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Reviewing applications for SpringBoard Media/Tech 2012

I’ve been reviewing applications for the SpringBoard Media/Tech 2012 program and then conducting interviews for those that made it to the next round. If you haven’t heard of it, SpringBoard is an eleven-year-old startup acceleration program for women-led companies. It has helped over 480 businesses raise over $5.5 billion in capital, so it’s certainly a great opportunity and big deal for the applicants.

SpringBoard Tech/Media 2012 Logo

In reviewing their proposals I have seen a wide mix in the quality of ideas and levels of preparation. Some have been really amazing, others not as much. When reviewing startup companies (something I did a lot of in my Sprint days) I am always surprised how much work it sometimes takes to ferret out their key goals and strengths. Companies don’t always make them clear enough themselves. I really try to do this for every company, but startups really can’t count on that since reviewers have to sift through hundreds if not thousands of applicants. You need to put your awesomeness on a platter and hand it to the reviewer.

With that in mind here are a few tips:

  • Identify the main strengths that you want to communicate and then make sure you hit them hard and often. Reinforce those strengths throughout your application and you attached documents, and prep your team members on these points before the interview.
  • Really spell out what you are going to do, why it’s special and unique, and why you are the right team to do it. Assume that we don’t understand your business area or technologies, and then use that as an excuse to demonstrate the depth of your own understanding. We are investing in the team and their ability to tap a market, the current product and business plan is really just an indicator of your ability to do so.
  • Keep in mind every applicant will have market pie charts, growth projections, and hopefully customer testimonials. These are not differentiators; they are table stakes (and let’s be honest, they’re not that rooted in reality anyway).
  • Explain what you are going to do with the money and how you will use it efficiently. For most early stage companies that means using it to learn from your customers and build your product. It does not mean hiring sales people or launching marketing campaigns, that is what big companies do after they already have a winning product. It’s true that enterprise plays do need some sales, but even then your main goal should be to get the product right before you get more customers.
  • Explain why you are right for the program/accelerator/incubator/VC. This is more important than you think. Programs want to show success, and not just in follow-on investment dollars. They want to be able to show how they help their participants. Different programs are good at accelerating different kinds of startups. Make it clear why your team will flourish in the program (the Springboard reviewers discussed this a lot among ourselves).

Many of these feel like “soft” aspects of the process, but they are just as critical as your demo going successfully or your team’s credentials. With a little planning and practice you can ensure that reviewers really understand what makes you great and how you will be a good fit for their goals.

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