Gareth Thistleton, head of Social investment at Shell UK
Winning an award for your business idea can be a huge turning point in the life of a start-up. With increased credibility, a new network of contacts and a financial boost, it could be the moment that propels your business on an upward trajectory. Gareth Thistleton, head of social investment at Shell UK gives his tips on writing a great award application.
The journey to winning an award is not easy though. Building a business from scratch requires a brilliant business idea and thousands of hours of hard work and dedication to match. In some ways, writing an award application may seem like the easiest thing you will have done, but it is so important to get right and this is more difficult than you might think. As you can’t use your personable attributes and charisma, you need to think hard about how you communicate your idea.
The Social Investment team at Shell UK have overseen hundreds of applications from low carbon entrepreneurs to our Shell Springboard programme since 2005. Some have really blown us away. However, with many, we see the same pitfalls time and time again. Here are my top six tips for writing a first-class application.
Make sure it’s the right award for you
Different awards programmes are aimed at businesses that are at different stages and it’s important that you apply to the right one for you. Some awards may require proof of existing sales and market penetration, others may only need a bright idea. Pick the right award for you rather than spending time on applications that do not match where you are.
Avoid jargon and ‘marketing speak’
You must be able to explain the merit of your business idea to a non-technical audience, using concise language. Imagine you’re trying to explain it to a clever 12-year-old. Avoid so-called ‘marketing speak’. Although the programme assessors are subject matter experts, they will still be looking for straightforward descriptions of the strengths of your idea and the successes that you have had as a business.
Explain how you’ve learned from your mistakes
All innovative businesses go through a development journey, with ups and downs. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate in your application what you have learned and what has and hasn’t worked – particularly if it proves that you’ve innovated around your customers’ needs. Prove that you have persistence and resilience by showing that you turned the mistakes you made into advantages for your business.
Be realistic in your financial projections
Applicants to the Shell Springboard programme often talk about incredibly ambitious projected sales for five or ten years’ time in units of thousands or even millions. This is not bad, but it’s often the answers to the basic questions that give an indication of commercial viability – for example, how much does your product or service cost? Why would a customer buy it over a competitor’s? How much does it cost to make, and your per unit margin? Without this information the judges will be less convinced by sales projections.
Innovation comes in many forms
Don’t let ‘innovation’ put you off. Remember that innovation is not just about unique and brand-new tech discoveries; it could be a novel business commercialisation proposal, a new way to access customers or an unexpected tweak to an existing technology that could radically change its application and amplify its impact.
Emphasise the ‘good’ your business does
Many enterprise awards are looking for start-ups that address social or environmental challenges with their business models. Whether your idea helps refugees enter the job market or prevents food waste, you should be able to articulate the scale of the problem and your approach to it. While projecting impacts could be difficult, use any evidence (even anecdotal) to support your claims and outline key assumptions behind your estimates. Even if your business is not a social venture in its classic definition, try to think beyond financials.
The Shell Springboard 2019 is now open for applications until October 29th. For more information and to apply click here.
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