During the 2017 edition of Imagine Chemistry, we received over 200 ideas for how to tackle different challenges faced by our business. Of these, we invited the 20 teams with the most promising ideas to the finals, and after a stiff competition we ultimately selected 10 winners to receive support to turn their ideas into reality. Here, Johan Kerver of FiliGrade, Jeremy Austin of Renmatix, and Brian Miller and Monika Tomecka from uFraction8 – all winners from Imagine Chemistry 2017 – offer some sage advice on how your startup could take home a prize during Imagine Chemistry 2018.

First thing’s first: have a great idea


The most basic ingredient for winning Imagine Chemistry, and having a successful startup in general, is having a great idea. As Johan sees it, “What is needed for a startup is that the idea is good - really good. You must be able to convince people, and a good idea always does in the end.”

Pitch smart

A good idea is a good start, but others need to believe that your idea is worth investing in. Even explaining what it is can be a tricky endeavor. Johan says, “You need to make it really clear what you are doing. That can be difficult, because you don’t always have the ability to show it, for example for patent reasons. I would advise startups to learn how to tell in one minute what you are doing. Convince people about the idea itself first, and then you can move forward and go in depth.”

Meanwhile, uFraction8 found a clever – and transferable – way of pitching their idea. Brian explains, “We were very careful in our formulation of the proposition, trying to keep the risk small but the potential reward large. We could have pitched the idea of deploying a million pound system, but in terms of the risks involved and the amount of money and time it would take, we thought no one would ever agree to it.”

Monika adds, “We realized that our approach with AkzoNobel might be a good way of talking to other big players.” Brian continues, “Starting with a cheap, small, fast test is handy because it keeps things in the realm of the ‘company champions’ – if the budget is small, people have more discretion on what they spend on. By keeping the first tests very short and hopefully very sweet, we can gather evidence that helps them justify getting more support later on.” He concludes, “Basically, start small and build up. Build the relationship over time, don’t try to and jump in with a very risky, very large, very expensive proposal.”

Experience helps, but it’s not a dealbreaker

Last year’s finalists ranged from established startups to university researchers. In the case of Renmatix, experience may have been a contributing factor. As Jeremy explains, “We’ve got a lot of years behind the development of our technology. There was really no need for back end development, it was all forward thinking.”

Of course, earlier stage startups are also encouraged to join. As Jeremy puts it, “I would hope that no one out there thinks, ‘Maybe we’re not ready for this, maybe I won’t submit something,’ because some of the prizes could be really poignant jumping off points for early stage companies.”

Put energy into building relationships

"It's all about who you know" might be a cliché, but last year’s winners offered up ample evidence that good things come from good relationships, starting with your own team. As Monika explains, “When we received our award at Imagine Chemistry, we were told we are an awesome team. We think we work pretty well together and we saw that it’s actually seen from outside as well.”

During Imagine Chemistry, AkzoNobel colleagues can serve as great allies as well. Jeremy explains, “I couldn’t say enough good things about the people we met, even those that we spent 5 minutes with. It was evident that you guys wanted this to work. You didn’t have people there going through the motions because they were asked to; they were there because they wanted to be there and to help. I think that having a rapport with everyone accelerated things.”

Persevere in the face of adversity

While these companies all emerged as Imagine Chemistry winners, they overcame countless obstacles to get to that point. As Johan notes, “Getting through the difficult periods is as important as the idea itself. There are a lot of people that have good ideas, but you have to bring them to market and that’s something different.”

Just go for it!

Clearly there are a variety of tactics to employ to win and plenty of good reasons to join Imagine Chemistry. As Monika says, “Just go for it!” Brian adds, “Absolutely. Believe in yourself. There isn’t a limit on the number of prizes. If you can make a good proposal and they like it, they’ll take it.”

In the end, there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain by joining. Jeremy notes, “Everyone threw the cliché around, but really I think that if we had won nothing, the experience alone of spending a few days with key people from your organization who provided direction and context for what we’re doing made it a worthwhile experience.”

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Imagine Chemistry 2018 is open for submissions until March 10th, with the finals event taking place from May 29th to June 1st in Gothenburg, Sweden. If you think you have a solution that can help us make the chemicals industry more sustainable, we invite you to join our Challenge at https://challenge.imaginechemistry.com/.