Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lessons Learned from HealthXL Selection Day Event

Last week, I had the good fortune to participate as a mentor in the HealthXL startup boot camp selection day event.  HealthXL is a European-based accelerator program for startups in the health care space.  Startups at the event I attended in Minneapolis were competing for spots in the accelerator program in Dublin, Ireland.

As part of the selection process, each of the teams gave a four-minute pitch of their business plans.  They then had individual 30-minute meetings with each of the mentors.  At the end of this process, the mentors rated the teams based on concept, technology, potential market, team and other factors.  The top teams, based on those rankings, will be invited to Dublin for the three-month accelerator program.

The event was a great opportunity for the companies that participated, as they were able to present to several leading investors, entrepreneurs, business executives and other experts in the health care space.  Even for those companies that don’t get accepted into the accelerator program, that experience and exposure to industry leaders is valuable.   

The event must have also been quite grueling to the company participants.  The mentor meetings, which lasted for much of the day, not only involved positive feedback and helpful insights, but also challenging questions about business plans and go-to-market strategy.  A willingness to have your business dissected and critiqued at that level is one of the reasons I have such great respect for, and enjoy working with, entrepreneurs.  The best entrepreneurs are always challenging themselves and their teams to make their businesses better.

After having witnessed all the company pitches, and having sat through many mentoring sessions, I noted a few things that are important to remember when presenting to investors (or anyone else for that matter): 

1. It is important to be able to concisely describe what your business does, and why you do it.  While the initial pitches were only four minutes long, and not nearly long enough to explain all the facets of your business (market opportunity, executive team, competition, etc.), that should be enough time to explain, succinctly and in simple terms, the problem your business addresses and how it addresses that problem.  If you can’t do that in four minutes, you are not likely to be able to do it in 15 minutes, or 30 minutes, or an hour.  Most of the presenters did a good job of explaining their business and getting me hooked in that short four-minute period.  There were a few though, where after the presentation concluded, I had no idea what the business did.  Even with more time, I likely would have lost interest and started focusing on other things (such as what I was having for lunch or the errands my wife wanted me to run on the way home).  We all have limited attention spans, and if you can’t capture someone’s attention in a few short minutes, you’ve likely lost it forever.

2. Make sure you can explain your business to people who are not experts in your industry.  While most of the mentors at the event were health care experts, I am not.  I work with enough companies in the health care space that I am generally familiar with the issues facing the industry.  But I get lost in the technical jargon common to health care industry experts.  You, of course, need to be able to understand all of the technical aspects of your business and address questions and concerns raised by other experts, and discuss their concerns at the technical level they want.  Your presentations, though, should not assume that your audience has the same level of technical expertise you have.  Just because I don’t have that same level of expertise doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t be interested in investing in your company.

With those reminders, I will say that I was impressed by most of the teams at the HealthXL event, and think they are well poised for success.  A few months in HealthXL’s accelerator program will help them refine the finer points of their business plans and help them get ready to execute their strategy.  Thanks to HealthXL for creating this accelerator program, and best of luck to all the company participants.

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