What’s better than winning half a million from the Postcode Lottery? Taking the Rockstart Deep Dive

Each September, the Postcode Lottery runs the Green Challenge Award, a competition which selects the top five startups from all around the world, with the most potential for green impact. The winner gets a whopping half a million grant, second place gets €200,000, and this year third, fourth and fifth received €100,000 each. So what could beat that?

Find out as we interview Program Manager Karin van Soest about the Rockstart Deep Dive.

Tell us when the Deep Dive program started, and why?

Around 11 years ago the Green Challenge Award first started. It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest prize money award you can win as a startup. But money alone is not enough to drive impact, certainly not the kind of impact the Green Challenge was hoping for. Startups fail for all sorts of reasons, lack of money being only one of them. This is what Stichting DOEN realized after a number of years of organizing the Green Challenge Award for the Postcode Lottery. So this is when the Rockstart Deep Dive program started.

Four years ago Rockstart started helping the Green Challenge Award finalists to overcome their biggest challenges, whether it is raising large funding rounds, selecting the best market to scale or negotiating partnership contracts. Once the Green Challenge Award has ended, each September, Rockstart takes the startups through a six-month long program, ending in the intensive Deep Dive Week in Amsterdam in February. Its purpose is to help the startups become as successful as possible so they can create as much impact as possible.

What is the Deep Dive program all about and what is your role?

I came on to the team this year to re-develop and lead the Deep Dive program together with Freerk Bisschop, program director of our Smart Energy Accelerator. Having worked together in the Smart Energy Accelerator, we were able to build the program from the ground up. The program is structured and scalable thanks to Rockstart’s strengths, knowledge, mentors and network, and, at the same time, is highly tailored to the needs of the startups. During the design process, and in fact over the full duration of the program, I tried to ask myself questions like, “What do each of these highly different startups need to become successful?”, “How can Rockstart bring these startups value?” and “How can we build a structured program around it?” That’s why I came on board.

The beginning of the program is based around connecting the startups with the best experts and mentors in our network and committing them to help the startups in their green challenge over a period of six months or longer. Each startup is matched with a business mentor, chosen specifically to match their experience with the startups’ business model, industry or growth phase. Additionally, we bring in support from a highly experienced financial mentor, who supports all of the five startups with their funding and financial challenges.

The Deep Dive week in February brings all of the startups together again in Amsterdam with mentor sessions, expert support, investor feedback and networking dinners. All in all, it’s a very intensive time that focuses their attention on their most risky challenge instead of their day-to-day business.

Why is this so valuable to the startups, haven’t they already won?  

We do this every day, all day, it’s in our blood. We can leverage our knowledge, experience, and network to really help these startups. One key connection can be worth far more than money.

A good example would be that of Balthasar Klimbie, mentor of Steama.co, one of the five finalists. Over the coming months Balthasar will be advising governments and organisations in Africa on how to create a stable energy supply for their countries. This is exactly the problem Steama.co is focused on with their solution. The insights and connections he is able to make is priceless.

One of our biggest strengths and value for the startups is making them stand back and re-assess where they are, what their challenges are, and what they need to focus on in order to move forward.  

What kind of challenges have the startups faced during the Deep Dive program?

A good example is HomeBiogas; after peeling away the surface problems together with their mentors Ricardo Kandelman and Eduard Puig, the founders of HomeBiogas found that if they could not solve their financing challenge, they would not be able to achieve the impact they envisioned. Millions of people’s lives could be improved in Africa alone if they would use the Biogas system, however, how will they pay for the production? The clearer business case selling the Biogas system to the Western world, but it would be no more than a “nice to have”, an educational tool for children to learn about sustainability.

So, how can they finance the emerging market using sales and leverage from the Western market? For this issue we got the Maurits Groen to take the Deep Dive with HomeBiogas and share his experience on the very same challenge with his own impact startup WakaWaka. The founders were inspired. Now they not only have a very solid vision on how to finance their product, they have found a very powerful ambassador.

What happens next for the startups?

This is far from the end, startups all over the world are making their dreams a reality and striving for impact and so will we. From now until May we will continue to support the five finalists with mentorship and creating those relevant connections with our network.

From March 1st the Green Challenge Award will open again for applications and we will use our learnings to improve the program even more for the next five finalists, striving for green impact.

Karin van Soest is Rockstart’s Program Manager and has been part of the team since 2014.

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