Many clients ask us to name some indicators of readiness for applying for federal non-dilutive funding. While we have several categories that are important to consider, perhaps the most telling aspect of potential readiness can be found by analyzing the client’s team. Just as there are green flags that demonstrate readiness, there are also red flags that demonstrate a client is not yet ready.
Unfortunately, many companies underestimate what it takes to be ready to chase high-risk, high-reward opportunities like SBIR and as a result, enter the application process too early and ill-prepared. It is far better to put off an application until all qualifications have been met than to rush into the proposal preparation process and submit a less than perfect proposal. Programs such as these are highly competitive with some such as the Department of Education SBIR awarding only 12 proposals out of the thousands of applications they receive during each cohort window. One of the aspects of readiness many clients neglect is that of their team. Having a team with relevant experience and the ability to do the work is critical to scoring favorably with the reviewers.
Green flag: a winning team
What does a winning team look like? Ideally, any company thinking of applying for large-scale non-dilutive funding will already have at least some of their team in place. Research, marketing, administration, and project management each come with their own subset of tasks, and smart founders know it is best to designate a staff member to each of these groups of tasks. That being said, they also have some idea of who is best to fulfill that role from their company or network. Sometimes, team building can take some time, so not all founders begin proposal preparation with a full team in place. Of those founders who do not have names associated with positions at the time of proposal preparation, 100% at least have a list of qualifications, roles, responsibilities, and an idea of where to source reliable employees. These kinds of teams are winning teams and represent a green flag. If your team looks like this, you are probably ready to pursue funding
Red flag: a losing team
A losing team is ill-formed, if formed at all, and does not represent employees with demonstrable products or activities that speak to their ability to do the work. A losing team is banded together in a hurry, often using freelancing sites to find employees instead of more reliable networking and hiring practices like Indeed, Monster, or LinkedIn. While there is certainly nothing wrong with freelancers or with the platforms they use to connect with employers, it is harder to vet the employee’s skill set and credibility over these sites and many founders encounter fraud or other barriers. Often these freelancers are far away in another time zone which makes working with them very difficult, especially in the case of SBIR, Horizon Europe, or any federal funding opportunity that mandates staff be located in a specific country or area. If you find yourself with no team scouring freelancing sites to put a team together or if your potential hires keep dropping out, or not working out after initial promising interviews something may be wrong with your process or resources for sourcing candidates for hire. Not having a team in place by the time you begin proposal preparation is a red flag and you are probably not ready to submit a proposal.
Red flag: too large an applicant pool
A founder who knows what they are looking for will have a small pool of applicants they believe will be a fit. Decisions about the team should be calculated and purposeful (as opposed to collecting many applicants at random and hoping one is a fit). This is a double red flag as it demonstrates a founder who does not know what they want and has no qualms about wasting potential employees’ time and possibly misleading them. Examining the proposed team prior to a grant proposal can provide key insights into overall applicant readiness. Founders who are ready do their research and vet potential candidates, so they already have an idea if a candidate is capable of the work. When you think of your team, which “flags” are more prominent – red or green? If you see warning signs that your company may not be ready to apply, it is better to wait for complete readiness than risk sending out a sloppy proposal.
We work with high-growth startups and organizations that support the startup and innovation ecosystem. We build highly specific non-dilutive funding menus, provide proposal preparation services, and measure outcomes of funding through evaluation. Schedule a consult call with us HERE.