The pitch deck I used to raise $1.3 million in initial funding for my tire company — that we’re still using a year later for a second round
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- Earl Cole and Brian Yennie cofounded The Smart Tire Company, which has a partnership with NASA.
- They raised $1.3 million in 2021 and are now seeking an additional $3.7 million for a bicycle tire.
- Here’s the pitch deck they’re using, a slightly revised version of the first, with updated data.
In 2020, Brian Yennie and I started The Smart Tire Company, which produces airless, high-performance tires made from shape memory alloys, or SMAs — materials originally invented at NASA that can be deformed at one temperature but when heated or cooled return to their original shape.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we turned circumstance into opportunity and started working on Mars rover technology with NASA Glenn, a research center in Cleveland that designs and develops innovative technology to advance NASA’s missions in aeronautics and space exploration.
A FedTech accelerator program that NASA Glenn sponsors normally takes place in Ohio, but because of the pandemic it went virtual and opened up to entrepreneurs around the country. A recruiter from FedTech found me on LinkedIn and invited me to apply.
Brian and I didn’t have backgrounds within the tire industry, but we did have experience in business, startups, and disruptive technologies. I was a founder of three previous startups: Fanstreme, a sports tech company founded in 2016; Smush Mobile Technologies, an SMS mobile marketing company founded in 2013; and Particle 5 Interactive, a company founded in 2010 that developed proprietary in-video/photo advertising technology for mobile platforms.
In 2021, we raised $1.3 million to test the market and build more prototypes. We opened a 5,000-square-foot facility in Akron, Ohio, and formed strategic partnerships with Felt Bicycles, Spin Mobility of Ford Motor Company, and other leading automotive and aerospace companies. We’re now seeking an additional $3.7 million in preparation for our first commercial product, a bicycle tire that’s set to launch in the fourth quarter and has a waitlist of more than 4,300 potential customers.
Here’s the pitch deck we’re using to get investors on board — a slightly revised version, with updated data, of the one we used for our first round of funding.
In our first slide we wanted to introduce the original lineup of SMA tires that were developed at NASA, from a spring tire used for interplanetary rover exploration to the first prototypes of an automotive and bicycle tire made from our core shape memory alloy, NiTinol (nickel titanium). NiTinol is a type of SMA that’s superelastic, lightweight, and durable and can be formulated into shapes like a tire.
The tires look unique and interesting, so it sets the tone right away for the overall deck of thinking different and thinking big.
In this slide we wanted to keep things simple with a thoughtful image interrupted by a relatable problem. We started off with a statement that drives an emotional response: NASA hates flat tires even more than you do.
We wanted to connect to people’s imagination from a familiar viewpoint. A road to the stars helps the audience visualize tires, or a vehicle, moving forward and making progress, and imagine going on this journey with us to an amazing destination (or an IPO).
This is our “science behind the technology” slide. The science can be complex to explain, so we preferred to establish up front that this is a science-driven company and not just another take on an existing technology.
Whenever possible we prefer to give in-person or video demos of the material in action. A simple demonstration involves bending and stretching an SMA wire side by side with steel to show how it quickly snaps back into its original shape while the steel is ruined.
Practically everyone can relate to everyday problems with tires. We keep it simple here while educating with some key numbers, like 50 billion pounds of waste and 200 million flats per year, and pointing out the limits of run-flats, tires laced with a chemical sealant that fills a hole temporarily if a tire is punctured. The run-flat tire then needs to be replaced with a new tire. We’ve found that run-flat technology is a source of confusion for many people who aren’t familiar with the limitations.
Our solution slide is designed to quickly address the most relatable aspects of the technology, leaving more subtle topics like rolling resistance, tire footprint, and uneven wear for a later discussion. We’re using space-age metal to create a long-lasting tire that rides great and looks great.
The breadth and depth of the tire market can be an overwhelming topic, so we chose to focus on the target for the first product. The market is big enough, at almost $20 billion, and shows we’re addressing a fast-growing and profitable niche first.
While we’re highly focused on the two-wheel market, investors want to know that we’re planning to address the big fish: automotive and aerospace. Here we show off a few early prototypes, which can spark discussion about the future of cars, trucks, planes, and space pursuits.
One easily overlooked aspect of the tire industry is the large environmental impact. While tires can be dirty, most people don’t know the size of the problem. Figures such as 50 billion pounds of tire waste are shocking, while low tire pressure is relatable to anyone with a car.
Smart Tire Company has big ambitions for the entire tire industry, but it can be overwhelming to consider all the potential applications. This slide shows the five-year vision, how one application can build on a previous one, and the full scope of the opportunity over time.
Investors like to see the whole vision, and they typically ask, “What does your road map look like? What other applications or industries does this technology work for?” Some investors want to see that this is not just a one-trick pony with bringing a bicycle tire to market. Practically everyone asks us about when these tires will be available for their cars.
Investors invest in people, not just the business or technology. This slide helps encapsulate why the core team is up to the challenge, with experience in technology, tires, research, and business.
We’ve established early partnerships with notable companies within the industry that are assisting with data, experience, consulting, and sample products.
On January 7, we appeared on season 13 of ABC’s “Shark Tank” with demo tires to pitch our company to the likes of Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Kevin O’Leary, and Kevin Hart.
In this slide we mention our appearance, but we didn’t receive an investment from any of the sharks on the show.
It’s important for an early-stage company to show resourcefulness in raising capital. By capitalizing on grant opportunities and alternative funding sources, we’re showing that we can create more opportunities than what’s available from traditional sources. Use of funds shows a strong focus on research and development and new hires, with plans to move into manufacturing and marketing.
The tire business is complicated and expensive. This slide was chosen not just to tout accomplishments but to communicate that Smart Tire Company is not starting from scratch and is already working with world-class partners.
While we’re focused on our go-to-market for micro-mobility, we wanted to end the presentation with the audience dreaming big.
An effective strategy has been to communicate a smaller, relatable solution (flat-free bicycle tires) and allow people to imagine some of the larger potential — to think, “What if this was on every car? Could this really be disrupting such a large industry?”
The visual of an astronaut riding a bicycle in the middle of a crowd on a casual day boldly communicates the company’s blending of an advanced material and an everyday product like a tire. Bringing NASA technology back down to earth and into the hands of ordinary people is definitely a way to stand out from the crowd and make a difference in an industry ready for change.
Instead of a thank-you slide, we wanted to drive home our point of disruption and invite the audience to join us on this journey of building the next great American tire company.