MetaBUILD Mentorship Series, Episode 3: Grants and Funding

Maria Yarotska
Hackathon Coordinator, NEAR.

October 14, 2022

The MetaBUILD hackathon has over 1000 participants and 170+ submission drafts, and we’re approaching the equator of the program. The hackers have 5 more weeks to build, and we can’t wait to see all of the amazing projects cooking in their minds!

As we continue with our mentorships, this week we were talking about the grants and funding opportunities available in the NEAR ecosystem. Mark Ery from NEAR Foundation and Alex Botezatu from Aurora joined us on Twitter Space to help figure out the best ways to receive support for the future hackathon winners. Listen to them or read this quick recap to find out!


What is the Difference Between a Grant and an Investment Round in Terms of Obligations and Track Record?

  • Alex believes that if the project is mature enough for traditional fundraising, it would be the best option. If the team is not ready for this kind of support, he considers the grant the next best option – as a first step of the long way. After approving the grant Alex’s team would continue to work with the project and to be in touch with the team to help them in the future.
  • In Mark’s opinion, the choice between investment and funding depends on the advancement and growth stage of the project. NEAR Foundation usually approves grant support for smaller teams who are just starting building on NEAR, and the grant agreement would have certain milestones that the team would have to reach. And then depending on what happens at the end of the grant, if the project is looking to invest, Mark’s team would offer to link them up with their VC network. In general, Mark would suggest starting with the grants.

What Kind of Projects can get a Grant? Are you Focusing on Certain Topics?

  • Alex’s team would consider all types of projects built on Aurora. First of all, they’ll be looking for a strong team of smart people who believe in their idea. But if we're talking about priorities, Alex would say that infrastructure projects would be the most interesting to support.
  • Mark agrees with Alex and says that the Foundation Grants Program is focusing on open source infrastructure projects as well. They also have focused on gaming, sports, media and entertainment as a part of their new strategy. In Mark’s opinion, it is a good way of onboarding Web2 users to Web3. His team also has a focus on what they call enterprise – similar to gaming and sports, it's a good way of bringing the existing projects into Web3. And finally, their 4th focus area would be sustainability initiatives. Since NEAR is a carbon neutral blockchain,  the grants team is also focusing on growing in a sustainable manner.

What is the Amount the Grant Applicant can Receive?

  • In general, Aurora’s standard grant size is $50k, says Alex. His team usually split this amount to several milestones because in their experience giving out the whole amount in one payment would not be a good idea. If the project is asking for less or more money, that’s also not an issue because the main question for Alex would be if this amount is going to be spent wisely. In case the amount is really big, the decision is made by the Aurora DAO.  
  • Before Mark’s team started following the new grants strategy, NEAR Foundation practiced giving out quick grants, and it was possible to receive up to $50k in just one week. This kind of grant was designed to kick-start the ecosystem, and it is no longer available – there’s several grant tracks instead. One of them is called Activation and it includes a one-milestone grant up to $10k. It is designed as an invitation to the NEAR ecosystem for newer projects with smaller teams. There’s Opensource Public Good grants ranging from $30k to $100, Multichain track, and two Convertible tracks with up to $50k grants and two milestones, and up to $75k grants with three milestones for the builders. Mark’s team is standardizing grants in order to make it transparent and fair for the applicants.

What is the Application and Approval Process for Grants?

  • According to Alex, Aurora’s  process is simple: one should apply using the funding request form and wait for a few weeks. In case Alex’s team is able to make a fast decision, the grant might be approved in just a few days.
  • The only way to receive NEAR Foundation funding is to apply using this form,- says Mark. To make the application process transparent, Mark wrote a handbook available for anyone who is interested in funding. After reviewing the application, the team would have an eligibility check to make sure that the project is applying for the right track. Then there's a pre-screening for a deeper review using a list of questions that the applicant has to fill out. Then there is an interview with the team followed up with the business review, and at the end we have a technical review just to make sure that the tech is good. Since Mark’s team gets a lot of grant applications (40-45 a week), their current turnaround is around three weeks, but the goal is to lower it down to just two weeks.

What Should the Applicant Finance (and not) with the Grant?

  • Alex recommends, in his own words, an adequate approach when applying for an Aurora grant. In some cases, the grant will be approved partially excluding the amount that doesn’t qualify for the funding.
  • In Mark’s opinion, grants should finance the project’s basic needs which includes building fees, developers’ salaries etc. The grants are there to bootstrap and to support the production of MVP.

Do you Provide any Mentorship for the Grantees?

  • Alex considers mentorship a way to receive feedback from more experienced developers, and people who know how to raise money. In case the project would like to clarify something with Aurora developers, the team is welcome to communicate and join the office hours. If the project is really impressive and promising, Aurora is inviting the team to the demo hours with their top managers.
  • NEAR Foundation encourages and relies on the self-sustaining ecosystem support,- says Mark. There’s a lot of educational materials available to the grantees who want to learn more about their financial growth, technology, infrastructure and HR.

From Winning MetaBUILD to Grant Application: Best practices and Advise:

  • For Alex, winning a hackathon is a great start for the grant application process. He suggests being proactive looking for support. 
  • Mark recommends including the hackathon win information in your grant application – you will also need to include a proof of concept and a link to your demo. The Foundation’s grant team is also looking for the projects with a go to market strategy that have growth perspectives.
  • It is important to have plans after launching. It's also really important to highlight your team. Proving your previous experience, making a solid problem statement which proves that the project is valuable for the ecosystem would be the best advice Mark could give to the applicants.

Thank you for joining us on Twitter Space or reading this recap. Next week we’ll meet to talk about local hubs and discuss the opportunities they provide to those in close proximity.

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