July 2020 in Review
Can you believe Luminate Finals 2020 is less than a month away? Registration is now open for this free event. We hope you’ll register here to attend and help your favorite startup take home the “Audience Choice” award by voting. This year, the pitch competition will be held in conjunction with the 2020 Frontiers in Optics + Laser Science APS/DLS (FiO + LS) all-virtual conference on Sept. 14 from 10:30 AM to Noon EDT. If you’d like to take advantage of the 30+ sessions that will be held during the four-day long conference–which is free this year to everyone–register here. This includes programming from the co-located Quantum 2.0 conference, along with cool sessions on holographic flat panel displays, the use of LIGO to capture cosmic events, trends in new optical fiber products, and much more.
Creating Customized Pitches for Different Investor Types
Companies that are preparing pitches to win funding will definitely lose out on opportunities if they take a “one-size-fits-all” approach. While there is some information that needs to be included in all presentations, most should be customized to the specific interests, knowledge, and objectives of each investor or venture capitalist group. Last month, Luminate’s managing director, Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan, and technology program manager, Dr. Damon Diehl, gave a seminar to teach startups how to use a modular approach when pitching. This strategy enables teams to easily adapt their slides for each pitch situation, while making sure the most important information is included.
Here are nine key takeaways from the session to remember and put into practice.
- If you try to please every investor with one presentation, you’ll end up pleasing no one.
- All investors want to know answers to the same seven questions. However, they might prioritize this information differently, placing more or less emphasis on each topic.
- What is the problem?
- Why is the problem important?
- What is your solution to the problem?
- What is the market potential for the solution?
- What is the competitive landscape and your advantage?
- Why are you uniquely qualified to solve this problem?
- What do you need to move forward?
- Startups typically approach three investor audiences, and each has different advantages based on what they offer. Because of this, it’s important to consider which opportunities are the best fit for your company’s immediate needs.
- Capital investors provide fast access to money, mentorship, acceleration, and introductions
- Corporate strategic investors provide market access, validation, and joint development opportunities
- Startup / business / technology competitions provide money with “no-strings” attached, as well as publicity for your brand
- When adapting pitches for capital investment scenarios, you must detail how they’ll make a return on their investment. Tell them specifics about the problem and its importance, the market potential, and how you’re better at solving the problem than the competition. When working with them, provide direct, succinct answers, and be honest if you don’t know something (but commit to following up in a timely manner with the answer).
- In meetings with corporate strategy teams, your goal should be to convince the corporation that your technology is a valuable asset that either supplements or complements their existing technology. This audience is quite knowledgeable about both the technology and the market—probably more than you—so don’t spend a lot of time on this information. Instead, tell them how you’ll help them improve profits and solve their specific technical challenges better than the competition based on your unique qualifications. Make sure your deck focuses on the technical side, and send it to them in advance of the meeting. These pitches are best delivered by someone on the team who is very knowledgeable about the technology, such as the chief technology officer. Once the meeting has concluded, follow up. Always.
- Business and technology competitions are generally built around a theme. Before filling out an entry form, make sure your technology and your business align with the event focus. Intrinsically, pitch competitions are public events that draw a broader audience. These individuals need a “bigger picture view” on what you offer and why it’s important, so articulate how your technology will affect people on a personal, emotional level. Judges will want to know about the severity of the problem, your solution, and why you’re the best candidate to “win”. There’s two big mistakes most companies make when competing. First, they don’t prepare a tight script and practice enough. This minimizes the chances to fully engage people. Second, companies think pitch awards are investments — they’re not. They’re one-and-done opportunities. Don’t get caught up in this “beauty-pageant-like” circuit, or you’ll find yourself hopping from competition to competition, rather than focusing on the priorities that will truly advance your business.
- To build an engaging pitch, follow four steps: Do your research beforehand to be well prepared. Weigh the priorities of those who will be attending and organize your pitch around them. Determine the level of detail you should include. Define your “ask”. This last step can be tricky. When figuring out what you need, make sure you’re realistic and honest. It’s far easier to ask for more money upfront than it is to go back afterwards and ask for more.
- Create a large collection of slides for various situations so you will always be prepared at a moment’s notice—to pitch or to present an area in greater detail.
- Keep your cool. Rehearse to sound knowledgeable, professional, and poised. Resist the urge to get defensive and argue a point, especially about technology, even if someone is hostile or incorrect.
For most people, the art of pitching doesn’t come easy. But that’s okay. If you use these simple tips to prepare, it will get easier the more you put your company and yourself out there.
Making the pitch virtually to three investment groups
At Luminate, we give our cohort teams many opportunities to engage with investors in person — on the road, at investor summits, or in one-on-one meetings. However, due to the pandemic and its associated work-from-home and social distancing guidelines, our cohort—along with the entire venture capital world—has had to make several modifications. Our solution has been to move to a remote 5 by 5 pitch format. Each startup presents a 5-minute pitch, which is then followed by a 5-minute investor Q&A. This gives funders a chance to hear from each company without risking Zoom fatigue, and select the companies that fit their portfolio that they want to follow up with, one-on-one.
This format has been well received by both the teams and the investors. In July, cohort 3 pitched in front of J&J Innovation, Imperative Ventures, and Clean Energy Venture Group, which the latter recently closed a round with SunDensity from cohort 3. Additional 5 by 5 pitches are scheduled for August, leading up to Luminate Finals 2020 on September 14 from 10:30 am to noon, EDT. This year, our finals event will be held live at OSA’s Frontiers in Optics + Laser Science (FiOs+LS) conference, which is co-sponsored by the American Physical Society (APS), and co-located with the Quantum 2.0 Conference. For the first time ever, the conference and all of its sessions are free to attend.
SNAPSHOT: PORTFOLIO MILESTONES
Celebrating Luminate companies’ success
- Bounce Imaging was named a semifinalist for xTechSearch 4 and will be competing in the finals in October.
- Circle Optics was featured in WHEC10’s Small Business Spotlight.
- Double Helix will host a webinar on 3D Super-resolution Light Sheet Microscopy with DHO e-PSF on Sept 15, 2020 as part of their Advanced Techniques Webinar Series. Register here.
- Think Biosolution participated in Challenge #34, and was named Unicorn Champion at the Brain Catalyst hackathon.
- SunDensity launched its new website.
OSA FiO + LS: An All-Virtual Experience in Optics, Photonics, Quantum Tech, Augmented Reality & More
Claudio Mazzali, Sr. Vice President and CTO of the Corning Optical Communications Sector, Corning, Inc., USA, Optical Society (OSA) Fellow, and Co-Chair of this year’s FiO + LS conference, speaks with Sujatha Ramanujan, Luminate’s Managing Director and an OSA Board Member, about what to expect at this year’s first-ever, all virtual conference. Mazzali shares his excitement about the new format, what trends OSA will be exploring during its conference sessions, and what might be ahead for those within the fields of optics, photonics, and quantum technologies. Watch the video interview.
COHORT III IN THE NEWS
- Photonics Media interviewed Sujatha Ramanujan, Luminate Managing Director, for a feature article, University-Related Startups See Shifting Landscape for Capital.
- The Rochester Beacon Featured an interview with Sujatha Ramanujan to spotlight the shift to a virtual platform for the 2020 Luminate Finals, Luminate Pivots Amid the Pandemic.