Do Traditional Marketing Techniques Apply to Life Sciences?

1 May

By Dennis Ford, Founder & CEO, LSN

Dennis book

I am a big fan of Steve Blank. For those who are unfamiliar he’s an entrepreneur and startup thought leader who has created and promoted relevant timely programs revolving around  startup strategy, fundraising, and iterating small business.

A recent focus of his is i-Corps, an audacious effort supported by a number of government organizations and spearheaded by the National Science Foundation. The goal of this program is to help early stage innovators make their ideas and technologies into real products.

Steve really stresses being “market-focused.” I am simplifying here, but he teaches how to go about validating the market for a product. He is a proponent of polling and surveying techniques that help scientists determine if there are potential clients or users for a particular product. He then encourages scientists to find large groups of these potential users and vet them. If the scientists get agreement, they have validated the market and it’s full speed ahead. If they don’t, the scientists may have to iterate or pivot until they get a group consensus and thus, market validation.

Steve’s process is a universe onto itself. He teaches through his programs why using practical common sense methodologies can drastically help in determining market acceptability. Given the NIH’s recent announcement that they will participate in i-Corps, I’m anxious to see how he adapts his philosophy (developed for software and new age media) to life sciences. I expect that much of his philosophy will transfer well. Nevertheless, the life sciences arena is unique: More often than not, the need is rather obvious: these technologies are changing or saving lives.

Probably half of the early stage life science investors (for example, family offices, venture philanthropy, patient groups, and foundations) are not as concerned as other investors about rate of return on dollars invested. They want to find a treatment for a specific type of patient (in the case of family offices, it is often a family member). This goes beyond “market adoption” and requires a different way of thinking about how to approach fundraising.

The goal for these investors is finding the best assets and the best scientists to move science forward and improve patient lives. It’s not a question of justifying a market. These technologies are addressing serious medical needs, and the key for emerging scientist-entrepreneurs is to identify where they fit and how to target the investors that are right for them. Raising capital in the life sciences is different than a traditional “market validation” approach. It’s all about finding the right investor for you, and positioning yourself accordingly. The real news here is that the NIH is embracing the fact that scientist-entrepreneurs have to broaden their understanding of rudimentary sales and marketing.

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