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Tips for founders – perseverance pays off

Michael Salako, Investment Director at Start Codon, has been out and about this last month meeting founders, investors and partners from across the ecosystem. Here he shares some tips for founders, off the back of the conversations he's been having.

Michael has been taking part in panels and speaker opportunities including Innovate UK events, the Department for Business and Trade Global Entrepreneur Programme, BIA Pulse 2024 and even judging the Cambridge Judge Business School EnterpriseTECH awards.

This has led to many rich conversations with founders about the challenges they face. And one topic just keeps coming up: the fundraising environment is consistently on people's minds. Reflecting on these conversations, Michael has put together some key take-aways for founders...

“Now we’re coming to the end of the first quarter of 2024, we’ve just started seeing a few signs of change in the funding environment, with some large deals going through, like Tagomics recently closing a £6.7m seed round, and a decent start to the year and positive outlook for stock markets in the US. But right now, founders are still feeling the pinch. There are a few things I think founders can focus on, with one overarching piece of advice – persevere!

Tip 1: Focus on investors who invest in your space

As a founder, your time is precious. So, when going out to raise, make sure you focus your efforts on those who are most likely to be interested in what you’re doing.

It may take a bit more time upfront, but understanding what investments someone has made previously and what areas they’re interested in will go a long way to helping you. Take a look at their website, see who is in their existing portfolio – a therapeutics focused investor with only therapeutics companies in their portfolio, won’t just change their investment thesis, even if you believe your medtech device is the best out there, so don’t waste your time or theirs.

Tip 2: Identify how to bridge gaps in your team

For an investor, the team and their ability to deliver is a crucial factor. Without the right people, the chances of success are significantly reduced. There will always be gaps in early-stage teams, as everyone has to wear multiple hats. So, take the time to understand, acknowledge and show how you will mitigate for these gaps to build investor confidence. For example, bringing in a credible Chair/NEDs who believe in the company, and who can lend their experience to help drive commercial success can make a huge difference and build investor confidence.

Tip 3: Tell a consistent, compelling story

Here’s something you may not want to hear. There’s no such thing as a perfect pitch deck – you will end up iterating as your company and position develops. But no matter the version, you need to make sure you are telling your company story consistently, and in a compelling way. Outline the problem and how your unique solution addresses this in a way nobody else can. If you’re presenting a solution in need of a problem, investors will spot this immediately. You may want to include some proof-of-concept evidence to whet the appetite of the investor (less is more in relation to scientific detail), and you need to show you understand the competitive landscape – all this can help position why your offering is the one to invest in.

You may not have the money to get everything designed, and that’s ok in the early stages, but if that’s the case – keep it simple! Don’t use loads of different colours and fonts, and if it looks like a 90s PowerPoint, think about using the in-built design tools to update your look and feel.

Tip 4: Every day is a school day – so go in willing to learn

While the aim of pitching to investors is to ultimately to secure funding, the chance to pitch is also a chance to learn. This is the opportunity to hear what investors are asking and think about which things you could address up front in future pitches. And crucially, it’s the chance to take onboard direct feedback from investors. Every pitch should be, at the very least, a chance to gain knowledge, understand more about the market, and improve on your positioning to increase your chances of success when you pitch again.

The founders who go on to secure future investment are those who persevere. Will you be turned down? Yes – not every opportunity is right for every investor. But being open to feedback, resilient in the face of rejection and able to learn from every opportunity will set you up for success in future.

In summary, persevere, stay positive and hustle hard!"

Photo credit: EnterpriseTECH, Cambridge Judge Entrepreneurship Centre