With National Enterprise Awards just completed, Competitive Start Fund open, and Horizon Europe underway, I started thinking about the pros and cons of entering business competitions. Whether you’re a start-up competing for a place on an accelerator programme, university researchers looking for commercialisation funding, or an established business seeking to raise your profile, these tips can save you blood, sweat and tears.
Before you start – STOP. Consider the time and effort required to submit the application. Don’t apply to so many different things that you neglect the day job. Be Choosy!
- Be honest about the WHY. Is is money, kudos, connections? Think about ALL the potential benefits.
- Entering a competition can be a useful way to work through and articulate plans for your business. Most of us are more comfortable with some areas than others. Answering questions about the bits we least enjoy can be very valuable.
- Beware paying an expert to submit an application on your behalf. (This is a big issue with Horizon 2020, where some “Professional Application Advisors” snaffle 100% of phase 1 funding by dangling the carrot of achieving bigger phase 2 money.) I’m saying proceed with caution rather than never do it.
- If others are completing different parts of the application, be clear as to who does what by when.
- Review the application openly as a team.
- Don’t wait until 5 minutes before the deadline to start uploading the application.
- You can’t win ‘em all, but you can learn from them.
THINK OF THE SPONSOR AS YOUR CUSTOMER – Plan your submission as if they’re your ideal client.
- Read the rules – do you meet the entry criteria?
- Follow the guidance given by sponsors.
- Consider what THEY want to achieve.
- Make it as easy as possible for the evaluator.
- When submitting through an on-line portal, its best to prep your answers in Word to get a character and word count, then copy the text to the screen.
- Don’t just cut and paste from your last application, adapt content to meet THEIR objective.
- Use every opportunity to attach documents, video etc.
- Get someone else to review your application before submission.
- Regardless of the result, ask for feedback.
HOW EVALUATORS THINK. Having triaged applications to multiple competitions – I want an application to make me smile. Here are some common pitfalls I see…
- CONFUSED VALUE PROPOSITION. I have to be able to understand what you do.
- Small TEAM seeming to be able to do everything/unclear roles and responsibilities.
- Unrealistic/inconsistent MILESTONES.
- Poor assessment of the COMPETITION.
- Insufficient understanding of the CHALLENGES/RISKS, and how you’ll mitigate them.
- Too much focus on the technology and features, and not enough on the business model, development plan, or customer traction.
- The PLAN OF WORK needs to reflect the award (i.e. the sponsor has to meet their KPIs and get value for money).
IF YOU WIN, congratulate yourself and the team, tell the world, and follow through with the plans you committed to. Build a relationship with the sponsors. If they like you, they’ll stay with you for the longer term. If you lose, take the feedback into consideration for the next time.