Hardware start-ups: why clearly communicating your idea is just as critical as getting the technical bit right

Posted on: 05/10/2020
Heads with cogs

Getting a physical product to market requires breadth of expertise and experience. It’s never a solo voyage. Engendering support from others is essential.

Pitching is so much more than just talking to investors. Communicating your idea and your ask clearly matters at every single stage of the process. In a busy landscape, with the odds stacked against you, good communication is essential to secure the support and feedback you need. 

In terms of improving your chances of successfully navigating the journey, effective verbal and written communication of your idea is as important (if not more) as technical models and drawings. 

Abi Hird from the KTN Manufacturing team proposes 3 ways to think about sharing your idea:


A pitch is like a model or prototype

A model is an abstraction of reality. It might be a mathematical or computational simulation, a cardboard model or a 2D model like a sketch or process diagram. Even a word, sentence, paragraph or evaluator pitch can be conceptualised as a model. 

Creating a model helps us clarify our own thinking, exercise our ideas and expand our understanding. Also, just like a prototype, modelling with words and sentences can help us generate feedback. Writing and speaking is one of the most effective, easiest, cheapest and most overlooked mechanisms for modelling, prototyping and testing ideas.

Write down your ideas, craft the structure, refine how you communicate verbally. Test how your ideas are interpreted and look for feedback as a means to improve both your communication and your idea. 

The content of your model is key. The videos and articles from our recent online series Navigating the Design to Manufacture Journey or our design tool, Innovation Canvas can help you consider the key components. 


In a busy landscape you can conceptualise asking for support of any kind as ‘a pitch’ 

Whether it is time or cash, resources can be scarce and capacity limited. Developing a physical product is risky (the data suggests only a small percentage of product ideas will succeed). With grant funding, private investment, innovation support or even paid-for design consultancy services, a judgement needs to be made about where to spend time and cash. 

Supporters and collaborators are looking to invest in whoever is most likely to deliver the return.

Clearly articulating what you are doing and why they should get involved, will open doors. Equally, anything opaque or ambiguous in your message presents a barrier and attention could be distracted elsewhere. 

When requesting support, be as clear and concise as possible. Even if you’re not quite ready, it can help to create a pitch deck or a draft funding application, such as an Innovate UK Smart grant. As well as helping to clarify your thinking, this will help you think through the ingredients of innovation from an investor or funder point of view. 


Have a call to action in your message, and embrace challenging questions

Whether you are pitching for investment, asking for support from organisations such as  KTN or engaging with a design consultancy, having a clearly constructed ‘ask’ makes it easier for busy people to respond. It’s quite likely they won’t commit your request straight away. They might challenge your ideas (super helpful!) or refer you on to someone else who can help. Take this in the spirit it is intended.

Questions to challenge or interrogate your idea are designed to:

  • Establish a clearer view of the context, in order to work out how best to provide support.
  • Develop clarity around your proposition and thinking
  • Test your commitment to progress the idea. Short, ill conceived answers won’t reflect well. Successfully taking a hardware product to market requires tenacity and an ability to build relationships. 


It is worth putting significant effort into your communication no matter what you are looking for – investment, grant funding, support, time or money.  Appreciation of the value of what you are asking for should reflect the effort you put into communication. 

Getting your pitch right can make the difference between success and failure. 


We delivered a series of webinars – Navigating the Design to Manufacture Journeyduring lockdown, where we engaged with a number of industry experts exploring all aspects of systems thinking from funding and investment to scaling up manufacturing. If you managed to join us for some or all of these webinars, great. If not, you can catch up on recordings from the series here.

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