Today, WordProof officially received the € 1 million prize as the winner of Europe’s Blockchain for Social Good competition. “How did WordProof win that € 1 million from the European Commission?” is a question we frequently get, as winning prizes is an interesting alternative (or addition) to searching for investors as it doesn’t cost you equity. I sat down with Frank van Dalen, who was the initiator of WordProof’s submission, to share our lessons learned about winning prizes to finance and grow your start-up!
Frank started as WordProof‘s angel investor and is actively involved in the company. He has a very (!) rich track record in both entrepreneurship as in politics. We took the time to write down our lessons learned, based on Frank’s track record and our collaboration as a team at WordProof over the last 15 months.
Although a prize is not the same as a subsidy or funding application, there are also many similarities. In this blog, 8 insights are shared that enabled WordProof to keep 175 other blockchain companies behind in Europe’s Blockchains for Social Good competition.
1. Understand the goal of the competition
With this specific contest, Europe wants to give an impulse to the innovations with social impact around blockchain technology.
“Make sure you solve a real social problem. Many companies offer services or sell products that make life easier for many people. But especially when taxpayers’ money is involved, it is crucial to solve a real social problem. A visionary story is wonderful, but make sure you solve proven problems for real people.”
2. Truly understand the criteria
Proposals are evaluated within Europe on the basis of criteria. These criteria are defined and publicly available. It is crucial to understand not only what the criteria mean, but also what the European policy behind these criteria is. For this competition, a criterion was “Viability at large scale: cost-efficiency (including energy consumption), scalability, security, and sustainability”. This means that in the proposal all these issues (6 pieces) had to be covered extensively. What is not mentioned does not exist and does not score any points. What we did was doing extensive, specific brainstorm sessions on all six topics.
Europe mainly invests in companies that have a high degree of scalability and can achieve international success. This concerns the scalability of software (also name the helpdesk), or in the case of capital- or labor-intensive innovations, related business models. It is of great importance to pay sufficient attention to European policies related to privacy, the environment, and corporate social responsibility.
Europe-specific: Level playing field
Europe will do everything in its power to create a level playing field for participating organizations. This translates into objective criteria. But also in instructions such as the number of words or pages to be used. Stick to these instructions. Otherwise, you run the risk of being rejected in advance, pages that are too many are simply ignored or irritation arises at the assessor, which does not help either.
3. Factual proof for EVERYTHING
Every thesis that is taken must be factually proven. Preference is given to independent sources or objective assessments that are not open to multiple interpretations. It is not enough to answer Europe’s question of whether an ethical policy is being pursued in the affirmative, but the facts presented must be consistent with European policy in this regard.
4. Be holistic in your answers
It is important that all conceivable angles are actually treated. A seemingly simple criterion during the competition was “Usability and inclusiveness”. Just around inclusiveness a lot of insertion is possible. Think of any possible situation, like people with a weak economic position, physical limitations such as color blindness, and their degree of technical knowledge. But also whether the use of languages you use both internally as externally in your organization reflects the inclusive DNA of the organization.
5. Deal with problems, don’t ignore them
The team preferably reflects the policy of Europe. This includes integrity and a male-female balance. WordProof consisted mainly of men. So that was a problem. To solve this, the sexual and ethnic diversity in our team (a significant part of WordProof’s team identifies as gay or non-binary 🏳️🌈) was highlighted by pro-nouns and talking pictures. The team has also been supplemented with strategic partnerships and these have been anchored in the organization. In partner selection, we take care of a good male-female balance!
6. Build a strong case for your solution
In addition to solving a real social problem, it is important to show that ‘one’ is waiting for the solution. If turnover has already been generated around the innovation, that is an important signal. But there are more ways to prove demand and enthusiasm around your solution and vision:
- Support from the community is another important indication (in our case, one that Europe was specifically asking for).
- The extent of this and statements of support from opinion leaders cannot go unmentioned. In our case, even WordPress’ founder Matt Mullenweg said something useful on WordProof. In reply to a question, he answered that WordProof was one of the coolest things he ha seen so far on WordPress and blockchain!
Although WordProof didn’t have serious revenue by the time we handed in our submission, we’d build a strong case by explaining community support.
7. Be excellent in paperwork
There was no need to submit a budget for the competition. Nevertheless, after the winners had been determined, a (non-visible) due diligence of the company and shareholders took place. Make sure that paperwork is in order. Prudent spending of money for the company is crucial. Excessive rewards and unnecessary benefits will not help. The quality of the team is a deal maker, or breaker if you like.
8. Involve proof-readers, heavily
Faith in one’s own business and the plan is essential. But it is indispensable to have plans counter read by critical eyes that are prepared to put salt on all snails. Hearings, presentations, demonstrations, and interviews are prepared in detail. Backup plans are made when unexpected situations arise or technical failures occur. Finally, everything looks professional and well-groomed and correct English helps, in spite of what Europe does state in this area.
“WordProof has put all these ten lessons into practice. It was an intensive and time-consuming process. We invested around 750 hours in total. But with results. Not only because of the prize but also because it helped to strengthen the company behind WordProof where it was needed. It has helped to significantly sharpen the WordProof concept and deepen the strategy so that the chance of success of the company has increased significantly.”
“If you and your company decide to submit for a prize, or specifically for European financial contributions, then you have to go all the way. The quality of the evaluators is high. The competition is intense. But why shouldn’t your company also be among the finalists and winners? It is possible. But there is no such thing as a short-cut.”
I hope that these insights help you with winning prizes that matter to you. Thank you, Frank, for being believing in WordProof far before others did. It’s a pleasure to work together!