At Ideas for Action, we seek to help every proposal submitted, not just the top few that go on to receive help through our Wharton accelerator, or the 200 regional finalists who receive custom feedback. As such, we performed a statistical analysis of the most common weaknesses of the over 2100 proposals from the Ideas for Action 2018 competition. We encourage all 2018 participants to compare these common issues to their proposals and adjust accordingly while they prepare for I4A 2019 or any other competition or funding application you might be working on.
Our analysis revealed that 57% of applications were flagged for significant issues with feasibility and funding. While I4A is an early stage ideas competition, we still need to see that you have an idea of how your concept will receive funding (grants, direct revenue, venture capital etc.) and that there is a reasonable path toward receiving that funding. Ask yourself, “is it feasible that my chosen funding source will see the value in what I am doing, and will they provide for all of my costs?” In the case of grant funding, this could be by your impact, and in a revenue/investment model it is the return to the consumer/investor.
The second most common issue to arise was that 41% of proposals lacked sufficient plans for marketing and distribution. Ideas for Action is not looking for an in-depth market analysis, but we do want to see that you have an idea of your market and how you will get your product or service to this market. Can you reasonably show that a sufficient market exists for your product and that you have a general plan of how to access it?
33% of proposals neglected to adequately address the potential problems or challenges that their idea will face. This may seem simple, but it an essential part of each proposal. The best proposals clearly identify issues they believe their concept may run into, and they provide thoughtful and objective analysis of how these problems will be addressed. A proposal that is direct and realistic about hurdles and difficulties is much stronger than one that glosses over or quickly dismisses potential bumps in the road.
On a similar note, the failure to sufficiently acknowledge existing competitors in the market proved an issue with 28% of proposals in the 2018 competition. We want to see that you are aware of existing competitors and have a plan for how you are differentiated, rather than ignoring their existence or too easily writing them off. Even if you are confident that your concept stands out from the pack, please be sure to demonstrate your market awareness in your proposal.
Finally, 18% of proposals reviewed in 2018 were too broad and/or lacked focus. One of Ideas for Action’s central themes is finding local solutions to global problems. We would much rather see a focused and concise proposal that affects a relatively small population than an overly ambitious plan with little chance for success.
We hope you find this feedback useful, and look forward to reviewing your new proposals. Best of luck, I4A Innovators!