For the third year running, Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge has teamed up with Impact Hub for one of competition’s core elements: scouting participants! With a community spanning some 16,000 social entrepreneurs worldwide, the network is ideally placed to identify today’s most exciting start-ups for a greener, more sustainable future. Here, Innovation Sourcing Specialists Romee Erens and Thijs Hoogenstrijd describe their role in the 2020 edition of Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge.

First of all, tell me about Impact Hub

Romee Erens: Impact Hub is a network of social entrepreneurs. Its mission is to start and grow social enterprises through our community, programmes, as well as co-working spaces. The first was in London in 2007, and since then, social impact startups have spread gradually in other geographies. The need and community was there, and we now number 103 Impact Hubs globally.

How did the scouting role for Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge come about?

RE: Impact Hub Amsterdam has been organising and developing incubator and accelerator programmes for quite a while, for which we were already scouting participants. Through our network, we saw there were also opportunities to go beyond only internal programmes. We first worked with Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge in 2018, and bring not only extensive scouting experience, but also the ability to leverage our global community of over 16,000 impact entrepreneurs.

Thijs Hoogenstrijd: Compared with last year, we noticed a lot more entrepreneurs within our network were already familiar with Green Challenge. For Impact Hub, our role as scouting partners is a nice way to bring value to our community - these challenges can be a make or break opportunity for them.

And how was this year’s scouting?

TH: Our experience really helped in finding the right high-quality signups: this is our third year of scouting for Green Challenge, and in that time, we’ve learnt what kind of start-ups fit the challenge, and what the jury are looking for. It’s more than just innovation - it’s the team, the stage they’re at, their professionalism… You learn to look at multiple facets.

RE: The focus this year was clear: the organisers were looking for quality over quantity. This time around, there are 650 entrants - but it’s not a case of one size fits all, there’s no black and white criteria. It’s more about the total package, and what start-ups bring to the table to really make a difference.

Can you describe the types of organisations you found?

RE: This year’s other scouting partner was The Next Web, and we each brought a different focus to Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge 2020. They’re very tech focused, whereas we’re better placed to dive into more grassroots organisations that are changing communities from the bottom up. I think that’s also what Green Challenge was looking for - a little bit more diversity. So not only these blue sky, very complex technologies, but also simpler but no less impactful interventions.

How has the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic affected the start-up community?

TH: The situation changes week by week. As an Impact Hub that feels responsible for the entrepreneur community and wants to help, one of our biggest worries was that these start-ups are very financially vulnerable. The coronavirus pandemic occurred right in the middle of the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge process, and we were really happy to see the competition still go ahead. Such challenges offer great funding and support opportunities for entrepreneurs, so having these options still available is super relevant.

At the same time, both Impact Hub and the entrepreneurs we work with are also really adaptable: we know how to work the chaos, so to speak. That’s super interesting to see in our community, and in ourselves as a hub. I hope that as a society moving forward, there will be more opportunities for entrepreneurs and sustainable impact to really flourish.

RE: It’s true that start-ups are being hit by coronavirus, certain sectors in particular. If you look at the measures and support given by governments, a lot of the time they don’t apply to start-ups. That’s because they’re constantly growing and scaling, and so don’t have the numbers of previous years to show what they’re doing. But the good thing for impact start-ups in particular is that they’re resilient, they’re agile, and they can pivot. For larger organisations, that’s much more difficult. Because they’re flexible, many of them are doing really well, and it’s been amazing to see how they’ve been growing within the ecosystem.

Any tips for start-ups considering entering next year’s competition?

TE: Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge offers a unique platform to launch and achieve that next level because it’s such a hefty amount of funding. It allows entrepreneurs to realise their full impact. My advice to anyone looking to join next year is to understand where your value lies and really emphasise that. Think of it as applying to an investor: they’re looking for professional, high quality applications.

RE: It’s not only about winning: applying and going through all the questions that are being asked is helpful for start-ups to understand their focus and impact. Each application is reviewed by a dozen experts in the field, and even if they don’t receive feedback, that already creates a platform. One practical tip for start-ups wanting to apply next year is to read the blog on the Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge website and the interviews posted there - there are lots of very helpful comments from jury members that offer insight into what they’re looking for.