Startups for the Good of Society: The Idea Challenge with a Difference

By David Knight |

If you are a would-be entrepreneur or a techie with a great idea and you’re seeking a foot up, the array of programs and contests looking for the next big thing in tech can be bewildering. What do you go for? Is it worth your time applying for this accelerator, or entering that competition?

First off, let’s be clear: Anything aiming to help those wanting to create and innovate can surely only be a good thing. But there are different ways to go about it.

Take the Idea Challenge from EIT ICT Labs. We covered the launch of the pan-European contest earlier this month, and recently unveiled our partnership with the organisers to help them reach out to the entrepreneurial community at large. But why should you take part? The details about the who, what, where and when you can find in the above linked story, but we also want to get under the skin of the why.

Perhaps a recap of the basics: The Idea Challenge will see startups and entrepreneurial teams enter projects in eight different categories, each in a different city across Europe which features an EIT presence.

Each city will pick three winners who get €40,000, €25,000 and €15,000 as well as coaching and mentoring from business development experts, integration into future EIT activities and office space for six months.

The eight cities are being divided into two batches, one being contested from now until April 20 and the other in September. The first batch includes Eindhoven, Helsinki, Munich, Rennes, while the second features Trento, Stockholm, London and Berlin.

All well and good. But what’s makes it different? Tobias Heger is in charge of the contest, and he said its ultimate aim is to identify a new generation of entrepreneurs and support them in creating sustainable ICT companies in Europe: “Sustainable companies that create jobs for Europe in the long run often need exactly what we can offer.” Can accelerators, incubators and even VCs offer the same thing, though?

“Maybe, but we see some differences to incubators and VCs. First, most incubators look for ideas that can be scaled up quickly with massive investments for a quick and large exit. Of course we don’t exclude ideas that need to go this path but we are by far not focusing solely on them – more the opposite.

“Second, we are publicly funded [by the EU]. We act for the good of society, not investors. Thus, we don’t go after equity. Lastly, in the last few years we have build up a great network with the largest companies in ICT from Europe, renowned tech universities and research institutes. This network has a huge knowledge base and co-operation potential that we want to open up for startups from Europe to improve their products, services and businesses and help them take their business to an international level.”

The idea of a program which is not solely interested in what the startups might be worth in a few years time is an interesting one, especially as an alternative to those that are. It would encourage ideas which might not appeal to traditional incubators, for example.

Tobias added: “We are looking for great ideas with the potential to change markets, technologies or industries and improve the life of everyone. Not quick monetisation.”

The aim is for the challenge to support and empower ideas that might not have the potential to quickly generate huge profits or revenues but that “challenge underlying societal, technological, economical, or even political assumptions and that create jobs for the long run,” he argued.

So what are they looking for? Entrants should be early stage i.e. founder-funded, pre-seed or even earlier in order for the money given out to the winners can have the maximum impact.

In order to apply, entrants need to outline their idea, the underlying technology, the team, the market, their business model including a rough financial plan and the impact they would expect if they were awarded a prize. The information will then be reviewed by industry experts in the appropriate field and the best dozen or so will be invited to pitch to a jury, from which the three winners are selected.

You can find information on how to enter here, so get cracking.