Investor Tips on Branding for Startups, Part 1: When to budget for logo, web design, and science graphics?

SayoStudio Art Director Claire Agosti and Founder & Creative Director Nicolle Fuller recently attended the Life Science Innovation Northwest conference. They spoke with investors to get tips on branding for startups, and in particular, when to hire professional designers.

SayoStudio recently attended the Life Science Innovation Northwest (LSINW) conference to connect with the Seattle biotech and healthcare community. We’re excited to share our conference insights, including investor’s perspectives on science communication and branding for early-stage life science companies. In today’s post, we’ll focus on when to hire professional designers, and in part 2 coming up, we’ll review what information investors are looking for.

We arrived at LSINW excited to learn about the innovative science in Seattle, and to better understand the investor landscape. We learned a lot about what investors look for and when might be the right time for a company to invest in branding and professional design. Below, we share what investors advised on when companies should budget for professional design services.

Strategizing cohesive science branding and visuals

Over the years we’ve followed many scientists from their initial academic lab through transitioning into a thriving biotech company. After creating many mode of action diagrams, animated explainer videos, and pitch deck designs; we’ve gathered a lot of tips on how best to convey science and innovation.

SayoStudio’s conference poster to explain how SayoStudio helps scientists, startups and companies elevate their brand with science communication.

Yet, we’re always looking to grow and learn, and we’ve realized that as an industry leader we can do more to help clients strategize their science visuals and branding for maximum effectiveness. 

LSINW was the perfect place to see how life science companies are working hard to position themselves, and on the other hand, what investors are looking for. Investors at the conference were incredibly giving of their time and expertise, and we had a chance to ask a few questions. 

One of those questions that we asked investors was:

All agreed that it is, indeed, a hard question to answer, especially in the competitive post-pandemic market. Effective visuals will help catch an investor’s attention and clearly show what is unique, to help GET funding. Yet, as an early start-up when funds are scarce, it’s always a hard decision. The investors we spoke with largely agreed that it comes down to the funding stage. Next, we’ll go into more detail with questions about what that means. 

Which funding stage makes sense to hire a design studio for science branding?

We spoke with the wonderful advocate for science communication, investor Dr. Richard Giersch about federal STTR and SBIR grants from institutions like NIH and NSF. These grants are awarded to innovative academic scientists, making the leap to start a company. We discussed how funds earmarked for business development can be used for science communication and branding.  However, there are ALSO two phases to these grants, and they differ greatly. 

  • In Phase 1 the total grant is ~$600,000 with $6,500 for business operation.
  • Phase 2 awards $2 million total, with $65,000 for business operations.
SayoStudio’s guide to Strategy, Visualization and Optimization.

The numbers are pretty clear, it often isn’t until Phase 2 that it makes sense to invest in branding and professional design support. 

Another investor and science communication advocate, Dr. Loretta Little, agreed with Dr. Giersch but explained it from the perspective of a startup without government grants. Without federal funding, initial funding comes from savings accounts, family and friends, and is otherwise known as bootstrapping (which we can relate to here at SayoStudio!). She too believed that it isn’t until finding initial seed investment that professional graphic design support is worthwhile. She also added one more consideration: Time

She’s seen companies pay for branding right away, only to realize 2-3 years in that their main focus has shifted, and that their branding needs to evolve as well. Therefore, her advice is to also consider the age of one’s company, and wait for professional logo design and websites after a few years in.

Mode of action diagrams can be engaging, captivating, and beautiful! This MOA for Kezar biosciences shows the importance of the proteasome as a drug target. This was created by our founder, Nicolle R. Fuller, SayoStudio.

So… maybe I should wait to hire a professional for logo design? What now?

So, does this mean that if you’re just starting out, working with a professional is out of the question? We’re of course a little biased, but we argue that when budgets are tight, it’s more valuable to invest in clear science diagrams, still or animated, to really show your mode of action and technological impact. Branding can wait, and your infographics can be synced to your company’s style later. 

Ok, so you may have decided after reading these branding strategies that you’re NOT ready to hire a professional, so what now? The reality is, that a functional website is necessary. A clean basic logo does lend weight to the impressions that you and your science make. Yes, a professionally designed logo comes with many benefits, but if you just don’t have the budget, there are low-cost ways to do a lot of this yourself until you are able to hire a craftsman. 

SayoStudio presented their poster at the Life Science Innovation Northwest conference.

DIY Branding and Design Resources for Tech and Life Science Startups

Although we love working with startups early, this investor feedback echoed what we’ve been thinking for some time. Visuals to communicate are becoming ever more important in our modern landscape. How can we help academic scientists and early startups that aren’t in a place to invest in professional graphics?

This reaffirms our vision of creating educational resources to help scientists effectively create their own figures, and yes, even logos.  We’d love to hear if this resonates with you in the comments, and what kind of resources you would like. 

  • Pitch deck design tips, templates, or both?
  • Best practices for figures, graphical abstracts, and mode-of-action diagrams?
  • Symbol banks to differentiate your work from BioRender, and fill in their gaps in science content? 

Please let us know what resources you’d like, and we look forward to sharing tips. In Part 2 we will review what investors are looking for in new investments, and how to do that visually!

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