For this edition of FinanciElle “Statements”, I had the opportunity to interview Suzanne Grant the Co-Founder and CEO of iBIONICS.
iBIONICS is doing for blind people what cochlear is doing for the deaf.
For years, visual implants using electrodes have demonstrated that some blind people can again see – a little. For decades Cochlear has demonstrated that by replicating natural sensory brain communication, deaf people can interpret speech, and even hear crickets chirp. iBIONICS is pulling these together – a better visual implant designed for sensory brain communication so a playing child can again be seen by her father. iBIONICS is returning sight to blind people.
Paolina: What has been your hardest experience dealing with your business and finance and what did you learn?
In a start-ups’ early days, there are so many new things to learn and build, new people to get to know, and many tasks competing for resources and attention.
In the early days of a life sciences start-up, the focus is typically directed towards building value and demonstrating you can hit your technical and clinical milestones out of the park. At the same time, it takes money to keep everything going. Everything is lean and, for most, a professional Chief Financial Officer is out of reach.
Since we started iBIONICS we’ve been fortunate to get into some valuable competitive accelerator programs in Boston, Toronto and Ottawa. We learned a lot in these programs and have been well surrounded by a life sciences Eco-system and pros.
Two of the programs had financial experts in residence and they helped us set up a sweat equity program for our founding team, to negotiate our cap table and to explore valuation. These were important steps.
After setting up the company, our finance learning goals were deal making and strategic long term financing. I struggled to find financial professionals with relevant experience in our space, at the stage we were at, and with a savvy approach to deal making.
What I learned
- You should look at your financing horizon like a chess board. Although you may be in the early days, today’s decisions will impact your future deals and opportunities for surviving and thriving. We are committed to fairly looking out for the interests of all our shareholders and getting the best possible returns for our investors at all phases. Some early financing decisions are impossible to reverse – so be sure. If your gut tells you the advice doesn’t make sense – listen and trust yourself.
- Carefully digest the advice you get. Then layer on your own analysis, critical thinking and instincts. Nobody knows your business like you do. Beware of cookie cutter advice based on other businesses, averages and norms. Every situation is unique, and every business has specific needs and each deal has flexibility.
- A good advisor /mentor will ask you questions and provide some information to help you find the answers.
We recently found a CFO with the right blend of experience depth and savvy deal making and strategic insight. He’s the guy we hired.
Paolina: What advice do you wish you had gotten about finance when you were first starting your business?
I wish I would have received more guidance on the financial deck (one of the decks that’s required to make an investment deal) and on investor decision criteria and what’s unique about making investment deals.
Early stage start-up advice is often mechanical, all start-ups are advised to fill in a deck template; but, that’s often not really a pitch, it’s a presentation. What’s relevant is advice on what investors need to know and how they typically make investment decisions. Informing the “why” instead of “how to fill in the template” can go far. The purpose of a pitch is to open a dialogue so you can make a deal. It’s an early step of many.
- Be specific about what you want from your advisors. Do you want to deliver a presentation;or,do you want to entice investors to learn more and let them see why your business is going to win the race and is worthy of investment and demands a serious look.
- I quickly learned that every investor is unique with their own investment goals. I think this is worth sharing with new entrepreneurs who may not be strategic and selective about what investors they spend their time pitching to.
Paolina: What topics would you want to learn more about when it comes to finance and your business and why?
I continue to attend workshops on financing terms and chat with my peers to learn about their experiences. Recently, my learning focus has been on mergers and acquisitions, so strategic investor terms will work for us down the road. I’m also learning about co-investment with VCs and strategic/corporate investors.
Suzanne’s curious and adventurous nature propelled her through a diverse career of discovery, travel and pushing boundaries. From Canadian Military engineering officer she pivoted to entrepreneurship creating The Art of Business in a frontier market. This strategic communications agency helped fortune 500 C Suite executives launch companies in emerging markets.
Today, as CEO and co-founder of iBIONICS, Suzanne’s mission is to return sight to blind people. She lives by her mantra, The Art of the Possible, blending cutting edge technology and social change with making the world better. Suzanne has been frequently described as the person who makes things happen.