For the second year, Linda Vermaat works as start-up scout for the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. During the submission period from 1 March until 1 June, she literally roams the earth in search of bright people with smart ideas. Recently, she travelled to South Africa and South America and her next stop is China. In between her trips we were able to meet up with her to hear about how it’s going.

Good to see you. How are you doing?
“I’m pretty busy. I just come from The Hague, where I collected my visa for my upcoming trip to China and had an appointment with the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. They support our competition and will link me to their innovation attaches in China; I’ll be visiting Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. I’ve already been visiting conferences and start-up hubs in Mexico, Brazil and South Africa. Before my trips, I always make connections with relevant people in the ecosystem of these countries. From the countries and parts of the world that I’m visiting now, the amount of submissions has been very low so far. But just as everywhere else in the world, there is a lot happening in the area of sustainability too. They just don’t know about our spectacular competition yet. That’s why it’s my goal to make the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge more known in every part of the world.”

This is the second year that you are working as scout for the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. What was your assignment last year when you started this?
“After organising the competition for 10 years, the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge held an extensive evaluation. It showed that although it’s a worldwide competition most of the applicants were male and came from the US or Europe. In order to take the next step, they wanted to involve and empower entrepreneurs from the Global South more in what they’re trying to achieve and ensure a higher participation from these areas. Last year, I worked as a start-up scout for five months. I would reach out to as many entrepreneurial networks as possible and connect to impact investors; I would visit 3 sustainability conferences and find two partnerships, with focus on Africa. The partners and people I approached spread our message willingly through their channels, and that has had a great impact on the submissions.”

Can you tell us something about your way of working?
“Jokingly, we refer to my work as the “Green Challenge on Tour”. Basically, I network a lot. And it helps that I have a positive message to spread: money up to 500.000 euros and coaching for the best green entrepreneurial ideas. Submission for the start-ups is free of charge. I hold presentations and I make contact with start-ups and parties that have a good network that they are willing to share with us. I ask people: are you or do you know someone who has a great green business plan and would like to submit it? After that first face-to-face connection people are very willing to spread my message further in their own network.

To the start-ups I always make it very clear that I do not play any role in the selection process to select the winners. Of course that would be odd, since as I’m also here to help them with their enrolment form. I have personally introduced last year’s winner to the Green Challenge and a number of the nominees and finalists. I encouraged them to participate and offered help when needed. Last year we have seen that the number of submissions almost doubled compared to the previous years, when it was close to 300 and last year rose to 515.”

What do you do differently this year?
“We decided to start scouting earlier this season and we intensified our collaborations with meaningful partners. For example, this year we work together with the Impact Hub, a global network of impact entrepreneurs in over 102 cities worldwide. They helped organize a special Postcode Lottery Green Challenge event in Johannesburg at their office, where I held a presentation for about 30 local start-ups. Visiting entrepreneurial conferences was a huge success last year so I will continue to do so even more this year.”

Next stop: China. Can you tell us about your plans?
“In the 12 years that the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge exists, we have received virtually no applications from China. In part, this probably has to do with the fact that the social media channels that we use are simply not accessible in China. So our message does not spread naturally. Like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, China has its own variations. Therefore we decided to personally visit China and introduce ourselves. We have now found a local partner who has organised meetings with the green ecosystem in the three major cities where a lot is happening in the field of sustainability: Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. I am going to meet people from co-workspaces, start-ups and accelerator programs for sustainable start-ups organised by WWF and Greenpeace, to name a few, who focus on entrepreneurship and climate change. I’m very excited about this trip because this is right up our alley.”

What strikes you the most when you’re scouting for bright ideas?
“I see the same passion everywhere! Entrepreneurship, hardship and the will to create a better world are universal. In the United States and Europe many ideas are very high tech due to smart Technology Universities. In developing countries you see more low-tech inventions. But those are also perfectly scalable and can make a huge impact. Like the mobile solar kiosk from finalist Henry Nyakarundi last edition, which was invented for rural Rwanda, but can be placed in any developing country. Or last year’s winner EarthEnable, a breakthrough in sustainable flooring which is 80% less pollutant than cement and much cheaper so more accessible for poorer households. To come up with an alternative to replace cement is a huge environmental advantage. That is why the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge is convinced that they must reach out worldwide in order to empower the best ideas to combat climate change.”

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