Beyond Science: Convincing Your Way to Commercialization


Advancing your startup to its inflection point requires a solid understanding of the domain and the creativity to validate and fund your product, mastering the art of pitching to different stakeholders, and, most importantly, never losing sight of the human element.

Key Lessons From This Playbook

  • Go deeper than you think: Understand every aspect of the problem you're tackling.
  • Prototype to prove the concept: Use tangible prototypes to show the potential and viability of your idea.
  • Rehearse, refine, and tailor your pitch: Continuously practice and improve your pitch. Incorporate feedback from both your mentors and the people you’re pitching to and adjust your narrative to resonate with different investors.
  • Explore unconventional methods: Discover different ways of bringing your product to the real world, such as pilot study programs, different regulatory paths, and various types of funding vehicles like grants, clinicians, or even crowdfunding.  
  • Prioritize patient comfort: Ensure treatments are both scientifically sound and patient-friendly.
  • Engage continuously with investors and users: Keep a constant line of communication open with both investors and end users for ongoing feedback and support.

Talk to More People Than You Think

Armed with a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from UCLA, Shyam Natarajan started his career as an academic and worked as a postdoctoral scholar in UCLA's Department of Surgery, focusing on minimally-invasive surgical interventions.

Shyam was involved with prostate cancer research when he saw a possibility for advancement in the diagnostics of this disease through the integration of advanced artificial intelligence and imaging technologies. He soon decided to move beyond academia to pursue this opportunity and founded Avenda Health. Today, Avenda is developing Unfold AI, a platform technology that offers a personalized, color-guided 3D map that shows how far cancer has extended within the prostate, enabling the physician to see the full picture and make better decisions.

Shyam’s journey wasn’t a leap of faith. Even though he’s an expert with a PhD related to prostate cancer, he conducted around 20 interviews per week during the early days of Avenda to widen his perspective. “Just because you've spotted a problem, you don't necessarily know at first blush if it's a widespread problem or if it's tangled in technology, clinical workflow, or reimbursement,” Shyam reflects.

That’s why Shyam prefers showing rather than telling. “It's all about proving out the concept, and then getting to the next stage,” Shyam says. His team developed a basic prototype that served as tangible proof of his concept’s viability and potential impact, as well as the foundation for gathering evidence and making informed decisions on whether to proceed further with the project.

Nail Your Narrative

Cecile Brosset Dubois transitioned from strategic roles at esteemed firms like Bain & Company to the cutting-edge world of medtech startups by co-founding Sonio. Her company is developing AI software that empowers ultrasound specialists to conduct more effective prenatal screenings and aids experts in fetal diagnosis.

Cecile says, “I had an ambitious vision building this full platform, but I think people didn't always understand that or didn't always think we could do that.” Her ability to articulate her vision in a compelling and engaging way has been as crucial to her success as the innovative idea behind Sonio itself.

Under Cecile's leadership, Sonio has achieved significant funding milestones, raising €5 million in pre-seed, €10 million with the EIC Accelerator, and then €13 million in their Series A round. These challenges taught Cecile that it’s not just what you communicate, but how you communicate. In other words, how you tell your story really matters. Different investors have different interests and concerns, so Cecile tailors her pitches to resonate specifically with each group. "It wasn't about changing the reality but about framing our story to align with their priorities so that they feel comfortable investing,” she shares.

And last, but maybe most importantly, rehearse your pitch as many times as possible. Seek input from mentors, people who can help you view your project through the lens of potential investors. Cecile advises, “You have to talk to a lot of people to really nail your narrative before you actually start pitching the fancy VCs.”

Find Creative Ways to Validate Your Tech

Kelly Roman, a Harvard graduate with a major in English, has charted an unconventional course. When he co-authored a graphic novel adaptation of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" the lens he saw the world through suddenly shifted to a warrior’s — or an entrepreneur’s — mindset. He then went on to co-found Fisher Wallace Labs with a tech-savvy friend. That’s where Kelly is now — at the forefront of wearable brain stimulation technology, working to alleviate the hardships and stigma around mental health treatments through neuromodulation.

Under Kelly's leadership, Fisher Wallace has successfully navigated FDA and fundraising, mainly thanks to adaptive thinking and resourcefulness. They introduced their latest product, Oak, as an investigational device in the Engineering Validation Test (EVT) stage, which allows them to use it for clinical studies or pilot research programs prior to the final FDA approval — as long as there's informed consent and monitoring. Kelly says, “We were able to collect data and demonstrate that a partner like the Seattle Police Department can adopt it if they think it's valuable. It's real-world evidence, outside of the lab.”

Traditional funding methods are not the only way to raise capital. Thanks to its user base, Fisher Wallace was able to take a different approach to capital raising — crowdfunding — and close the round successfully.

To take a leaf from Kelly’s book, look beyond standard clinical trials to gather valuable data. By engaging with real-world users in pilot programs, you can collect practical feedback and enhance product validation. And if you have an existing customer base, like Fisher Wallace did, use it to your advantage. Engaging with these users for feedback, validation, and even crowdfunding can provide a solid foundation for further expansion.

Don’t Forget the Human Element

Patricia Zilliox, a veteran in the field of ophthalmology with over thirty years at Alcon, now spearheads Eyevensys, a startup developing an innovative ophthalmology device designed to inject DNA plasmids into the ciliary muscle.

Patricia's experience has taught her the importance of empathy and the human element in medical innovation, especially when it comes to sensitive areas like the eye. She reminds us that effective treatment goes beyond scientific innovation; you have to consider the patient's comfort and willingness to undergo the procedure.

For instance, Patricia says, “If you have a treatment that you know is going to work, but [the patient would] have to have an injection in the eye every day, forget about that: it’s not going to work.” Successful medical treatments must be as user-friendly as much as they are scientifically sound, to make sure that patients are willing and able to benefit from them.

Keep Your Investors Close and End-Users Closer

Eugene Malinskiy, a serial entrepreneur, made a shift from IT to the world of medtech startups by founding Lazurite. When he saw a physician's assistant tripping over surgical camera wires, he knew this field was in dire need of innovation. Recognizing the cumbersome nature of wired camera systems in surgeries, lazurite developed its flagship product, ArthroFree, the first wireless camera system for minimally invasive surgery to ever receive FDA clearance.

Central to Eugene's strategy was his early and consistent engagement with surgeons. For example, during the crucial prototype phase of ArthroFree, he actively sought their input, taking care to understand their specific needs and preferences. His collaboration with surgeons was obviously pivotal in fine-tuning the device's design. But then something less obvious happened: the surgeons were so on board with the idea they turned into investors.

Keeping in touch with your investors and end users is critical, and Eugene was able to do both in one stroke. He says, “As I developed the product over the years, I kept going back and talking to those surgeons: What’s your market? How much would you pay for it? Who’s on your team? How are the decisions being made? For you as a surgeon, if I got rid of these cables, would this matter? And they provided me with a lot of input, which I then incorporated. I was able to use those surgeon-investors to help build and create a very nice product.”

This strategy proved to be a masterstroke: it provided both capital and continuous feedback, thereby shaping ArthroFree into a product that’s completely aligned with user needs. The surgeons on the board also helped attract more sophisticated investors during Lazurite's Series B financing stage.

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