During the pandemic, the biotech industry has continued to complete deals, even without face-to-face interactions. Startups should leverage communication to sustain their investor relations and build strong momentum for late-stage funding rounds in the coming years.
Speaking last July, the UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, said the Covid-19 pandemic had brought an uptake of new health innovations “like never before”, paving the way for innovative startups to make their mark on the industry. The good news is, as this spotlight was thrust upon them, potential investors were watching.
Despite a temporary drop in seed and Series A financings at the start of the pandemic, 2020 saw a record-breaking level of investment poured into UK biotech companies, with Bit Bio and Purespring Therapeutics leading Series A venture deals, both raising over €45M (£40M).
Upon completion of a funding round, one of the biggest challenges I see young entrepreneurs and companies face is how to communicate effectively with their new investor. Investors want to know the company is on track and making it through the pandemic, yet successfully communicating in this virtual world may be seen as challenging for some founders.
There are two key activities which startups should leverage to help establish a foundation for good communication from day one: meetings and reports. Going virtual does not need to add a level of complexity to either. Ask investors how they want their portfolio companies to communicate this information and they’ll tell you three things: clarity, conciseness, and consistency.
Be clear on the good and the bad
When it comes to clarity, investors need to be able to understand your company’s performance, milestones, and strategy. This means being wholly transparent. Shortly after the first Covid-19 lockdown started in the UK, a poll revealed that life science founders were most concerned about operational and supply chain disruption, as well as cash flow. One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs make is not wanting to deliver bad news or share concerns like these, but clearly communicating these issues sooner rather than later is key to fostering trust.
The most successful founders search for investors who bring more than funds, including the willingness to give advice during the toughest of times. In fact, some investors will be more inclined to help when issues arise because they recognize that this is where their true value really kicks in.
And remember, clarity isn’t just about sharing bad news, it’s about delivering success stories too. When you’re reaching milestones and hitting your objectives, particularly at a time where the pandemic is having unpredictable impacts on businesses, be sure to highlight these clearly to your investor. This will serve to build their confidence, reassuring them your business is well-managed and on track for future success, and it may help them to identify potential areas of growth or partnerships.
The importance of being concise
You aren’t the only company that your investor is working with, and their time is often stretched across a large portfolio. As such, avoid emailing pages and pages of unnecessary detail or padding out your sentences with jargon to try and sound professional. In doing this, you are risking your audience walking away from the conversation with a wrong understanding of the relevance and importance of what was said.
It’s worth thinking creatively about how to present key information in a concise way – whether through tables, diagrams, or graphs – or even better, ask your investor if they have a preference.
As with face-to-face meetings, virtual meetings require preparation. Knowing what you need to discuss and the best order in which to discuss it, while keeping the time frame in mind, will help maintain the conversation momentum and ensure nothing is missed from the agenda.
Contact your investor consistently
It can be easy to forget about your investor until later down the line when you need more money, but unsurprisingly, that’s the worst time to get in touch with them again. My advice here is to consistently be in contact with them, whether that’s a quick email update or a long phone call. Regular investor communications encourages ongoing evaluation of your company and business model, which is vital for a young startup when navigating the industry at a volatile time.
Your investor will tell you that some frequency in communication is mandated, for example conveying financial results. However, startups can choose to disclose more than what’s required to better establish relationships, understanding, and transparency. Preparing and sharing this information on a regular basis is a good habit to get into at an early stage, not least because it helps you to build a positive growth story over time, which in the long term creates a perfect PR story to shout about and attract new investors.
Good communication is one of the most important factors in business success. As the pandemic continues to have unpredictable impacts on business operations, delivering clear, concise, and consistent messages to investors becomes all the more important.
The continued investment into life science and biotech startups that we have seen this past year is hugely promising and points towards a strong momentum for late-stage funding rounds in the coming years. If I could offer one piece of advice to startups, it would be to start communicating like a bigger company before you feel you need to. An investor communications strategy is a key infrastructure component for larger companies, and you should start developing it as soon as possible.
Jenny Ousbey began her career as a political journalist and led high-profile campaigns in-house and agency-side. Prior to launching OVID Health she successfully built up an award-winning healthcare communications practice at another agency. She is a former political adviser to a government health minister and a regular speaker on topics such as political strategy and policy-making, women’s health, social care, oncology, mental health, and rare diseases. Jenny is a trustee of MS Trust, PharmaTimes and PRCA judge, and a Findacure Patient Group mentor.