This is a story about how I raised funding for my student-led project and how YOU can help me do it again.
Last year, I co-founded and led a team of students to enter the MATE ROV, an international competition to design and build a remotely operated underwater robot. The aim of the competition is to get students into marine technical fields and to give them a chance to learn more about enterprise in an engineering context.
Each year, the competition is based on a new theme, which relates to the location where its held. The teams are presented with a set of real-life problems given by a “client,” given in the form of a brief. The teams have to then act as a company and design & build a “product” in response to the client’s need. In addition to engineering their robots, the students are required to prepare technical reports, poster displays, and engineering presentations that are delivered to working professionals who serve as competition judges. This allows teams to experience a very realistic simulation of a real-life engineering project.
However, in order to succeed in the competition, a lot of non-technical work is also required. This includes participation in outreach events, marketing and most importantly obtaining funding, budgeting and managing expenses. This is very crucial because the costs of building the robot and travelling to present it in the competition can be very expensive and teams initially start with no funding. Obtaining the funding for my team last year has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
How it all started
When I started this project with a friend of mine, last year, our aim was to gain practical experience and to apply our engineering knowledge, we recruited some students and started working on the competition. Initially, I was leading one of the technical teams, but as the workload increased we required more funding to cover the costs of development and I had to transition into a managerial role with a focus on obtaining funding.
This was the first time for me to work in this role, so it was hard for me to know where to begin. However, as I got more into the details of the role I gained more confidence and started learning what it takes to persuade others to fund your idea. As a result, we were able to raise the full amount needed to build the robot and travel to the competition in California, USA. We became the first ever team from England to qualify to the international finals and we later learned that there was 174 teams registered in the advanced category – of those, only 25, including our team, qualified to attend the International Event.
What I have learned from the experience
The experience has been an eye-opener to me and I have learned some very valuable lessons from it:
- The only requirement is passion. I have started the role not knowing what to do but I was passionate and determined to succeed. This has allowed me to put in the effort to learn, pursue opportunities and talk to people who could help me. As a result, I was able to meet my goal and succeed in making it all happen.
- You have to be creative. One of the reasons I was able to obtain the funding is because I started looking for it in the most unlikely places and during my search I came across an opportunity that I was able to utilise. In this example, I applied for funding for outreach events and I pitched the idea as a way to engage school students with engineering. This has led to us receive the funding and participate in several outreach events to showcase our work, which brings me on to the next lesson…
- It is important to understand the power of your idea and how it can benefit your funders. Before approaching any person for funding, I first try to put myself in their shoes and think what would they get out of it. This has allowed my to tailor my pitch to appeal to a variety of people and organisations while providing all of them with reasons to buy into my idea.
We are entering the competition again this year, with a focus on improving our technical and non-technical performance and learning from last year’s lessons. One of the changes that we are implementing this year is that we are planning to recruit a person who is solely responsible for obtaining funding and sponsorships and keeping track of the budget. This person can be YOU. As I mentioned earlier, the only requirement is passion and a willingness to learn and be part of a great team. If this is something you are interested in, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org before the 20th of October.