How To Build An Effective Pitch Deck Without Asking For An NDA

Katie-Rose Skelly, CTO and co-founder, Known Medicine

You’re probably iterating on your pitch deck, if you’re a health care entrepreneur. The pitch deck is your central tool to earn a meeting with investors or potential partners–so naturally, you want to make sure your startup’s value comes across effectively. Accomplishing this might include key technical achievements, development strategies, or even intellectual property. When working with scientific or technical founders, one of the common first questions to investors is, “Will you sign an NDA?” If you’ve asked this question, you have probably heard the polite, “No.” You might be asked instead for a “noncon deck.” So, why won’t investors and the like sign NDAs and what is a noncon deck?

Why investors won’t sign NDAs
Non Disclosure Agreements have become particularly ubiquitous in recent years. While there is a healthy debate on how enforceable these agreements are, professionals frequently engaging with potential partners, investments, or technologies won’t sign these agreements to limit their liability. These individuals meet dozens of startups daily and routinely engage with new technologies. Because of this volume of activity and the high likelihood that they are meeting with others in similar fields, the probability of being litigated against is significantly higher than other professions. For this primary reason, NDAs are not signed until certain stages of the deal process are reached (e.g. diligence, senior partner meetings etc).

Investors do not want to be unnecessarily exposed to confidential information either. Reputation is at the heart of these particular professions, and good investors are careful not to divulge information to others. Still, they also don’t want to be put in a position where they need to worry about what is confidential or not. And this is where the noncon deck comes in.

The noncon deck

Non-confidential decks are particularly prominent in life science where scientific or engineering strategy is at the heart of the business but divulging patents, targets, manufacturing methods, and mechanisms of action without an NDA are big no-nos (more on this below). The noncon deck is your pitch deck with all opportunities to “poach” your idea stripped out. Sometimes, you may even avoid discussing monetization models, pricing, or costs. These decks aim to share why you are awesome, not how you are awesome. Notably, the goal of any pitch deck is to land a meeting–not to communicate every inch of your business.

What should your noncon deck cover?

Fundamentally this is a pitch, and if you’re looking for how to write a pitch deck, I’ll leave a few links below for clearer guidance. In a health care noncon deck, there are some differences from a tech or consumer product pitch deck:

  1. Get extremely specific on the problem space– is it truly about an incurable disease? Or is it that current practices for the said disease cost hospitals and payers huge sums over the patient’s lifespan?
  2. Lead with the value to the customer
    Go beyond identifying the customer as “biopharma” or “United Healthcare” to explain how you are delivering more revenue, decreasing cost, creating a new market, or improving their competitive positioning (or all of the above!).
  3. Tactfully share your solution and its impact
    Be careful here! This is not where you put up chemical structures or specific mechanisms. Instead, briefly communicate what it is (cancer vaccine, a computational prediction method, etc.) and spend more time on the results–data–from your development. What is the impact of the therapeutic or platform versus the status quo?
  4. Clinical Utility
    If you are developing a diagnostic, you will need to spend time on how your innovation will change medical practice and outcomes. Many therapeutics will need to justify this as well. Why would an insurance company reimburse your product?
  5. How it works & the competition
    In the context of a noncon deck, I particularly prefer it when how it works is used to differentiate from a competitor or to show that you are different from therapeutics that have previously failed in clinical trials. How it works can be a slippery slope to divulging too much, so describe your methods minimally. If you’ve completed patent filings definitely share those, if not then I would think twice about sharing applications.
  6. Market opportunity, business model, reimbursement, and regulatory pathway
    These elements are extremely tied together. At the pre-seed stage, your audience wants to see that you appreciate how they are linked and have an understanding of the path forward. We don’t expect massive analyses or complete articulation of the next five years’ operation at this stage. A 24-month view is sufficient.
  7. Team
    Highlight your founders, 1–2 additional key executives and the top 2–3 advisors. Don’t overwhelm your audience with every individual involved. Make sure to include impressive institutions, achievements (previous companies), or distinctions for each individual.
  8. The ask
    If you are fundraising, you can consider including a proforma and use-of-funds slide. I see fewer of these at this stage and more decks with a simple target dollar value.
Ramji Srinivasan, CEO and co-founder, Teiko Bio

What to avoid including in your noncon deck?

  1. Details on how you manufacture or build your tech
    Don’t make it easy for others to reengineer your work! Instead, find analogies to describe particular breakthroughs to differentiate your solution from the status quo.
  2. Mechanism of action or specific targets
    If you’re developing a therapeutic, I would avoid divulging the aspects of your research that have led to a druggable target. Similarly, the target might be your differentiating component– don’t give it away. It is acceptable to use code names in place of these. The one exception is that some targets are exceptionally well-known as a desirable druggable site. In that case, disclosing the target is acceptable since how you attack the target is most likely the differentiating component of your tech.
  3. Anything you would consider a trade secret
    If there are components of your technology that aren’t easy to patent but are something your team has mastered, protect it. This is particularly of note if you are working with computational techniques but may include developments in imaging or specific cell culture methods.
  4. Anything currently being patented
    If you think you will patent a process, method, or compound, leave it out of your noncon deck until you have the patent secured.

If you’re operating in “stealth,” do you share noncon decks?
First, I have to push back on the idea of “stealth.” Think twice about what you gain by being in stealth mode. If you have a technological advantage, you most likely don’t need to subject yourself to secrecy. In the early stages, founders benefit from sharing ideas and speaking with mentors–stealth operating can limit this early learning. That being said, if this is your path, you still need a noncon deck. This deck will be a significantly shortened version but one that will help you communicate with the limited set of investors and mentors you want to engage. Here’s what stealth noncon decks typically look like:

  1. Team: Impressive details on the team that are building together
  2. Problem space: A majority of the deck real estate is spent on describing the core problem
  3. Mission of the company: The company’s hypothesis on how to address the problem stated and the technological focus of the company
  4. Foundational science supporting the approach: Discussion on what advances make their hypothesis feasible.

You’ll find that your noncon deck is rarely static and that you are constantly adapting it for the audience you are sending it to. To that extent, creating the confidential slides that easily slot in and out of your noncon deck can be valuable. This way, as you progress through meetings and eventually get an NDA in place you have fresh materials and value points to share.

If you need more help on developing your pitch deck here are a few sources:

You’ll notice that biotech slides are more data intensive which can risk the deck sinking into the realms of 120-slide academic presentations. Avoid the temptation to do that and try to marry the simplicity of YC’s approach with the impact of evidence.

For more help and information about getting your startup off the ground, feel free to email me at or comment below.




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