Gareth Thistleton

Gareth Thistleton, Head of Social Investment, Shell UK

Winning the Shell Springboard award can be a huge turning point for your low-carbon business. With increased credibility, a new network of contacts and a financial boost, it could be the moment that propels your business on an upward trajectory.

If your business is low-carbon, innovative and economically viable, writing an award application may sound like a straightforward process. However, as you can’t use your personable attributes and charisma, you need to think hard about how you communicate your idea.

The Social Investment team at Shell UK have overseen hundreds of applications to our Shell Springboard and LiveWIRE programmes. Some have really blown us away. However, with many, we see the same pitfalls time and time again.

Here are my top tips for writing a first-class application.

1) Make sure it’s the right award for you

Different awards programmes are aimed at businesses that are at different stages and it’s important that you apply to the right one for you. For example, Shell Springboard is looking for SMEs with well-evidenced business plans, while Shell LiveWIRE is more flexible and can suit start-ups at earlier stages of development. Both programmes use carbon reduction or wider sustainability impacts as core assessment criteria.

2) Avoid jargon and ‘marketing speak’

You must be able to explain the merit of your business idea to a non-technical audience, using concise language. Imagine you’re trying to explain it to a clever 12-year-old. Avoid so-called ‘marketing speak’. Although the programme assessors are subject matter experts, they will still be looking for straightforward descriptions of the strengths of your idea and the successes that you have had as a business.

3) Explain how you’ve learned from your mistakes

All innovative businesses go through a development journey, with ups and downs. Don’t be afraid to demonstrate in your application what you have learned and what has and hasn’t worked – particularly if it proves that you’ve innovated around your customers’ needs. Prove that you have persistence and resilience by showing that you turned the mistakes you made into advantages for your business.

4) Be realistic in your financial projections

Applicants to the Shell Springboard programme often talk about their projected sales in 5 or 10 years’ time in units of thousands or even millions. However, it’s often the answers to the basic questions that give an indication of commercial viability – for example, how much does your product or service cost? Why would a customer buy it over a competitor’s? How much does it cost to make, and your per unit margin? Without this information the judges will be less convinced by sales projections.

5) Innovation comes in many forms

Don’t let ‘innovation’ put you off. Remember that innovation is not just about unique, brand-new tech discoveries; it could be a novel business commercialisation proposal, a new way to access customers or an unexpected tweak to an existing technology that could radically change its application and amplify its impact.

6) Estimate the low-carbon potential of your business

Shell Springboard is looking for SMEs that address environmental challenges with their business models. While projecting impacts could be difficult, use any evidence (even anecdotal) to support your claims and outline key assumptions behind your direct and indirect carbon reduction estimates. Even if your business is not an eco-venture in its classic definition, try to think about its positive societal value.