How to land funding for your mission-driven startup

Talking to investors? Tell a compelling story and use easy-to-understand language, say Creator Award winners

Once you have a great idea you think can change the world, one of the most important next steps is securing funding. While there might not be one formula for finding financing for your business, those who have done it say there are ways to increase your chances. The top winners at WeWork’s Creator Awards Berlin 2018—both of which are focused on solving intractable problems—share their tips for landing funding for a purpose-driven idea.

Look for grants in the beginning

“People working in the social impact realm are usually willing to reduce their profits in order to make an impact,” said Lucas Paes de Melo, founder and CEO of Amparo, which makes affordable prosthetic devices accessible around the world. The company took home the grand prize in the Business Venture category at Creator Awards Berlin. “Investors don’t necessarily want to see that.”

At the Creator Awards Berlin, part of a global competition sponsored by WeWork, Amparo won €318,000 (about $362,000). Paes de Melo says the funding will help Amparo “get closer to our vision of building our clinics and increasing access to prosthetics in every corner of the planet.”  

When you’re in the early stages of your business plan, the Berlin-based entrepreneur highly recommends looking for grant funding to create a proof of concept and build a track record.

“There are a lot of governmental institutions and organizations, like the European Union, for instance, as well as different kinds of foundations offering grants,” he says. “Even some banks give out grants.” Amparo received early funding from government grants and a business development bank, among other sources, which supported the company’s mission and helped it scale.

Be clear about your vision and purpose

Whether it’s writing grant applications or speaking to potential investors, it’s crucial to clearly communicate the problem you’re tackling and how your company is the best solution.

“Think about why your project is an interesting prospect for the person you’re talking to,” says Felix Hallwachs, managing director at the Berlin-based Little Sun Foundation, the winner in the Nonprofit category. Completely financed by grants and donations, Little Sun Foundation provides solar-powered lamps to areas with little or no electricity. “You have to inspire people to believe in your model, your idea, and your thinking.”

Founded by internationally renowned artist Olafur Eliasson, Little Sun took home €60,000 ($68,000) in funding at the Creator Awards Berlin.  

Halliwachs advises to be aware of the kind of language you’re using when pitching your idea to potential funders. Remember that many of them won’t be well-versed in your industry. Avoid jargon. Use easy-to-understand language. And most important of all, tell a compelling story.

The Amparo team faced challenges early on because the prosthetics industry uses an array of technical terms. “Frame the problem so people understand what you’re doing,” Pais de Melo says. “Make sure to communicate the benefits of your solution and why it’s better than what’s already out there.”

Have your numbers ready

Perhaps the best way to impress potential backers is by showing metrics that demonstrate the impact your company is making. Regardless of the industry, investors love numbers that justify why they should put money into the cause.

“Make sure to be specific when outlining how your startup will use the investment to fuel growth,” says Pais de Melo. “Even if you have a beautiful product that’s solving a big problem, you have to convince investors with numbers on why they should give you money, what the gains would be, and exactly how you’ll use the funding.”

At the Creator Awards Berlin, Pais de Melo had the number of people his startup had already helped at his fingertips. It’s one of the reasons his company impressed the judges and went home with the evening’s top prize.

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