OpenGrant – AI Founders Chat

Embarking on a transformative journey, OpenGrant transitioned from Poland to Germany to seize the opportunity to participate in the AI Founders program at Campus Founders. The team is developing an AI-driven proposal writing and management solution to help NGOS, SMEs, and startups acquire and manage grants 10-times faster and 5-times cheaper. Now, they are recounting their experiences to our community, imparting valuable knowledge to fellow founders, and elucidating the reasons behind their choice to be a part of AI Founders.

OpenGrant is a prime example of how startups can leverage their unique resources and skills to make a positive impact on their community. Tell us your story.

OpenGrant began as a solution to a critical challenge we experienced on a personal level: The complex and time-consuming process of applying for grants. 5 years ago, I co-founded a startup incubator in CEE collaborating with Google for Startups, Microsoft Poland, and 4 software houses to help our Fellows prototype and validate needs with their ICP as fast as possible. The first 3 years we were essentially bootstrapped (if you can call it that with NGOs) – no grants and barely any sponsorship money – with a team of 10 working under me in a part-time volunteer capacity. 2 years ago, Jan (my co-founder at OpenGrant) joined the incubator as a Financial Officer to help with grant acquisition due to his prior experience in the field (6+ years at this point), soon becoming an integral part of the organization and saving it from many accounting and GDPR pitfalls. By 2022 we had won €50,000 in grants fueling the incubator’s professionalization and another few in the pipeline. This allowed us to bring our highest performers as paid employees and 10x our talent pool for the program. But grants are painful, messy affair, and Jan and I spent dozens of nights applying, managing, and reporting the various grant schemes – fully manual and high stress as we were legally liable for any compliance/accounting issues, while the alternative was ignoring grant funding and allowing the now blooming incubator to grind to a halt for lack of relevant funding alternatives. But this tough choice wasn’t only ours. Every year, 5M EU SMEs spend thousands of euros to win grants, in this suboptimal process. Since there’s no standardized pipeline to find grants, grant writers waste hours googling for them and then an additional 2-6 weeks to actually write the application. While writing they have to read, understand, and comply with grant guidelines which are more than a hundred pages of jargon, all the while paying thousands of euros in salaries, consultations, or outsourcing for each individual grant.
That’s why at OpenGrant we leverage AI and automation to help NGOS, SMEs, and startups acquire and manage grants 10-times faster and 5-times cheaper. Think of OpenGrant as the Stripe Atlas for Grants, making grant application and compliance as streamlined as C-Corp incorporation. OpenGrant automates relevant grant findings, decodes 100+ pages of grant guidelines into actionable steps, and generates fully compliant, high quality proposals in minutes not days (status quo). By December 2023, we’ll have added grant management and reporting, consolidating the whole grant cycle for our users (no software competitor does this).

How did your personal background and experiences shape your vision for this product and its mission?

My co-founder Jan and I brought a wealth of experience to the table, which profoundly shaped OpenGrant. Our backgrounds in grant management, combined with my leadership in a startup incubator and Jan’s extensive experience in financial and grant operations, directly influenced our vision for OpenGrant. We understood the pain points intimately and were determined to create a solution that addressed these challenges head-on, making grant acquisition more accessible and less daunting for SMEs and NGOs alike.

Were there any key lessons or insights from your life experiences that you incorporated into the product’s design, functionality, or user experience?

The key lessons from our experiences – the need for efficiency, clarity, and accessibility in grant processes (or essentially any long complex process, if made more efficient/user friendly, can generate economic value) – were central to OpenGrant’s design. We aimed to eliminate the complexities and obscurities that we had encountered, integrating AI to automate and streamline the process, and essentially abstracting away all the blockers that typically prevent organizations from applying for grants – expertise, time, manpower, and money. This approach not only saved time but also opened doors for many who previously found the grant application process too daunting or resource-intensive.

How have customers and the public responded to your product and what impact has this had on your startup’s growth and success?

The response to OpenGrant has been overwhelmingly positive. Our users particularly appreciate how OpenGrant enables them to apply for grants they wouldn’t have attempted on their own, due to lack of know-how or manpower. The real winner here is our approach of taking no retainer up front with only a success fee if we win the grant. The success-fee model has resonated well with the market, allowing us to rapidly expand our user base and enhance our platform, aligning perfectly with our mission to lead in industry innovation.

From Poland to Germany, why did you decide to participate in the AI Founders program and what are your expectations?

Campus Founders has 20-30 pre-incorporation ventures and 110-120 post-incorporation ventures, with the venture managers seeing us as value added to their portfolio and pushing us to become the first grant providers for the startups here, which obviously is hyper valuable for us in terms of sales and workflow feedbacking. We’re currently piloting EXIST, with the first results being promising (it was easy to adjust the NGO workflow to the EXIST one as it is relatively similar, with simple documentation) although this is just for PoC for R&D grants for startups as there are too few EXIST winners every year to make this a valid business case for us (too low EXIST TAM). The community aspect of living on-site with the remaining startup teams is also hyper valuable for us as we see germany as Europe’s top innovation hub with both the talent and the enablers (accelerators/investors/gov funding/high profile clients) available here, where compared to Poland were talent especially tech is available, the enablers not so much.