Imagine, someone gave you half a million euros to scale up a business to make our world better. That is the prize money for the winner of the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge. Linda Vermaat has been a startup scout for the competition for many years. She reveals who should definitely apply, what makes a winner and why all participants benefit.

Linda, you travel the world as a scout. You have seen and heard many ideas. Which startups and people inspire you?
I keep meeting people who have been so obsessed with a problem and wanting to solve it that they cannot stop talking about it. The field they work in is so important to them. They are enthusiastic about their business solution and happy to put in the hard work. It is amazing to feel their passion and I think this is necessary for being successful.

Do you have an example for us?
Recently, I was at a pitch marathon in Berlin. I met a woman who impressed me a lot. Her name is Lubomila and she founded a startup called "Plan A" - because there is no plan B for our planet. Lubomila has read a lot about climate change and decided to do something about it - something big and innovative. She and her team are working on the first data-driven platform in the fight against climate change. They use data from scientists to predict where and how climate change will hit us the hardest. In addition, they use the data to analyze which problem we should address first because it has the greatest impact on our climate. This project is so important to Lubomila that she quit her job in London where she worked in a Fintech (financial technology) start-up. She moved to Berlin to start her own business. Lubomila is also a great networker. During the event, she connected me to relevant players in the ecology sector. I loved her attitude because she did not want to keep me or the competition all to herself. In her daily job, she brings together scientists, organizations and companies because we can only stop climate change together.

Business brunch with female entrepreneurs on Global Womans Day

Business brunch with female entrepreneurs on Global Womans Day

How do you know a start-up is a good candidate to apply for the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge?
As a start-up scout, I'm not a jury member. But I think if you meet the criteria, you should always apply. In recent years, winners told us that they did not want to apply at first. They thought they were not worth the prize money since it is substantial. They thought their idea was not good enough. Then someone triggered them to apply. They did – and they won. That's why I say: just give it a try! If you don’t, you will never win.

If I want to apply, which key questions do I need to answer with my concept?
Your business should be creative, scalable and contribute to a more sustainable world. It does not matter in which segment, fashion, mobility, energy, construction, food etc. But the idea should be groundbreaking and not incremental. It should have the potential to have a huge impact. I'll give an example. If an invention can cause cars to use less oil, it probably will not win, even though it does contribute to a more sustainable world. It’s not disruptive enough; it’s not changing an entire industry. A car that runs exclusively on solar power- that is a game changer in the automotive industry. That's why a startup called Lightyear made it to the finale in 2017 with its solar car.

Is there anything that all winners and finalists had in common so far?
Yes, with a few exceptions, most of them already had a working prototype. This helps to show the jury that you tested your product or service and that it has a product market fit. One of our criteria is that the startups should launch their product within the next two years. In addition, most of our finalists already had a team they worked with on the project.

Presentation during green movie screening in Berlin

Presentation during green movie screening in Berlin

You travel much as a scout for the Green Challenge. Can you explain why the job is so important to you?

I always wanted to improve the world – even as a child – and always looked at the positive. In the news and media, we always hear about the problems. Climate change is a problem. Poverty is a problem. But we never hear solutions. I believe that if we focus more on solutions, this will resonate. Our society can and will make a change. We need to make our world greener - otherwise we will have no planet left one day. The Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge shows solutions - that's why I love it. I often say, it's a contest of hope.

Speaking of seeing the positives, what are the benefits of participating in the Green Challenge even if you don’t win?
I think taking part in a competition is always a good experience. You get the chance to sharpen your ideas because we ask all these questions: What is the problem you want to solve? What is your solution? Who are your competitors? The more you discuss and fine tune these answers, the better your product or service becomes. This training will also help startups when it comes to convincing customers or investors. Startups that make it to the top 25 also get a stamp of approval they can use for the outside world. In addition, the startups also get publicity. They appear in press releases of the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge, media reports about them and they are listed on the Green Challenge website. We've heard many times that customers were searching the internet for a particular startup and because our website is ranked high on Google, this gave them confidence to connect to the startup.

Join our online meetup
Want to get a head start on our entry form? Join our 30 minutes online meetup on Tuesday 23 April at 16h00 (CEST). During this session you will get to know more about our green business competition. We will also reserve plenty of time for all your questions. Want to take this opportunity? Here you can register for the online meetup of 23 April.