Endorsed for promise (technical) - CTO, co-founder, previously from academia

I just got endorsed for promise as a technical founder of my tech company.

This forum has been really helpful, so I’m hoping my experience can also be of use.

I’ll try to answer follow-up comments, but my feeling is that they really look at the overall application and body of evidence. Crafting a good story and tying it all together with your evidence is crucual.

Beyond the obvious stuff that they list in the guidelines, it’s not a tick-box exercise.

Some context

  • I was an assistant professor up to 2020, and then joined Entrepreneur First in Singapore, which is how I started my company;

  • I’m already in the UK on an innovator VISA—I got it for my startup in 2022;

  • I decided to switch to GTV because of the greater freedom and uncertainty around startups in general, even your own;

  • I’m 38 and applied for promise as I’ve been in a tech role since 2020, and was in academia prior—so age really isn’t a factor for promise endorsement.

Timeline

It took me 6 months (on and off) to compile everything and get the reference letters, and then:

  • Submitted 7 Jan 2024

  • First edit 10 Jan 2024

  • Second edit 21 Jan 2024

  • Third edit 22 Jan 2024

  • Endorsement received 22 Jan 2024

I did NOT apply under the fast-track option.

Other useful posts

Perhaps I didn’t look properly, but I couldn’t find that many examples on here from technical founders. I know there are many first or early employees and CTOs.

This post, from another founder, really helped and encouraged me to apply:

Evidence strategy

My submission was mainly based on my startup and its achievements. Its achievements are moderate, but the way I packaged it was still good enough for promise:

  1. Raised $550k pre-seed

  2. Around $300k in revenue over three years with global clients

  3. We peaked at 7 employees in 2021 (the good-old-days for startups)

  4. Industry is AI planning tools for waste and recycling companies.

In my submission, I clearly and often highlighted that as the founder of the company, its achievements are inseparable from my own.

The other evidence I submitted was of my publications prior to starting the company. My research was on the AI that formed the basis of my company’s tech, so there was still a link to my company.

The way that I compiled and wrote my evidence documents was similar to how I would write a journal article (for those with a similar academic background to mine). For all my evidence, I tried to keep it as professional as possible, with a heading, intro paragraphs, figure numbers and titles for screenshots, and then write in the evidence document what the figures and screenshots represent.

Personal statement

I don’t think I can specify too much here as it really is supposed to be personal. I did try and keep it as positive as possible and made reference to my evidence and the people that gave recommendation letters. I figured that this is the place to create a storyline, and the evidence is there to back up the story, so I wrote this last.

CV

I used the full three pages, and made sure that it was consistent with my overall story. I also relisted all the media mentions, key stats for my company, company awards, etc. from my evidence documents.

Reference letters

For reference letters, I created a list of every person that I’ve engaged with since starting the company that met the Tech Nation guidelines, ranked them, and then reached out to the top three and asked for reference letters. I ended up asking a fourth person, and not using one of the others, as I felt my application lacked some highly tech-focused reference letters.

Given the rather unique requirements for the letters, I recommend coordinating with them on the context and give comments on their drafts.

Mandatory evidence

This was my mandatory criteria evidence, with five in total:

  • Evidence 1: introduce my company, when it was formed, and include screenshots of its Crunchbase profile, and formal Singapore company profile showing the type of business, total shares and my shares.

  • Evidence 2: fundraising, including my role in the fundraising, with screenshots of our round being featured in local news articles in Singapore, plus then how the funding is shown in the company’s annual reports, as well as one of our term sheets showing the valuation.

  • Evidence 3: company revenue from global clients. It was just a breakdown of revenue per client and region, and then our revenue captured in our annual reports.

  • Evidence 4: personal media mentions, with screenshots of some interviews of me and a podcast, as well as quotes from me in a local trade magazine

  • Evidence 5: company media mentions and awards, with screenshots of news articles that featured our company as well as an award that the company won.

With 5, I made it clear that I am the majority shareholder and founder of the company, so these mentions and awards are relevant. All the media mentions were in Singapore news outlets, so nothing major.

Optional evidence, criteria 3

I was unsure whether to apply for OC1 or OC3, but ultimately went for OC3. I decided it was easier to show contribution and impact since I wrote 80% of all the company’s code. I wasn’t sure how to prove innovation in OC1. I could potentially have used some of the company media mentions, but they weren’t in high-profile publications.

I submitted three pieces of evidence.

