In 2018, myBeeHyve was awarded a $50,000 SEED grant from NC IDEA. Seven winners were chosen from 185 applicants across North Carolina. The odds are better than the lottery, but the selection process is definitely competitive. Our selection defied assumptions that many people have about the program. We were a first-time applicants that were not white, male, engineers in the Triangle region of North Carolina. We are female entrepreneurs who were encouraged to put ourselves in the game. And when we stepped in the game, we played to win.
My advice to other entrepreneurs applying for business grant competitions includes ten tips to increase your chance of success:
- Make an honest assessment of your fit.
- Put yourself in the game.
- Be in it to win it.
- Begin with the end in mind.
- Manifest the grant.
- Take advantage of all opportunities for help.
- Stay in your lane.
- Walk the fine line.
- Follow the rules.
- Show gratitude and appreciation.
First, make an honest assessment of your qualifications and fit.
Read the qualifications for the program. If you clearly don’t meet the requirements (including being available for the pitch day), stop right here and look for a program you qualify for. If you are unclear or fall in a gray area, reach out to the organization and ask. Don’t make assumptions using incomplete information. Don’t overanalyze this decision, and stop waiting for things to be perfect. Also, be careful about weighing the dollar amount of the grant against your perceived level of effort. The intangible value of the application process, feedback, mentorship, press coverage and exposure should not be underestimated.
Second, put yourself in the game.
This was actually my personal mantra for 2018. Said another way, don’t take yourself out of the game. Eliminate any thoughts that you are not ready or don’t fit the winner profile. Keep going even If you don’t have perfect answers to every single question on the application. Focus on facts, not myths. Show up for team tryouts, perform your best, and let the coaches do their job.
Third, be in it to win it.
Once you commit to the application, give it everything you have and put your best presentation out there. If you are going to half-ass it just to see how far you get, stop now. If you are applying just for the experience, then be prepared to receive only that.
Fourth, begin with the end in mind.
Treat the application like a capital raise, which I compare to dating. Your goal at each step in the process is only to get to the next step. Know your story, but strategically reveal the right elements at the right time. For the NC IDEA SEED grant, we stumbled upon this approach completely by mistake. Our first draft of the grant application was written based on what I read as word count. When I discovered it was actually character count, our original draft became the long form (second stage application), and the severely edited version became our short form (first stage application). Try it, this may work for you too.
Fifth, manifest the grant.
Mindset is critical throughout the process. Believe the grant is yours, and you are merely waiting for the decision to be made public. Imagine how it feels to win and deploy the grant. Think about how you will deploy the grant in service to others, not yourself. Hold onto that feeling. One of my inner dialogues was that we had to be a winner as a first-time applicant, because next year our revenue would be too high to qualify. Get everyone on your team and support system sharing in your vision and supporting you. The text messages I received prior to our final pitch helped me stay in this zone and present with confidence.
Sixth, take advantage of all opportunities for help. Attend the information sessions.
Schedule the 1:1 calls, even if you don’t have any questions. Participate in the optional interviews and prep sessions. Submit the optional additional information or video. Be visible, tell your story, get feedback and improve. Have other people proofread your application and pitch deck. Accept design help. Reach out to past winners and people in your network for support and advice.
Seventh, stay in your lane.
Keep blinders on when it comes to competition for the grant. Don’t watch what they are doing. You need to do you. Avoid sudden, dramatic changes in your story or pitch. Solicit feedback early and often, rehearse in front of people who have never heard your story before, and take time to reflect on their feedback before making change. Have a pre-presentation ritual that keeps you calm and focused, demonstrating high energy and confidence. Once you’ve made your pitch, then you can enjoy and learn from the other presenters, offer support and cheer them on.
Keep running your business. Isolate other members of your team from the grant process if needed, so they can remain focused on serving customers, generating revenue and moving the business forward. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. If you are working on raising capital through other channels, keep that process moving along as well.
Eight, walk the fine line.
There is a fine line between communicating confidence and demonstrating you are coachable. Remember that you are being judged on how you accept feedback. Reflect confidence in your zones of genius, consider all feedback, but make your own decisions. There is also a fine line between communicating how the grant can make a big impact on your business when you know your overall capital need is much larger. Narrow down your focus to meaningful milestones, such as a proof of concept, minimum viable product (MVP) or 1-2 product releases. Explore areas where you’d like to take some risk, but can’t afford to do it on your own. Communicate how the grant will catapult you to the next milestone in your business, not your end game. Your goal is to “pass go” one more time and collect your $200, not win the game in this one play.
Ninth, follow the rules.
Jump through the hoops. Don’t ask for exceptions. Complete the application fully and on time. Demonstrate that you understand that compliance matters. Respect the process. Don’t be an ass. Do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it. Respond and follow-up as quickly as you can.
Tenth, show gratitude and appreciation.
Say thank you. Thank the people involved in the process. Many of them are not being paid, or paid nearly enough for the value they provide. They are committed to being in service to you as an entrepreneur. People generally want to help you, and will give you the benefit of the doubt unless you give them a reason not to. Let them know how you are doing, or how you implemented their advice. When you win, put the grant money to good use and let the grantor know how you’ve utilized the funds. Be available. Take the calls. Pay it forward – help other entrepreneurs and the organizations that supported you. .
The pitch itself and investor relations (yes, you should consider grantors as investors in your company) are separate, meaty topics unto themselves. For now, just remember that your pitch is telling a story. Keep it conversational, create intrigue and curiosity. Plant seeds to get the audience to ask the questions you love to answer. Don’t go too deep into details about technology in a short or initial pitch. Be memorable and most of all, connect with the people in the audience.
After the NC IDEA SEED grant announcement, we went on to be selected for the 2018 NC IDEA SOAR program, were named as a finalist for the YWCA Women of Achievement Award. presented at the 2018 Cucalorus Connect event, were recognized as a Top 10 Startup to Watch in 2018 by the NC Tech Association and selected to participate in the CED Tech Conference in early 2019. The principles described above applied to these accomplishments as well. Once you put yourself in the game, you just might find out that you like it!
Jennifer Turnage is an entrepreneur, business advisor, and author of Honey, You Got This! Technology Made Easy for Network Marketers. As the Cofounder and CEO of myBeeHyve, she combines her experience as as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) supporting multiple tech company exits with her mission of empowering individuals to achieve financial independence through entrepreneurship. Download the FREE myBeeHyve app in the Apple or Google Play app stores to manage your prospects and customers with ease. Connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter for support on your entrepreneurial journey.