There are some basic mistakes often made by applicants to Phase 2 of the New Frontiers programme. Here are my tips on how entrepreneurs can craft a compelling argument and avoid the most common pitfalls when it comes to preparing their applications.
Entrepreneurs are positive, energetic and driven people; they believe they can do anything they set out to do. But if they come across someone who doesn’t believe in their idea the way they do, it can lead to doubt and uncertainty.
Applying for Phase 2 can be one of those times when these two perspectives collide. You know all the good things about your business proposition – why can’t they just agree with you?! Having been a business person and Programme Manager for a number of years now, I’ve come to the conclusion that where there is a mismatch in understanding such as this, it’s usually down to communication. The entrepreneur doesn’t hear what the programme requirements are, and those reviewing the application don’t see what they need to know, written down in black and white on the form.
The Phase 2 application form
It’s a form with two sections: Section A is for your personal details and Section B has 14 questions covering your business proposition, market, past experience, business model and proposed implementation. It’s a lot of detail. Given the very competitive nature of the application process, you need to put your best foot forward. Complete ALL the questions, do not leave blanks. Give sufficient detail to answer the questions, and do not just copy and paste texts from elsewhere.
Relevant, in-depth answers
Read and answer the actual question asked. For example:
- In Section 1.2, you are asked to describe the attractive & credible market opportunity you have identified. This does not mean that you should describe the product/service features again; it means identify the scale, value and possible growth of your identified target markets.
- In Section 3.2, you are asked to give details of your primary competitors. This does not mean that you should list three company names; instead provide a comparison/landscape, and demonstrate your Unique Selling Points and sustainable competitive advantage
- In Section 4.2, you are asked if you have any current or potential reference customers. ‘No’ is not an adequate answer, even if you are at concept/pre-startup stage. You need to show that you can think of a customer, as well as think like one.
Convince and convert
The questions on our application form are designed to elicit answers that enable you to show that you are the one who can build a strong, sustainable business – from where you are now to where you plan to go, with the help and support of the New Frontiers programme. It’s about selling you (and your team, if you have one) as well as the business – not just about the product/service.
Phase 2 is all about preparing participants to make their case to external, professional investors. You must be able to show your ability to communicate what you are setting out to achieve – clearly and professionally, in both your writing and presentation. It’s good to be positive and ambitious, and have substantial goals, but you also need to be credible and prepared to back up your claims.
The pitfalls to avoid
The most common mistakes that let an application down are as follows:
Please re-read your form one last time before you send it – spelling mistakes and other errors at this level are indicative of a lack of professionalism. It’s not an English exam, but error-free text helps to create a positive initial impression.
Using an application form for a completely different programme
I have received applications clearly mentioning other agencies and even jurisdictions.
Not updating copied and pasted content
If your text comes from somewhere else, the chances are that you aren’t providing us with the relevant information we need to make our decision.
Not showing the innovative nature of your idea
Innovation is the fundamental differentiator for New Frontiers participation and is specifically referenced in Section 1.1. Make sure your application is clear about how and why you consider – and your customers/the market will consider – your product/service to be innovative. Many weak applications fail to address this point at all.
Not enough progress
Many applicants do not show enough momentum achieved to date (Section 4.3) or a detailed set of SMART goals for the six months ahead (Section 5.2), all of which have and will contribute to the success of your business venture, as well as a positive outcome for your participation in the programme.
If you want a positive outcome for your application, against very strong competition, remember what you’re doing, where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. And then tell the reader.
The New Frontiers programme is designed to support entrepreneurs as much as the business idea itself and we want to say YES! It’s worth taking the time to communicate your proposition in terms that address all the elements of the whole programme, which incidentally are also the elements behind a successful startup venture. Good luck with your application!
About the author
Colm Ó Maolmhuire
Colm is the New Frontiers Programme Manager at Blanchardstown. He has nearly 20 years’ experience operating as an independent, professional management trainer, mentor and consultant. His main areas of expertise are in finance, business planning/analysis and management skills.