Application forms: the good, the bad and the ugly

This is part of a series for the Field Guide project looking at the best ways to support early-stage social ventures.

Every now and then I’ve found myself screaming at application forms. I think some organisations take pleasure from writing the most annoying, time consuming, fiddly, technologically difficult and infuriating applications known to humankind. Other forms have felt like a breeze and a fair representation of what I was trying to get across but what makes the difference?

If programmes to support social ventures are selective (I realise not all are), they almost always have some form of application process which will include a form of some kind — these days usually online. I’m wondering whether we can gather together some tips from founders and programmes to make these less of a pain in the proverbial for founders and more useful for the programmes concerned.


There are a number of services out there which take some of the pain out of putting together a good application form. Techstars have their platform (which actually provides standard questions) and then is used by a number of programmes (including BGV) as is AngelLists ‘incubator applier’. Many programmes seem to have built their own systems using Google Forms or other apps or specify what types of document need to be sent in. Let me know if you have any experience using these platforms and what you think are good or could be improved.

The right questions

The big difference between the new breed of accelerators and incubators and more old school early stage investors is that they get people to fill in a form rather than submit a business plan. This means they can compare directly. I’ve included some links to programmes I know have open applications at the moment — anything that stands out as interesting?

I’ve also posted the questions we used for the last BGV cohort although applications aren’t open at the moment.

It’s about time

One social entrepreneur I spoke to recently was bemoaning the sheer amount of time it took to fill in the forms and templates required by an organisation that supports social ventures - particularly after the first application. It was only because she had started and got so far that she was willing to carry on. “If I’d known there was this much bureaucracy I wouldn’t have bothered” she told me. What’s a reasonable amount of time for people to spend preparing the information for and filling in applications for programmes to support social ventures? I’m particularly interested in early stage ventures where there might be a prototype or early product but probably no revenues or paying customers.

Video killed the form?

A lot of applications now ask for a video introducing the team. We added this to the BGV application form at the last minute after I spoke to somebody who runs another programme who said they’d picked up some teams they wouldn’t have without video. Personally I don’t think it really helped in BGV applications but I’m interested whether founders like it as a way of getting across who you are and what you do.

Apply here

What really annoys you about application forms for startup programmes? Which ones would you point to as being really good and why? The other side of the story (how programmes do selection based on the information they get through forms) is coming soon.

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