Hydrasure CEO, Emer Cooney gives her tips for applying for the Agri CSF
“It’s a tough road, and you have to have the tenacity to stick with it even when you feel that you’re not making progress”
Emer Cooney, CEO of Hydrasure speaks from experience on making funding applications
The idea for Hydrasure was born out of several things. Underpinning these was Emer Cooney’s desire for improved animal welfare, combined with a love of solving problems. Despite the fact that water is critical to horses’ health and performance, there was very little data available relating to equine water intake.
As an internet-of-things product, Hydrasure combines hardware, software, and communications elements, to present a new, ‘smart’, internet-connected automatic drinker. Hydrasure also offers a retrofit unit, which allows you to keep track of equine water consumption using existing automated drinkers.
“IoT & hardware products are notoriously expensive to develop, and I struggled to find the money to make it happen in the initial stages” says Cooney. “To get my first prototypes developed in the initial stages, I had to prove the worth of my idea many times for funding applications, and I got a number of knock-backs. This can be discouraging when you’re putting your own money into something and taking financial risks with no guarantee of return.
“It’s a tough road, and you have to have the tenacity to stick with it even when you feel that you’re not making progress. It’s important to find the right audience to pitch to, one who understands your solutions and their potential value”.
Emer Cooney’s five top tips for Competitive Start Fund (CSF) Applications
- Filling in the application form:
Go through the application form in detail and answer the question that is asked — don’t deviate from the information that is required. Be concise as there is a tight word count. Key information you will need:
- Market research: Show that you have investigated your idea using surveys and interviews — show any validation for sales or market demand that you can offer.
- Target market profile and size: Demonstrate that your target market is large enough to sustain your business, and ideally, that it is growing. A key part of your application relates to how much of this market you can access and how you will reach customers.
- Competitor products: What other solutions are out there, how are they priced, how is your solution different & better and what barriers to entry are there for others?
- Your technical roadmap: Clearly show your product development path & potential for secondary products and services. Map out your technical milestones and know your costings. Get your quotes for technical work well in advance.
- Team profile: Which relevant skills do you have and which skills are missing?
- Commercial milestones: For this, it helps to develop a financial/revenue model. How you structure this can determine how attractive you are to investors.
- If you have applied before, what has changed from your previous application?
- The timeline to complete the application
There is approximately a 3 week window from when the call opens to submit your application for the CSF. Begin your application as early as possible. If you have submitted an application before, note that the format changes from time to time. Don’t get caught out at the last minute with a question you weren’t expecting.
- Language to use in a business application
Be definitive and avoid vague statements that could introduce doubt about your ability to achieve your milestones. State what you will do, how you will do it, and why. Get help with the areas that you may feel uncertain about — this will help you to confidently convey and sell your idea.
Keep the language simple and direct, and avoid jargon. Assume that the person who reads your application has zero knowledge of the sector or technology that applies to your business. Ask a few people who have no knowledge of your project to read your application and give you feedback. If you can find someone who has been through the process before to do this, then all the better.
- Getting independent advice from people in the industry
I found it very difficult to present financial projections with confidence as I had little experience in financial modelling. I got professional advice on this aspect through the New Frontiers program, which helped me to generate a comprehensive financial model.
Many of the Enterprise Ireland mentors are great for advice and they are familiar with the CSF process. Try to get onto the mentor scheme and ask them to review a draft of your application and get feedback on your pitch. Different advisors will say different things, but overall, set realistic, achievable milestones.
- Tailoring & perfecting your online pitch
View this as an opportunity for you to sell yourself to the panel, as well as your idea.
The pitch needs to be well planned and rehearsed. Even though you may only be talking to a camera on your computer, it can be quite intimidating, so prepare your script well in advance. Time your rehearsals to ensure you don’t forget anything as you only get one minute per question, which goes fast. Include the key points, be measured and enthusiastic, and sell your idea confidently. Film yourself rehearsing, then watch it, tweak it, and repeat.
Check your internet connection strength in advance, and ensure that you have a quiet space that is free of interruptions from people and animals during your pitch. If you have a prototype, ensure that you show it to the camera during your pitch and explain the basics of how it works in simple language. Pitch to your friends, kids and granny, and get feedback from them! Then pitch to your industry contacts and mentors before you do the real thing.
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