10 Nov Medical product companies win Elevator Pitch Olympics
Madison, Wis. – Imagine the challenge of describing your new company, its unique technology, leadership team, and financial need, during a chance elevator encounter with a potential investor. You need to provide a lot of information in a crystal-clear fashion before the investor gets off.
Efficiency and clarity rule during such opportune encounters, and this is the idea behind the Elevator Pitch Olympic competition, a highlight of the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.
Eighteen companies were selected to give their “elevator” pitches. The catch was that each presenter had only 90 seconds to garner the interest of an expert panel of eight investors from Wisconsin and Illinois.
Left to their own devices
This year, two early-stage companies that are developing medical products emerged victorious. Greg Dokter, founder of ByzMed, LLC won in the first category, which was for investors were most likely to invite entrepreneurs to further talks. Bonnie Reinke from Eso Technologies won the second category, where investors were likely to read entrepreneurs’ business plans.
The fittingly named Dokter has developed a homeopathic herbal product to stop bleeding. It is a topical agent as well as a nasal spray that can be used to stop chronic nose bleeds in people with clotting disorders, like hemophilia. Dokter, who has been a pharmacist for 15 years, also has been a “life-long nose bleeder,” which is what drove him to develop his product.
Reinke explained that Eso Technologies is developing a heart monitor that can be inserted down the throat and placed next to the heart, rather than threaded through a leg vein and directed through the heart and into the lungs. Such a heart monitor often is used during surgery and its invasiveness is responsible for about 20,000 surgical deaths a year, according to Reinke. The throat route provides just as good cardiac monitoring but with minimal risk.
The judges liked both winners because, as panelist Robert Okabe from Chicago pointed out, they “hit all the right buttons” and convinced the judges that there was a reasonable market that they could penetrate with their products.
Interestingly, the scoring often varied dramatically between judges for the same presentation. The judges’ comments clearly indicated that their own personal interests and expertise swayed their voting. This fact highlights the need for an entrepreneur to target an investor who is likely to understand and appreciate his product and market space.
Also, the judges’ scores generally reflected greater willingness to look at a business plan than to talk further with the presenter. While a brief pitch can pique an investor’s interest, investors mostly preferred to get further details from a business plan, illustrating that an entrepreneur’s plan needs to anticipate all questions a potential investor might have.
A common criticism of the presentations was that the pitch did not adequately help the judges fully grasp the value of the company’s product or market.
A few presenters did not speak English as their first language and their presentations suffered for that reason. Illinois-based investor Dennis Serio who was not on the panel of judges, agreed that the language barrier can be a significant challenge for such entrepreneurs, but he was adamant that he would not allow a surrogate to pitch to him. He emphasized that he needs to speak directly with company leaders in order to assess the quality of the management team.
The Symposium, which drew about 500 participants from the Midwest and beyond, is an annual conference that has existed under different names for more than 20 years and is produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council. The conference brings early-stage companies and potential investors together for two days of presentations and networking.