EMERGE Startups & Community Lead Alina Rozanova made a «Don't do» checklist for those entrepreneurs planning to apply for startup competitions and/or accelerators.

This 4-minute read will also help you move forward if you want to be selected for the next stage of the selection process at EMERGE conference.
After reviewing over 100 startup applications for EMERGE CHALLENGE 2019, we have noticed some common mistakes made by founders while filling in the application form. Most of these mistakes can be avoided, so we've collected the best practices into this check-list to make your application stand out :)
«I have got through hundreds of startup applications for numerous competitions and, in some cases, it took me up to 30 minutes to understand WHAT STARTUP DOES. It is even before we went through analysing their market, competitors or growth opportunities.»
Startups tend to give long and vague answers in applications. What happens is when the reviewing team doesn't understand what you are trying to say, there is a high chance they will drop your application.

I've made a list of most common issues when filling in the startup application form, so your application can pass the selection process.
Carefully read what you are asked. When the question says «briefly describe your project» — you are expected to write a short (2 - 3 sentences) and easy to understand description of your project. You want to make sure that anyone from any background can understand it, think of a 5-year-old one. If they get it — we will also do!

Is elevator pitch required? Google what it means, find examples and make it an enjoyable to watch and/or listen to elevator pitch of your own.

Is it anything else the organisers are seeking? Do provide this information. Reviewers ask it for a reason! Answer the exact question you've been asked. It is not a good idea to copy/paste the same answers in every new form you submit. If you are in doubt whether it answers the question — it probably does not :) Adjust your response.

Finally, make sure you state very clearly what your product is. If it is software — be specific in what kind of software it is: web-based platform, SaaS, CRM, mobile app, IoT system, etc. Make others feel comfortable exploring your product. It is common to involve industry experts in reviewing applications as well as at further support stage. Help organisers get it right what you do and who will be of great value for you!
Good that you know the routes of the problem you are solving but stick to the point! Keep the description short and very precise. Don't dive deep! We need this information to understand what your geographic market is, who needs your solution and how it will make the life of your customers better.

I've come across ten pages of the problem description in one pitch deck, though it could fit into one page. Less is more as we love to say at EMERGE :) Help those who review your application reach the point when they understand what you mean. Another trick startups tend to play is adjusting a problem to their idea. It is always a good thing to slow down and ask yourself «Why are we doing this?»
Not every company and idea is a good fit for a startup competition and even startup lifecycle. Boom! You know, these companies which are super niche and tackle a particular problem of some industry or audience. It can be a great solution, but investors might not feel the same about it simply because they don't feel this pain which you are solving or it's out of the investment scope and expertise.

The option can be to actually find these niche clients and sell your solution to them directly instead of trying to win over an investor from a different field.
«It is also a trap to mention many revenue streams. You've got the subscription, then add a package for enterprise clients, a freemium for developers. Ah, you also charge the commission for your service. Missed anything?:) Yet, you might use them all one day, but remember how Amazon started. Here comes the question of whether you know how to make money from your product or service.»
Scientific projects are often not the right fit for startup competitions even though the idea might be brilliant. I would suggest searching for science-focused programmes and grants. If you believe that a startup competition is what you need — go for it. Eventually, organisers might have a plan for you! Just make sure your answers are easy to understand for a non-science audience. Again, a 5-year-old child should get an idea of what you do...or almost get it :)
Andrew Gershfeld, Flint Capital VC, at EMERGE, Minsk, 2018
It works better when your actual achievements and plans are put separately. Don't mix them in your answers. I remember the case when guys claimed to have created AI customised solutions while their landing page was still inviting potential partners to provide data for the testing. A bit of inconsistency as you can imagine. So, the learning outcome is — be consistent and keep it clear where you are and what is next.

Keep the files you attach updated. In December 2018 I received a pitch deck which stated that by that time the company should have had 1000 clients but in reality, they only had 3. It is ok, this is a startup journey, and plans tend to change but keep the information up to date!
The ultimate goal of both science and technology startups is to create solutions for existing problems. The difference is in the development approach and the type of funding required. If your project requires deep scientific R&D and clinical trials/certification — you will be mostly looking into government support programmes and different academic grants for scientific innovations. Corporates invest a lot into breakthrough technologies, so they might also be motivated to support your research.

If you are leaning towards a business side, startup competitions will work best for you to get noticed and get the right support.

Be realistic about the type of your startup when filling in the application.
This relates to many aspects of your business like competitors list, marketing strategy, scaling to other markets and so forth. This question aims to understand whether you've identified which channels work for you and where your target audience is. Not that we are trying to test your knowledge on customer acquisition strategies — it is simply to check whether you know how to manage your business.
«Scaling» — the word that many investors are watching out for in startup presentations. The question is, does it apply to your startup? Is your product solving the problem of a local market only? Can it be replicated in other regions?

When applying for startup competition which seeks for the companies with «potential for global scaling», but you know that your product only focuses on the local market and plans to stay this way, perhaps it's worth attending the competition as a general attendee. You can hear other startups' pitchings, questions from investors and industry experts, get advice and meet potential partners - and eventually come up with your world expansion strategy.

If not, you know, take your time to plan it accordingly so that you are well prepared for this journey. Even if you are not competing in a startup challenge this time lots of valuable learnings, you will get simply attending the competition. The conference is the place to see other startup founders, get to know the community, talk to investors, get on board new team members and meet potential clients. Never give up if your startup does not meet the competition criteria.

  • Google whatever is new for you before answering questions;

  • Be consistent: if a startup application form is in English, make sure your supporting documents are also in English;

  • Use the same currency throughout all application form (including pitch deck and other docs)

  • Translate your website into English or at least its key pages: About, Prices, Team, Contacts;

  • Take your time to go through FAQ page on the competition website and emails that organisers sent earlier. If you ask organisers a question that was explained in previous communication or the guidelines on the website, you prove that you don't have an eye on details, and this is surely not a great business characteristic. Some explanations might be not clear, and in this case, it's better to ask than make mistakes. , be professional!

  • Get familiarised with what «startup» term means — a fast-growing product that uses advanced technology and has the potential to scale globally. Does it apply to you?

All set to go? Good luck and see you at EMERGE.

Many thanks to Kseniya Sidarovich from our startup team for the help in preparing this article.
Nomad, ecosystem builder, space fan.
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