Making a successful Competitive Start Fund (CSF) application
Competitive Start Fund (CSF) is an Enterprise Ireland support aimed at accelerating the growth of High Potential Startups (HPSUs). It offers €50,000 (matched with €5,000 from the company or other private investor) for a 10% ordinary equity stake in the company.
CSF investment enables successful applicants to reach key milestones in their business, eg:
- Researching the viability of export opportunities
- Securing a reference customer that will lend credibility to the product
- Building product prototypes
- Securing partnerships or key strategic alliances
- Identifying channels to international markets
- Securing third-party investment (VCs, angels, etc.)
There are regular calls to the CSF throughout the year (there were six calls in 2014), which are open to all sectors or for specific business types such as female or graduate entrepreneurs, manufacturing & agriculture and businesses outside of Dublin.
Competitive Start Fund cannot be cumulated with other Enterprise Ireland grants. This means that entrepreneurs in receipt of the New Frontiers grant must decline further stipend payments, and companies in receipt of a Feasibility Grant must draw down/forego the balance before starting the CSF.
Businesses eligible for CSF
In order to apply to CSF, you or your business must be an existing or potential Enterprise Ireland client and fulfil criteria such as:
- Be a manufacturing or internationally-traded service company
- Not be in receipt of more than €100,000 in equity funding
- Not be exceeding €60,000 annual turnover
- Fewer than five years since registration
- Be capable of creating 10 Irish jobs and having a turnover of 1M within three years
- Applicants must be eligible to live and work in Ireland (and the majority management must be based in Ireland)
- Gaming, adult entertainment, tobacco and military sectors are excluded from the CSF
The business doesn’t have to be already founded, however if your application to CSF is successful, you will have to form a limited company within two months of approval.
What makes an ideal applicant?
CSF applications are judged on a competitive basis and the percentage of approvals is around 10%.
This fund is for businesses that have progressed a lot further than the idea stage… typically, applicants are at prototype stage and ready to start customer validation. There is usually a team already in place, ready to start the next phase of business development.
Generally speaking, a business is ready to apply for CSF 18 months after starting up. It is the ideal next step for promoters who have completed Phase 2 of New Frontiers and are ready to scale their business. 30% of the successful applicants to CSF are New Frontiers participants and a further 30% have participated in some other type of programme/accelerator.
On average, it takes successful applicants 18 months to get from CSF approval to their first seed round.
Tips for applicants
The application process involves the submission of a written proposal and a video pitch. After a selection process, shortlistees are invited to a brief panel interview.
Throughout the application process, bear the following in mind:
- Don’t make assumptions in your application. Back up your statements with facts and evidence and be specific.
- Provide access to further information: if you have a website, include the link. Make documentation such as product specifications, business plans, etc. available to the judges.
- Make sure you explain your business model.
- Get a successful business person involved, either in an advisory capacity or as part of your team.
- Start preparing as soon as you can. Register when the call opens; if you discover at the last minute that your logins don’t work or that you can’t record the video, you may miss the deadline.
- Study the marking scheme and make sure that you have responded to each area sufficiently.
- Look professional in all aspects of your application and pitch.
The marking scheme explained
Video pitch: 25% of the overall score
The video pitch is a new feature of CSF applications. It allows you to outline your business proposition and should be structured as follows:
- The Product or Service – What are you going to sell? (1 minute)
- The Customer – Who are you going to sell it to? (1 minute)
- The USP – Why are they going to buy it from you (1 minute)
- Route to Market – How are you going to sell it to them? (1 minute)
- The Business Model – How are you going to make money? (1 minute)
- Any other information you’d like to add (2 minutes)
As with everything, you need to prepare for the video pitch as much as possible. You can do as many test runs as you like, but the final pitch is non-repeatable so practice, practice, practice!
Make sure your video is interesting and professional. You should avoid reading from a script, as it has a tendency to make your voice monotonous; look at the camera, smile and imagine you are speaking to real investors.
And finally, if you have a product demo, show it off!
Promoter profile: 25% of the overall score
This section is all about the applicant’s track record and domain knowledge. We’re also interested about the advisors/influencers that you have on board and the expertise that they can bring you.
Market Opportunity: 25% of the overall score
What problem are you solving and how big is the potential market? What research you have conducted to validate your idea? Who are your competitors, etc.?
Product/Service Innovation: 15% of the overall score
We want to know what it is that makes your product unique. It’s also important to tell us if you have licences or patents for it, etc.
Key Commercial and Technical milestones: 10% of the overall score
Outline the key commercial and technical milestones that this funding will allow you to achieve over the duration of the business plan outlined in your application (eg. 12 months).
The panel interview
The top-rated applications will be invited to a short investment evaluation in front of a panel of industry experts and representatives of Enterprise Ireland. It comprises a four minute pitch and four minutes of Q&A.
The three main questions you need to cover are:
- Why would someone be compelled to purchase?
- Is your team capable of executing this business plan?
- What will be the impact of €50,000 on delivery of this business plan?
As always, practice your pitch until you get it right. Ideally, get advice from someone who has previously pitched for investment.
As with the video pitch, you can bring your team members with you, but make sure to introduce them and let them say something meaningful.
You will be told who is sitting on the panel, so do some research about them and find out what their expertise is and what they might be interested to hear.
If you’re interested in applying to the CSF, you may be interested in the following resources:
- Information and latest calls for applications on the Enterprise Ireland site: Competitive Start Fund (CSF)
- Further information about Starting a High Potential and Internationally Focused Business
- Download a sample application form
- Download Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund Reference Document