The DOEN Foundation has been an important partner of Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge since the competition's launch in 2007. DOEN plays an essential role in selecting which start-ups have the potential to really make a difference. Also, the organisation holds and releases prize money to finalists.

“Although luckily it's now a concept that's becoming increasingly popular, the DOEN Foundation was one of the first impact investors.”

In 2016, DOEN Foundation’s tools of support expanded, with the creation of the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge Fund. The Fund supports former finalists after the competition through investment. But as Marc Rasmussen, Impact Investment Manager at DOEN and Beau-Anne, Analist, explain, the organisation’s offerings extend far beyond financial support alone.

Can you first of all introduce DOEN Foundation
The DOEN Foundation was established in 1991 by the Dutch Postcode Lottery. The foundation was given the following assignment: to pursue the same objectives as the lottery (people and nature) and to complement the lottery’s work. The DOEN Foundation receives an annual contribution from the Dutch Postcode Lottery for supporting green, social and creative pioneers. DOEN has its own social investment company, DOEN Participaties (ventures), where we work. DOEN Participaties has over 23 years of experience in investing in start-ups whose mission is to change or accelerate sustainability in specific sectors: sustainable energy, sustainable food systems, and circular business models. It invests through convertible notes, and direct and indirect equity. Impact is central to all investment and DOEN Participaties invests in the early stage of the company, and therefore dares to take risks.

Beau-Anne and Marc from the DOEN Foundation

What is the Foundation's role in the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge?
We assist in selecting the right ideas. Last year the challenge received more than 800 applications, so it's essential to gather a group of people to shortlist. Also, the organisation hold and release prize money to finalists. Finally the Green Challenge is a good opportunity to showcase other partners of DOEN, for instance green or social companies that offer catering and may be food and beverage suppliers at the finale.

What is the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge Fund? What is its purpose, and who is it for?
DOEN Foundation's role expanded in 2016 when we brought the Green Challenge Fund to life. The prize money is one thing, and helps initiatives who have already evolved from the idea phase to actual proof of concept. How long that money lasts really varies from start-up to start-up, but could be anything from one to two years. After that period, they often need further capital to make a market entry, grow, or succeed at whatever stage they are at. That can be quite difficult to achieve if they don’t yet have traction, so that's why we created the Green Challenge Fund, managed by DOEN Participaties. Whenever a finalist or former finalist needs further funding, they can apply to this fund.

Which recent finalists have made use of this fund?
One of the best known examples is Ecovative, winners of the second Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge in 2008. They make sustainable insulation and bio-based packaging solutions from fungus. Then, there is bio-bean, the 2014 winners, which recycles waste from the coffee industry and transforms it into bio fuels. Another recent example is Land Life Company. They won the competition in 2015 and with their so-called Cocoon, a technology to help newly planted trees survive in degraded soil. This company is now replanting forests on a large scale.

GC Ecovative packaging
Ecovative: sustainable insulation and bio-based packaging solutions from fungus

What made these former winners especially suitable for this funding?
For an investment from the Green Challenge Fund the impact should be proven, the solution should be ready to go to market and the business proposition should be able to become profitable and should be scalable. Additionally, we of course always look at the team behind the company. Also good to mention is that not only the Green Challenge Winners can apply for funding but all finalists can apply, even a few years after participating in the challenge. Our aim is to make a positive impact by helping these green business grow with the help of our funding.

How else does DOEN support finalists of the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge?
Network and communication are the most important value-adds on top of the funding. Although luckily it's now a concept that's becoming increasingly popular, DOEN was one of the first impact investors. So since 1991, we’ve been building a substantial network in every area in which we invest. That’s something very powerful to offer these start-ups, and translates into access to experts, previous finalists or other companies that they can talk to, liaise with, and get mentorship from. The connection with the Dutch Postcode Lottery is also important: if the product is interesting for them to promote, there's not only a marketing channel but also opportunity for them to gain expertise in marketing, e-commerce, and so on. We also have a strong communication platform and team able to provide assistance on the PR side, which may be relevant to bring start-ups out in the open.

What advice do you offer finalists in terms of how best to spend prize money, in a way that sets the stage for future investments?
All finalists participate in what we call a DeepDive program, delivered by start-up accelerator organisation Rockstart. It links start-ups with a relevant mentor and other advisors, and offers advice regarding future funding opportunities. The program also gives them an idea of where they would best be served to spend their money. There's no rule of thumb; the best thing to do is have a clear idea of expenses in the coming year, and have an understanding of how long the money will last. That means that when additional funding is needed, you have a clear plan for future investors, and also make sure you secure funding in time.