For its 2020 edition, Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge once again tapped into the expertise and network of scouting partner, TNW. A multifaceted tech and innovation platform, it boasts an international community of start-ups and investors. Here, Asena Kessaf, Innovation Project Manager, and Ruud van Dijk, Innovation Program Lead, discuss the impact of coronavirus on their own organisation, and how Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge helps start-ups hone their messaging, pitch, and vision.

Please introduce TNW.

RvD: TNW was started around 15 years ago, initially as an event - TNW conference - when our founders Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten and Patrick de Laive saw a gap in the market between tech events in Europe and those in the US. The first was very small, but it quickly took off. In 2009, they established the media arm of TNW, thenextweb.com, which now has 10 million unique visitors per month. A couple of years later, they took the knowledge they’d gained from writing about tech and of course, the event, to start a platform for data on start-ups called Index. Next was co-working spaces, created as a community of companies rapidly growing in tech. The most recent development was TNW Programs three years ago and that’s what Asena and I do: we’re the consultancy and advisory department of TNW.

How did you work with this year’s Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge?

AK: This is the third year we’ve worked with Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge. The competition enlisted TNW as well as Impact Hub to work together on scouting promising start-ups, plus helping them with the application process. Whereas Impact Hub is mainly focused on sustainability and im-pact, we lean more towards technological innovation. That said, we’ve been working together as one front, a team.

How did you go about scouting start-ups?  

RvD: We’re drawing on a combination of our own existing networks, and tapping into new ones. As a department, TNW Programs really connects TNW’s various pillars: on the one hand we work with the Spaces co-working community, so could reach out to them. We also have a very broad reach both via the website as well as our social channels. Within the team, we have someone working on investor relations as well as a dedicated start-up programme. In addition to that, we of course also did lots of desk research, so looking into other accelerators to find out what kind of companies we see there.

And was it successful?  

AK: It was very positive - especially when you consider that we were reaching out to these start-ups just as coronavirus hit Europe. Of course that meant some start-ups had much bigger things on their minds than a challenge, but after the initial shock wore off, it was a very positive experience and process.

Did you notice any trends among the start-ups you scouted?  

RvD: One of the things I noticed was a strong focus on materials and waste, and ensuring supply chains stay clean in their entirety.

AK: We also observed a lot of companies active in augmenting transparency on sources, pointing towards a growing demand for sustainability across a range of industries. Also creating visibility for end customers of complete value chains, we saw several startups producing reports detailing how sustainable companies are.

Back to the pandemic - how is it impacting not only start-ups but also TNW?  

RvD: It’s tough. Start-ups may not have the depth of resources to overcome this period for a longer time, so the impact is felt earlier. Because they’re often bootstrapping, or not so heavy on funds, they can quickly run out of capital. As a result, they may be more hesitant to step into new investment rounds. The landscape is really shifting.

In terms of TNW, our annual conference was originally planned for mid-June, and then rescheduled for beginning of October. We’ve been looking into a new format that can accommodate current official guidelines and we’ll have more to announce about this shortly - we’re very excited. In response, we’re really stepping up our game in digital events, and have recently launched something we’re calling Couch Conferences. Combining elements of physical and digital was a concept that was already on our agenda pre-Covid, but that of course got accelerated. We’ve already delivered four successful events so far - it goes to show TNW's agility in adapting to new circumstances.

Any tips you can share for start-ups considering participating in 2021?  

AK: The feedback we received was that the application process itself can be a really useful exercise for start-ups. The tip I gave everyone was to remember that the jury will be reviewing a lot of entries, and that they don’t know anything about your business: you have to be able to tell your story and describe your impact in a very succinct way. These start-ups are all led very smart people who may be focused on a very tiny part of their business that’s certainly important - but may be difficult to easily explain on an application form. The exercise of zooming out is so useful.

Finally, what sets Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge apart?  

RvD: There are a couple of things that make Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge really special. The first is reputation: because it’s been running for more than 15 years it has a big community in terms of winners and finalists. Second, the programme is well thought-through: you don’t just get a bag of money, you also enter the Rockstart accelerator programme and that can really support in maximising the impact of the prize. And on a practical level, many start-ups don’t want to give up part of their business in equity and shares which is very often the case for these kind of competitions. With Green Challenge, it’s all about funding and support.