So, you have a great idea for a new medical device that could improve outcomes, save lives, and make your company lots of money. You just need to get your idea in front of the right person to help make it a reality—which, of course, is easier said than done.
Selling ideas to upper management was the topic of discussion during a plenary session at the recent MD&M Minneapolis Conference. Experts on the panel shared these tips to give your pitch its best chance of success.
Find a champion.
Ralph Cardinal, R&D director of electronic medical equipment for Boston Scientific, relayed the story of an engineer who comes to his office every Friday to discuss the ideas he has for new products. Cardinal said it’s an informal meeting, but it gives the engineer the chance to have his ideas heard and—perhaps more importantly—to gain a sponsor who can advocate those ideas to higher-ups in the business.
“In doing that he was able to move forward several ideas,” Cardinal says.
Consider what it will take for your idea to succeed.
As vice president for R&D, infection prevention, at Becton Dickinson, Jennifer Raeder-Devens said she gets emails at least once a week about a new idea for a product, and she’s the person who has to decide whether they’re worth pursuing.
“When I first see an idea, I’m really looking for three things,” she explained.
- Does the person understand the patient or the clinical problem they’re treating?
- Do they understand the market, including the incidence of disease, its prevalence, comorbidities, and the environment in which it will be treated?
- Do they understand the technology that will be needed to solve the problem?
Know the company you’re pitching.
Raeder-Devens said when she gets ideas that come from outside of her organization, she has to weigh those against everything she’s already working on internally. As a result, it can be harder for outside ideas to gain traction.
“The story needs to be a lot more built out to get in the door,” she said.
If you’re pitching a company you’re not currently working for, she recommends doing some research to gain an understanding of that company’s strategic plan, so you can tell them where it fits within the organization.
Build your business skills (or bring in backup).
Matt Adams is vice president and general manager at Minnetronix, where he helps develop strategy, tactics, and programs to drive the company’s neurocritical care business. He said he often sees people pitch ideas, and while they have lots of technical knowledge, they lack business acumen.
“We spend a lot of time focusing beyond the technical idea,” he said. “There are a lot of good technical ideas out there, but where people really struggled was in trying to fill in the business details.”
If business savvy isn’t your strong suit, that doesn’t mean your idea is doomed, though.
“Surround yourself with folks who can fill in the gaps,” Adams said.
Tell a compelling story.
Many former startups that went on to become success stories started with a compelling origin story—think of Hewlett Packard’s humble beginnings in a Silicon Valley garage. That’s not a coincidence.
“A lot of good pitches start with a story,” Cardinal said.
When pitching medtech ideas in particular, he suggested focusing on what your product could do to help someone.
Understand the process.
If you’re pitching an idea within the company you work for, be sure to investigate existing pathways the company has established to bring innovations to light.
“We’ve got a formal process that’s pretty well laid out,” Cardinal said. “We’re trying to make it easier for those pitching, and we’ve already done some of the work that the pitcher would have done themselves. What I mean by that is that we’ve identified areas within our core products, and adjacencies, and transformative where we’d really like to see ideas and innovations within the company.”
Know how to read your audience.
If your pitch is going poorly, Raeder-Devens recommended not continuing to push the issue with a party that isn't interested. Instead, shift gears and try to learn as much as you can from the failure.
“It’s really important to become very curious,” she said. “Change the conversation and start asking questions. Ask what it is they’re looking for in clinical validation, or manufacturability, or IP.”