A Newbie Going for Grants in London

This is probably a stupid political move, but…

This morning, I tweeted somewhat off-handedly that “It’s almost like we need funding to take the chance to win the @nesta_uk Heritage and Culture prize.” I thought perhaps it might bear a little more explanation and expansion, and hopefully discussion.

Good, Form & Spectacle is tiny and new. There’s about £4k in the bank. Nonetheless, we’ve bashed out three (internal) projects now, and collaborated with six different people. I worked on a short client contract towards the end of last year, the proceeds of which have gone towards rent and paying my collaborators in cash or lunch or coffee. Did I mention it’s tiny, and new? Funny coming from San Francisco, where start up can mean a company with 300 staff and millions in the bank. Nonetheless, I’m having a blast, and am so pleased that there are people around me also interested to work with me.

I was really attracted to the NESTA prize, simply because it feels and sounds much more active than some of the other grants and funding I’ve researched in the four months I’ve been in London. I’m an active maker type, so it seemed like a good fit.

I’ve already assembled a provisional team of six, including me, who’ve already given me their time and minds to think about an idea we could submit together. But here’s where it gets tricky, for me. As one of my collaborators commented in our discussions, the grant seems to be encouraging a sort of “you know that thing you were doing anyway? submit it for this!” instead of “invent the right answer,” which, as a new, exploring group, is a much better fit.

The prize is structured like this:

9th February – Applications Close

Applications should be submitted by midday 9th February 2015 using our Heritage & Culture group on Collabfinder. All completed projects on our Collabfinder group at this time will be considered.

After considering all applications at this time we will then notify teams via Collabfinder to let them know whether their idea has been selected to come along to the Creation Weekend.

17th February – Pre-Weekend Meetup – Venue TBC, London

This meetup is mainly for those teams who have been invited to attend the Creation Weekend as we will brief them on how to prepare the weekend and set them further deadlines.

In addition, for those who haven’t been invited to the Creation Weekend, it is an opportunity to meet successful teams and see if there are opportunities for collaboration. We will also announce our Judges for the Challenge.

28th February + 1st March – Creation Weekend – British Museum, London

At the Creation Weekend teams will further build and test their product and service. Teams will be also be assessed against the judging criteria and given coaching on pitching. On the Sunday afternoon, teams will then pitch to a panel of judges who will then chose three teams to progress further. These finalists will subsequently receive a £5,000 prize as well as a tailored package of support.

March – May – Incubation

The three finalists will further develop their product during this period. They will also receive a tailored package of support provided by Nesta and ODI including help to think through their business model, as well as further service design skills training.

May – Winner Announced

The three finalists will present one final time to the panel of judges who will then decide which team will be awarded the grand prize of up to £50,000.

– See more at: http://www.nesta.org.uk/heritage-culture-open-data-challenge

What are the expectations about level of effort from NESTA?

  • What is a “tailored package of support”?
  • Who are the types of people you have in mind as your target?
  • Do you think this I should be treating this like a side project?
  • Do you expect that most of the applicants will already have built what they submit?
  • Are you hoping to attract experienced, commercial practitioners?
    • What is a “tailored package of support” for experienced practitioners?
  • Do people who go for these prizes do this in the course of their work day, paid by an employer?
  • What kinds of organizations can bear this kind of financial risk?

In my head, I’d done rough calculations about the level of effort that a crack team of experienced practitioners could make in order to make something impressive. Let’s just say a team of six experienced folks would cost me about £10k a week, and that’s a very reasonable rate. That’d give us about a month’s worth of time to make something we could stand behind. Maybe I could ask the group to spend way less time on it, and we try to work in our spare time or on weekends, for say, 4 days instead of 30 to try to lessen the huge risk to all of us. But, knowing what I know about how wily software development can be, and how difficult it is to build something good in 4 days, I just don’t think that would be satisfying.

There are certainly some good reasons to keep going through with the whole shebang. It would be a great prize to win, since it would get the name out there, and the idea we’ve come up with is also a good continuation of the first two internal R&D projects we’ve already put out, but, I’m torn because to me, it’s a £50k bet, something which a tiny, new company can’t afford.

I don’t know what to do! I hope this post opens a discussion.

Have you worked on one of the previous NESTA open data prizes? How did you absorb the risk?

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4 comments
  1. Felix said:

    I think part of this comes down to a lack of understanding around ‘digital’ pitching; the time and effort required to see if an idea is feasible is much more concrete than it might be for a non-digital project. Even putting together MVP’s takes time, especially when you have to check data sources and learn new tools to use an API or library for a project. I also worry that this advantages established players; organisations who have existing tools, or even old proposals they can revisit will have much lower costs than small players who are coming at the pitch fresh.

  2. Hi George – We’ve emailed separately but I thought useful to put something up here for transparency. It’s great you’re thinking about taking part in the Challenge. We describe the process as a ‘co-opetition’ i.e. part collaboration and part competition. At the beginning of each challenge we find that people find it useful to meet with each other, explore the possibilities and meet potential collaborators. Towards the end of the process it does become more competitive and hard-nosed.

    I think it’s a fair question to ask how people go about finding resource to take part in our competitions. We appreciate the commitment it takes especially for freelancers and SMEs however we’ve had a number of teams get through to being finalists who have come together through the process.

    In terms of this Challenge, I’d advise you to consider the merits of any idea you put forward, especially in terms of whether you think it’s strong enough to be an ongoing concern. One of our judging criteria is sustainability and the winner of the overall prize will have to have demonstrated that their product or service has an ongoing business model and will able to cover their costs / outgoings in the long run. That said, we’ve hopefully designed the early application process as very low effort and there might be some good connections / leads you get from putting up a less thought through idea and seeing what happens.

    Hope that helps in terms of clarification and if there are any other questions we’re always happy to answer questions at opendata@nesta.org.uk.

    Ed Parkes (Nesta)

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