Tips on how to pitch for soft funding
Most funding programmes base their selection of successful, funded projects on elaborate written proposals prepared by applicants such as SMEs or individual researchers. Preparing written applications is burdensome and requires both resources, time and intelligence. But ultimately, the principle of allocating funding in open and transparent competition based on written proposals is sound, as tax payers have a clear interest in selecting the best projects. The written format ensures that all important angles of an innovation idea – such as novelty, technology concept, market potential, marketing strategy, IPR, etc. – are thoroughly described and included in the assessment. This makes for real competition and transparency, and to a large extent makes sure that the best proposals win.
In recent years, a growing number of funding programs in EU as well as nationally have added a new element of oral presentation to the written applications. Typically, these programmes will invite, from the pool of incoming written proposals, a smaller group of project proposers to come and pitch their idea at a meeting before a panel organised by the programme. Based on the evaluation of the written application and the assessment from the panel, the programme owner will then take its final funding decision. For example, this is the case in such notable soft funding programmes in 2020 as the EIC Accelerator, European Research Council, and in national instruments like InnoBooster in Denmark.
Over the years, Innovayt have developed a successful concept for training and rehearsing funding applicants in the pitch exercise. Innovayt is also used by external partners to implement pitch training for SMEs in the EIC Accelerator context, for example by the Central Denmark EU Office in Brussels.
In our pitch sessions with clients, we go through all relevant elements for the funding programme in question and do live rehearsals either in person or via video link. Innovayt have a dedicated team of experts organising the sessions, who are also involved in active preparation of pitch decks and in coaching of clients in the preparation of the pitch.
In addition to obligatory elements to be covered around the proposed project idea, our pitch training and rehearsals focus intensively on “the human factor”. This should come as no surprise, as the very idea of introducing the pitch step is based on the purpose of assessing the personal and team capabilities of the researchers or founders through a face-to-face meeting. Overall, our philosophy is that pitching for soft funding has structural resemblance with any investor pitch – where all aspects a business/project and its instigators are in play.
But in our experience, the importance of the human factor is perhaps magnified even further across all pitch-based soft funding programmes. A key reason here is that the fundamental soundness of all proposals invited for the pitch stage has already been favorably assessed in a tough selection process among written proposals, typically done as remote peer/expert evaluations. Thus, the panel assessing the proposers at the pitch stage – deliberately or not – will focus as much on human aspects as on the formal evaluation criteria.
To name but a few key “human factor” aspects, which we pay close attention to in pitch trainings and rehearsals, here are a few practical recommendations for applicants:
- Always display a positive and proactive attitude throughout the pitch and Q&A – never be defensive
- Take a balanced approach to time allocation in presentation, to text vs. graphics, to gender, etc.
- Be prepared to proactively tweak answers towards topics where you feel comfortable
- Avoid focusing too much on science/tech
- Be frank and open about weaknesses, and explain how to mitigate them
Please get in touch if you want to know more about how to succeed in an interview for a soft or hard funding programme.