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Pitch Teardown: The CancerVAX crowdfunding campaign on StartEngine

For this edition of Pitch Deck Teardown, I figured I’d try something new: We’re taking a close look at the CancerVAX campaign on the equity crowdfunding platform, StartEngine.

The team didn’t invite me to review the campaign or the pitch, I don’t know much about cancer treatment, and I don’t know and haven’t spoken to the team’s founders. Still, a universal treatment for all cancers? That’s got to be worth a second look. It’s also a great opportunity to walk you through the thought process of an investor.

Two green flags

First off, let’s take a look at what really works about the company’s pitch.

A complex topic made accessible

It’s clear the CancerVAX team has some serious storytelling chops. Here’s the main video pitch for this campaign in which the company’s CEO, Ryan Davies, explains what they’re working on:

A pitch for a cancer vaccine can very easily turn into a cavalcade of technical language and complex science. I commend the CancerVAX team for making a tremendously complex topic extremely accessible, even for people who don’t really know what cancer is or how it works.

It’s also worth noting that the company has an earlier version of this pitch on its YouTube channel. Suffice it to say, I’m happy CancerVAX hired someone with a decent camera because the video embedded above is significantly better.

Powerful, emotive storytelling

In the pitch video above, Davies plays one of the most powerful cards known to storytelling: Make a story hit close to home. It’s easier to encourage your audience to empathize with a single family who has lost their four-year-old son in a hail of bullets than it is to spur them to absorb the tragedy that 3,500 children have died in a conflict.

“I have six daughters, and two sons. Applying these same statistics to my family, one of my sons and two of my daughters will get some form of cancer in their lifetime. And another personal note, my father got cancer at the age of 47,” he says, drawing us into the narrative. “That was scary. My wife’s father got cancer in his early 70s. And my grandfather died from cancer. I’m guessing that you probably know someone that has cancer, too. This is a disease that truly affects all of us.”

I would argue that perhaps the company is laying it on a bit thick — there’s a thin line between rousing storytelling and emotional manipulation — but it’s refreshing to see someone who isn’t afraid to really go into the story. Very well done.

As a startup, you can use this lesson to think about how you can make your own story feel “real” and impactful.

Four red flags

CancerVAX has a lot of things going for it. From a journalist and investor perspective, though, the campaign raises some pretty serious questions. Specifically, there are three major issues that would dissuade me from investing in this campaign: the team, the technology, and the same red flag that the investment community saw with Theranos. . . .

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