inventor’s (and OTC’s) goals at this stage are to convince the company to move to the next round of discussions as they evaluate whether to license the technology, paying attention to feedback and information from experts in the market, and establishing a relationship that may lead to future licenses, collaborations, or sponsored research.