How to Win a Grant From ITMOSTUDENTS.Initiative

The ITMOSTUDENTS.Initiative grant is a new way for ITMO students to receive support for their dream projects. To apply for funding, all you need to do is fill out an application, outline your project’s goals and decide on the amount of funding you’ll need. Ekaterina Mashina, this year’s grant winner, shared with us her tips on how to apply and win.

About the grant

ITMOSTUDENTS.Initiative is a new grant competition for students interested in launching their individual entrepreneurial projects. Applicants need to submit an application with an outline of their project. The competition is run once per semester.

“After a trial run in 2017, we decided to hold the competition on a regular basis. Our idea is to support student initiatives based on their interests and desires, as well as to show that projects like these can make money. In the first year, we received 45 applications and won 17. This year, the number of winners was also 17,” explains deputy chair of ITMO.STUDENTS Meruert Nurysheva.

Applications can be submitted within a two-week window. They must include descriptions of personal experience, goals, tasks, the project’s relevance, and its estimated budget. All applications are reviewed by both external and internal committees. Afterward, some of the teams are invited to present their projects in person and receive feedback from the experts.

After the results are announced, ITMO.STUDENTS continues to cooperate with the participants. Those whose applications don’t get picked up, too, receive feedback in order to help them perform better in the next competition. As for the winners, Meruert’s team works with them throughout the semester, helping out with purchases and keeping stats on expenses.

“We’re always interested in fresh ideas and innovations,” continues Meruert Nurysheva “Our participants’ team touch on the topics of healthy lifestyle, sports, and technological and science art. Many of them are heavily into science. For instance, one of this year’s winners is a biochemical project about papillomavirus diagnostics. What matters is that the students should be able to present a product with long-lasting practical applications.”

A winner’s tips

One of this year’s winners is Ekaterina Mashina, a first-year student who enrolled at ITMO University through the ITMO.STARS program. Together with other students from ITMO University, the First Pavlov State Medical University of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg State University, and Lomonosov Moscow State University, she is part of the PersonalMedHelper project, which aims to create an informational support system for medical volunteers (we’ve previously written about this project in our article – Ed.). It was this project that Ekaterina received her grant for.

When is it better to start preparing your application?

I began preparing for the competition in advance, around late October, which was more than a month before the deadline. It’s not my first time taking part in a competition like this and I know that you just can’t prepare a good application in a day or two.

First, you need to check the rules very carefully and learn everything about the competition’s goals, tasks, conditions, its mission, and how to apply. I know from personal experience that this kind of thing can be very exhausting, but ignoring it can cost you the win. It’s not the topic you choose, but how you present it that determines your success.

What is the hardest part of writing your application?

The hardest part is coming up with your project’s target model, i.e. what you plan to do, why you’re doing it, how you’ll achieve that and who will be your main customers. It’s not easy, and you may not succeed at first. I redid my application completely three times, changing it almost entirely. So here’s another piece of advice: find someone who’s already participated in a similar event and ask for their feedback.

Also, don’t send your application as soon as it’s done; sleep on it for a couple of days. When you come back to it, you’ll have plenty of ideas on how to improve it.

How will you use your grant?

At first, our team was going to ask for a lot more, but we were reigned in by our peers at the right time. In the end, we limited our request to expenses on merchandise. On the one hand, we’re a lot more limited in terms of budget and additional endeavors, but on the other, we have a lot more freedom of choice. We can develop our project in the way that we prefer.

Ekaterina Mashina
Ekaterina Mashina

PersonalMedHelper is currently in its initial stage of development, and we’re going to spend the grant on marketing. As for the preliminary work on “wrapping up” our startup, we’re going to use funds earned via supporting other trademarks’ blogs. For now, it’s more important for us to become known as an ITMO-backed project than to receive any specific resources.

Is there anything you’d like to improve about the competition?

First of all, more effort must be done to inform students. Ideally, they would be given a list of all competitions, with short descriptions and deadlines, at the start of each semester. Seeing the bigger picture would help them make better decisions. I know from experience that in order to get somewhere with your idea, you’ll need to try your hand in lots of competitions, make some mistakes, acquire experience, and make conclusions.

Secondly, it would be great if the potential participants received assistance in preparing their paperwork. There are documents with rules on how to do that, but they’re not easy to find, which takes time. What definitely should be avoided are templates and examples e.g. “here’s how to fill out your form”. They don’t teach you how to actually fill out an important application and only require mechanical work.

Where else can you learn how to fill out applications?

In the summer of 2017, I took part in the school volunteer project contest “People Need You!”, which is organized and conducted by ITMO University. As part of the preparatory stage, we all attended a school organized by the Student Initiatives Department. The staff there helped us learn about the stages of project work: how to create a target model, how to assess risks, and how to carry out promotional campaigns and raise funding.

This year, I’ll be the one giving lectures to volunteers as part of “People Need You!” and sharing my experiences of working on charity projects. I’ll talk to them about filling out applications, too.

I’ll also be glad to help and answer any questions online.

A new call for applications for the ITMOSTUDENTS.Initiative will begin in March. Be on the lookout for more news!

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