By Dr Tim Fishlock, Head of Technology Transfer, Health Enterprise East
The innovation process, of translating an idea into a product or service, is not something you can do in isolation. It’s a team game. Finding and working with the right partners is crucial for any aspiring entrepreneur, and the success or otherwise of your venture can hang on who you choose to work with along the way. In the field of medical technology (MedTech), bringing a new medical device to market typically involves working with an array of different partners, such as IP and regulatory experts, product designers, clinicians, investors, manufacturers and distributors. Each of these relationships will have a different dynamic, different touchpoints through the process and will require you to tailor your approach.
Some of your key relationships will be with your funders. Non-diluting grants are vital for early-stage companies, supporting technology development and making your company more attractive for investment. Grants from UK Research & Innovation and the EU’s SME Instrument scheme are some of the best known, but the Small Business Research Initiative and the NIHR are also worth a look. For equity investment, business angels are vital for early-stage companies that do not have access to venture capital and have no revenues to pay bank interest. Most angels can be found online or via the UK Business Angels Association.
Although most start-ups don’t have the luxury of choosing their investors, researching the various groups’ investment criteria is important to maximise your chances of success. Your pitch needs to focus on the things that influence their investment decision, typically management team, IP and financial return. If you turn up to a pitch with the same deck of slides you present at scientific conferences, you’ve got the wrong deck. Also, don’t be afraid to admit past failures. Investors like to know that if you’re going to fail, you’ve already done it with someone else’s money.
Investors aside, the choice of partner is typically yours to make. But you still must do your homework. Take development partners for example. Not all manufacturers are made equal and whilst it might be tempting to opt for the lowest quote, there are other factors you need to consider. Are they ‘full service’ providing design and manufacture? Do they have appropriate systems infrastructure? For medical devices a quality management system conforming with ISO13485 requirements? Also look at the company they keep. Is your prospective partner well connected, are they able to demonstrate a track record of long, enduring professional collaborations with reputable parties?
No matter who your partner, following a few ‘golden rules’ should help maximise your chances of success.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Make sure you have a non-disclosure agreement and T&Cs that clearly lay out roles and responsibilities so there are no misunderstandings later on. Assumptions can be very dangerous and friendly understandings often backfire.
Timing is everything. Approach an investor too soon, armed with a poorly thought through business proposition and you’ll be shown the door. A door which may never open again. Approach a patent agent too late and you could have lost your IP position and investment proposition.
Does it feel right? Don’t ignore the intangible but very relevant aspect of personal chemistry: not everyone can work together and that’s ok. Better to part early and amicably than to end up in court together.
With these rules in mind, and keeping sight of your own objectives, you should find that you’re able to consider potential collaborations clearly, to find the perfect partners for your business.