Pitching the Science: Communicating the Tech in Climate Tech
Many climate tech founders struggle with untangling the complicated science or technology behind their product, which can impact their ability to raise capital, make strategic business alliances, and create excitement around their company.
We sat down with Aarati Asundi, PhD, for her top five tips to help startups to paint a picture of their work that’ll hit home even for non-experts. Aarati founded Sykom, a science communications company that empowers climate founders to effectively present their work to investors, business partners, and customers.
Focus on what matters
Your audience will likely have different backgrounds, interests, priorities than you do, and you’ll need to tailor your message accordingly. Most won’t be fellow scientists, so don’t bombard them with technical jargon or get bogged down with complicated details.
For the majority of investors you’ll interact with, their main concern is how your product is going to solve a problem for your customers and generate returns– make sure these points are front and center in your pitch.
Before pitching to investors that are more technical in nature, do your homework on their backgrounds to adjust further. Depending on their level of expertise, you can demonstrate technical depth without flooding prospective investors with too much granular detail. If the VC you’re pitching did their PhD in your field, you can get a little extra nerdy; if they have an engineering degree that’s unrelated, you might want to keep your technical information at a higher level. It’s key to adjust in the moment and watch their social cues for confusion, boredom, etc.
You can also let investors drive the conversation by asking them to look at your pitch deck before the meeting. That way, rather than being flooded with unnecessary information, they’ll be equipped to ask questions about the parts they’re interested in hearing more about or having clarified.
The same is true for prospective customers or partners; for the vast majority, the details of your technology will take a back seat to the benefits it will provide for them. Anchor your messaging around the concrete problem your technology solves.
Shine a light on your team
Since potential investors and business partners will be closely comparing you to your competitors, you’ll need to be able to define what makes you stand out from the pack and therefore more likely to succeed. But don’t fall into the trap of claiming your technology is the only thing that makes you exceptional– tech is always a work in progress, and you might have to pivot once you realize that what you originally had in mind won’t work.
Use this opportunity to explain who you are, and the unique qualities that make you the best team for the job. Why do you have what it takes to handle the inevitable obstacles that will come up? What makes you the best team to implement this new technology? Now’s the time to show off your background and highlight what makes you different, because getting your audience to believe in the people behind your company might be the clincher in getting them to invest.
Use your data deliberately
If someone doesn’t believe something, inundating them with a mountain of data isn’t going to convince them of it. Data is also not an effective tool to explain a concept to someone who’s starting from zero. Start with the assumption that your audience has no technical background; throwing a spreadsheet at them is only going to bore and confuse them.
Put the data aside (at the beginning) and start with your story. When you strip back all of the tangential technical details, and simplify your message as much as possible, what’s the emotional narrative that you’re left with? Your story is what you’ll leverage to connect with your audience.
Once you have this narrative figured out, then you can use your data to back it up. Less is more - is there a single data point that really drives home the scale of the problem you’re solving? Again, remember your audience and only include information that’ll grab their attention without overwhelming them.
To help build your narrative, try testing it out on people who don’t know the first thing about your company. What are they confused or bored by? Think about simplifying or removing the data at these points if it isn’t crucial to your narrative. What are the three things that felt most important? Consider including some data to drive these points home even more. They won’t be able to give you input from an investor’s perspective, but can help strengthen your story.
Don’t be afraid to be creative. While your company might run on hard facts and figures, a winning pitch needs a story that sells. Don’t shy away from using analogies or metaphors - even imperfect ones - to help illustrate the potential impact of your product. By doing so, you’re giving your audience something memorable to act as their anchor point. You can then build from there to bring them onboard for the more complicated nuances.
Bring your passion to every meeting
Your motivation is your drive, and sharing it will help convince investors that you’re the right person for the job. Why are you so committed to fixing this problem? Maybe it’s that you want to leave a better future for your kids, or stave off the destruction that your homeland faces. Whatever it is, your motivation will play a role in determining whether or not you’re successful - don’t leave that part of you at home.
You can also bring out other parts of your personality in the meeting, such as your sense of humor, as this will break the tension and help your audience connect with you. But don’t fake it based on what you think is expected of you– just be yourself.
Aarati Asundi is the founder of Sykom, a science communications company that specializes in creating digital media content. She leverages her PhD training from UCSF in Biomedical Sciences to quickly understand complex technologies and help break them down for a general or targeted audience. Sykom aims to bridge the gap between science and marketing. The interdisciplinary team of scientists and marketers at Sykom specialize in iIllustrated explainer videos, science writing, pitch decks, and consulting.