How nontechnical talent can break into deep tech

In a recent article, I shared more about how deep tech companies can hire growth talent. Here, I explore the other side: how nontechnical talent can build relationships with deep tech companies.

Startup hiring processes can be opaque, and breaking into the deep tech world as a nontechnical person seems daunting. As someone with no initial research background wanting to work in biotech, I felt this challenge personally. In the past year, I landed several opportunities working for and with deep tech companies.

Here, I’ll share what I’ve learned and offer tactical advice for finding, reaching out to, cultivating relationships with and working at deep tech companies as a nontechnical candidate.

To find these companies, create news alerts to be notified when companies in deep tech raise new rounds of funding.

Find companies by tracking fundraising

After startups raise capital, they are ready to spend the new funds on hiring. These companies are more likely to be posting new roles and actively hiring for a wide range of different teams, including nontechnical groups.

To find these companies, create news alerts to be notified when companies in deep tech raise new rounds of funding. Identify whether you prefer early-stage or late-stage companies and filter for the funding round signals accordingly (pre-seed, seed, Series A and Series B would be considered early stage; late stage would be Series C and beyond).

To further cut through the noise, identify top investors in your deep tech industries of interest and set news alerts for when they announce funding rounds they led or participated in. For more systematic searches, you can filter for funding stage, latest funding round date, investor participation, geography and industry through most private capital markets databases.

Reach out to founders

On LinkedIn, founders and other team members will often note that they are hiring by putting “We’re hiring!” in their LinkedIn titles. Search for people with this language in their titles — and don’t be afraid to reach out to founders without this declaration. Even if they don’t have open roles, they’re always looking to build relationships with the best talent. Reach out to founders of companies you are excited about not just with a general “I would love to apply” message; incorporate specific ideas about how you think they can improve their product or go-to-market strategy.

What types of content should they create? What types of community programs can they run? What types of partnerships should they consider? What types of social media initiatives should they explore? Explain how you have implemented similar ideas and driven similar results before to showcase how you would use your expertise to aid their company.

Send personalized emails. If a founder was featured on a massive media platform, you can assume dozens if not hundreds of people are reaching out to them for jobs, investment opportunities, partnership, advice and more. Instead of reaching out to founders to say you came across them on a generic site or through a widely circulated article, add personalization.

Mention a lesser-known media feature they did, say, several months ago. Allude to a project they worked on years ago that has special meaning to them. Mention a shared personal interest you have, such as in marathon training or baking. Showing you took the time to get to know them means a lot to anyone, especially people who receive tons of mass emails and generic outreaches. Through personalization, you also show more about yourself, helping the founder envision what it would be like to work together and showing them you’re serious about the opportunity.

Pitch yourself to companies

First, show you understand the implications. As a nontechnical person, you should demonstrate that you are able to hit the ground running when hired. Show that you are resourceful enough to understand the ins and outs of the product with limited team support.

Go a step further and show that you are not only able to understand the product at a descriptive level but that you also understand the implications of macro and micro trends in the space, the impact on the customer, the role of other players in the ecosystem, the avenues of product and revenue expansion, and the long-term opportunities. Business hires need to understand this context when building and selling the product, so it is crucial to demonstrate you are able to gather this context even in technical domains you are initially unfamiliar with.

Demonstrate the value of your network. Deep tech companies look for people with relevant networks they can tap into for product feedback, partnerships introductions or general go-to-market work.

Offer the team-specific intros from your network to show that you have this network and that you fundamentally understand their product, value proposition and position in the supply chain.

Underscore the value of your fresh perspective. A new perspective can be beneficial to driving creativity and positive change in companies.

Be explicit about what your unique, outsider perspective brings. Are you able to share insights from building innovative cultures? Perhaps you bring the investor’s perspective? Maybe you worked in another industry that is quite regulated as well? Or are your talents in communicating complex ideas to diverse audiences?

Close the deal

Share your personal mission. Deep tech founders have complex reasons for why they want to solve the problem they are tackling, which keeps them motivated through all the emotional ups and downs of founding a company in a challenging space.

Share your “why” with the founder. In this way, you can connect personally with them and show them that you have a bigger purpose that will similarly drive you through the challenges of building and growing their startup.