We guess you’re reading this as you are considering submitting an application to Venture Further - the University’s annual business start-up competition - to help turn your ideas into reality. It really is a fantastic opportunity for any student interested in starting their own business.
The £12,000 prize alone provides a great kick-start to your business, but it is the wealth of support, experience and guidance you will receive alongside that is priceless.
So, how do you ensure that your Venture Further application is the best it can possibly be?
We’ve pulled together a few pointers from those who have had years of experience of reading and vetting applications – hear it from the experts…
1. A clear, concise sentence to indicate what you do
You should be able to articulate what it is you are proposing in just a few words. We call this the “Verbal Business Card”…
<Your business> enables <who> to <solve what problem> offering <what benefit>
Make sure you focus on the benefits that your solution provides and not the features of your solution.
Where to include it in the application form? Section 3: Public Summary.
2. Have a clear vision
What is your ultimate goal? What does success look like to you?
Where to include it in the application form? Section 3: Public Summary.
3. Clearly defined problem
You can create an amazing app, a brilliant piece of tech or provide a fantastic service, but if there is no problem, then no one will care. Every great business idea stems from identifying a real problem.
Product-market fit is one of the biggest reasons why businesses fail. If the product or service being offered doesn’t align with the needs and wants of the customer, it won't matter how cool your idea is or how much initial traction you gain - you simply will not be able to attract enough of the right customers to build a sustainable business.
So, what is the problem that you want to solve and how are you going to solve it? How do you know it is an actual problem? Who else experiences this problem? A clearly defined problem statement will help you get buy-in from the stakeholders, partners, investors and of course, Venture Further judges.
Who else is trying to fix this problem but failing? How are you different from these competitors?
Where to include it in the application form? Section 4: Problem – questions 2 and 3.
4. Clearly defined solution
Now we know the problem, we need to understand what your solution is. How will your solution solve their problem and meet their needs? How do you actually create value for them and fix their pain? Avoid presenting a ‘solution’ that is searching for a problem.
Consider whether your solution has commercial potential and whether it’s something people will buy. What exactly do you propose to offer your customer – is it a product, a service, or both?
Where to include it in the application form? Section 4: Idea or Technology – question 1. Section 4: Product/Service – question 4.
5. What is your Unique Selling Point (USP)
What makes your business idea different from anything else that is out there? Why will your customers want to buy from you over and above anyone else?
Where to include it in the application form? Section 4: Idea or Technology – question 1.
6. Conduct plenty of desk research
We live in an age where almost anything we want to find out is at the tips of our fingers! Make sure you know your potential market size and who is doing what. One of the biggest ways to kill your application is by saying “We have no competitors” and then a Venture Further judge does a simple Google search to discover six different companies who provide the same or similar products/services.
A few questions to ask yourself - Is anyone already doing what you propose to do? How are you different? Who are your direct competitors? Who are your indirect competitors? How much do they charge? Is their company successful?
What is the segmentation, size and value of the market? How are you going to access your customer base? What would be your milestones to get this idea off the ground?
You need to demonstrate that you have done your research and have an excellent understanding of the sector.
Where to include it in the application form? Section 4: Problem – questions 3. Section 4: Market and Customer Details – questions 7, 8 and 9.
7. Do your field market research and test your assumptions
More often than not, we see applicants who have done their desk research, developed their business model and think they are ready for investment. However, they haven’t spoken to a single customer, stakeholder or potential partner to validate any of these assumptions. Worse still, they’ve only spoken to their friends.
We cannot stress the following enough - get out of the building!
Go out and speak to your potential customers and users. Gather feedback from those who experience the ‘problem’ you’ve identified and find out what their ‘pain-points’ are. Verify that you are proposing something that’s both needed and wanted; all this information will help shape your solution and determine how it will best fit into the current market. The more evidence you can include from real people that your solution is needed and fixes a real problem, the stronger your application will be.
Where to include it in the application form? Section 4: Market and Customer Details – questions 7, 8 and 9.
8. Good understanding of business model
In simple terms, you need to explain how your business will make money. What are your channels of distribution? Are there a number of potential revenue streams? What are the key resources and activities needed to deliver the value proposition and who might you need to collaborate with?
Identify who exactly will pay for your product or service. It is often mistaken that the end-user is the customer, where in fact it could be someone further up the supply chain.
If you are selected as a finalist, you will be expected to draw up a Business Model Canvas using Canvanizer. Don’t be afraid to include an image of this in the business model section (question 10) of the application form.
Where to include it in the application form? Section 4: Financials & Business Model – question 10.
9. Know your numbers
If you’re just starting up, detail your start-up costs. Don’t underestimate how much it can cost to get a business off the ground.
Provide an overview of your pricing and cost structure. When working out what to charge your customers, have a look at what competitors charge – can you charge more because you’re providing a better service. Do you need to charge less? How many sales would you need to make before the business could break even?
Remember, this is a business start-up competition. You may not know the exact details but we expect you to have completed some research to give an indication of costs.
Where to include it in the application form? Section 4: Financials & Business Model – question 10, 11 & 12.
10. Identify skills gaps
At this stage in your venture, it is not expected that you’ll have a solid team around you, but it is important that you are aware of what your weaknesses are and that you have identified a need for particular skills. Advisory boards are a great way to bring a wealth of knowledge and experience together to feed into your start-up.
Where to include it in the application form? Section 4: Background – question 13.
11. Why you’re in it to win it
£12,000 is a significant amount of money to give your business the kick-start it needs. What will winning this competition mean for your business? What will this cash enable you to do, that you couldn’t without it?
Where to include it in the application form? Section 4: Background – question 12.
Finally, some general advice to ensure your application is as strong as it can be:
- Be realistic with your predictions, whether that’s the size of your market or the revenues you can generate. It may be a billion-pound global market but what small proportion can you realistically tap into first?
- Avoid technical jargon where possible. If your 9-year-old niece or 90-year-old grandmother can understand it, then you’re on to a winner
- Don’t waffle – follow the word count, be concise and tell the assessment panel what they need to know
- Check your spelling and grammar
- Don’t be afraid to use tables, diagrams, flow charts and images to communicate your vision and key facts (they don’t count as part of the word count!)
- Don’t forget to include supporting information such as links to your website (if you have one) or any good news stories about your work