Recently I attended a Media Panel for StartX and StartX Med founders. StartX is a highly regarded startup mentorship and accelerator program, built and run by Stanford University students, with Silicon Valley executives, VCs, Stanford faculty helping the founders succeed. These founders apply for a six-month program; less than 10% get in. While the majority run tech startups, StartX Med, which kicked off in June 2012, has 11 newly minted companies, including a biotech outfit started by a 21-year-old who has figured out how to turn skin cells into beating heart cells, and won a $20 million grant from the CA Institute for Regenerative Medicine! Another student is developing precision guidance implants to treat G-I diseases; think pacemakers for the GI tract. How about a robotic manipulator that performs ultrasounds during cancer treatment? These young founders are the future of healthcare.In a conversation with life sciences PR genius Rick Roose, of RCI Partners, we share some basic PR pointers for StartX Med founders…
When it comes to PR – and getting stories published about medical technology and the human body — beware of FDA marketing regulations and making premature claims. Until your biotech, pharma, medical device or diagnostic product is commercially available proceed with caution on all external communication fronts. Some products could be years in development before they’ve been proven safe and effective for patients. These are hope-to-be products in the R&D pipeline, getting ready for clinical trials. They are investigational until approved by the FDA.
So startup communications must clearly state what stage of development the product is in, i.e., still in research, not yet approved, etc. Founders need to stick to the science, share the pros and cons, and avoid selective disclosure of positive results data. Talk about clinical data but don’t make inferences or implied claims for unapproved products. For groundbreaking medical research journalists will accept: “Here’s what we know so far;” or “The data is very encouraging;” or “Doctors are excited about this new approach…” If you’re running a clinical trial you can publicize positive results but your audience should know the product has a long way to go.
Some startups aim for a nice juicy story to attract investors and partners at this early stage. But what happens after the initial excitement wears off? Good PR maintains the media’s attention in a meaningful way with a plan that incorporates all possible elements, mapped out on a PR calendar and a budget allocated for execution. While the stem cell treatment product is in development be available as a media expert to be called upon for articles related to this evolving technology. You’ll have company news to announce along the way: new executive hires, new funding, new partners, a new advisory board, etc. Without a sustained effort, PR is a hit-and-miss affair. You can get some big hits but it will be tough to keep the buzz going.