Evidence 1: introduced our tech platform, a tech architect diagram, highlighting the pieces that I developed as well as screenshots of our video walkthroughs of the tech.

Evidence 2: product impact, with screenshots of one of our clients mentioning our tech in a media article, and a written letter from one of our clients, quantifying in $ the impact that we made. I asked the customer for a letter.

Evidence 3: github code contributions, with screenshots of my github profile and commit history, and then per repository commit graphs.

Optional evidence, criteria 4

This was probably the only one I felt confident in, as I had 3 peer-reviewed publications within the last five years, and it was based on the AI that became the core product of the company. I submitted two pieces of evidence.

Evidence 1: published journal articles, including a screenshot of my Google Scholar profile. I also discussed the most relevant publications and my contributions where there were multiple authors.

Evidence 2: reference letter from my PhD supervisor, and research collaborator since.

I decided on another reference letter to really focus on the technical aspects of my work, as I felt some of the mandatory evidence was commercially focused, and I’m applying as technical.

General thoughts

Reading the many shared success stories and rejections on this forum, beyond the obvious and listed stuff, I strongly feel that there isn’t a checklist that the reviewers go through. They have guidelines, they review ALL the submitted documents, and based on that, decide if it meets MC and OCs.

In some of the rejection letters, reviewers would question something seemingly specific, and then everyone here would panic (me included!). But often, if you look at the rejection letter again, you see that they list it with a bunch of other reasons why it was rejected.

I feel that it’s similar to journal reviewers. They would look over the application, and then form an opinion. If they feel it doesn’t meet the requirements, they would look for things to pick on.

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Congratulations @elias

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Congratulations and welcome to Tech Nation Family @elias

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Well done @elias!

I haven’t posted in a while, but noticing your path here wanted to chime in because it is the inversion of mine, after a fashion.

For me, I have the bona fides and experience - three immigration attorneys and everyone I asked (even here at this forum) along the GT pathway encouraged me to apply. Where it fell short was in making it easy for TechNation, who failed me and left me to seek another pathway.

How did TechNation fail me? They questioned my endorsers, and did not even bother to read the application if I’m being honest.

Tech Nation indicated that they do not understand who one of my endorsers is. I replied that this endorser is well known as a global leader in digital health and is on CNN every other week, published in NEJM once a month. They replied “Oh not him, the other one”, to which I replied well, the HIMSS lifetime award for digital health is quite literally named after that gentleman (he’s world reknown and a former HIMSS president as well).

At this point, I realized where the disconnect is and went out and got an Innovator Founder Visa (much more reliable and much more expertise in the endorsing bodies). I HIGHLY recommend Innovator Founder as a more reliable pathway since they pared back to three endorsing bodies (four really but one is by invite only).

The disconnect, and this is where I believe I can help others walking the path, is in valuing peacocks. In my industry, if you’re out making media mentions and preaching at conferences, you’re generally not the one actually moving the bar. You may have been a founder an engineer, a designer, a strategist, an architect, or some other type of useful contributor but you have evolved into a peacock. TechNation LOVES peacocks. So much so, they will ignore everything else, even if you have sold four startups and raised VC in excess of $250M such as I have.

I’m not throwing shade at TechNation, they have a hard job. They just do not succeed for everyone. They are almost guaranteed to be worth your time if you are a certified peacock, or if you are part of an Incubator (working for free for a few years until you earn the equity, not a viable option for many experienced folks with families). I’ve been talking to every MP I meet to indicate what a liability TechNation is to the UK and that a new endorsing body is needed, quite defensibly. It’s a very energizing story, the jobs I’m creating and the digital advances I’ve been making with my new company. I could have started doing this so much sooner.

If anyone wants help getting an Innovator Founder Visa, I’m happy to chat by the way.

This is a wonderful forum that will help you get your ducks in a row. When it comes to your personal outcome, however, don’t be surprised if you are not as successful as you could have been with another pathway. I couldn’t tell you if it’s discrimination or just arbitrary incompetence - but the outward perception to me and the MPs I have spoken to is that it is not defensible. The MPs have also advised me that Global Talent is really more for artists, they have never liked using it for technology or entrepreneurs so remember that - remember that you need to be a peacock more than the other guidelines.

Good luck, regardless of your venture - I would advise not to over-invest in Global Talent. It cost me months of time, and it was completely arbitrary (unlike Innovator Founder).

@Christopher.Dailey, it’s too off topic for me to reply here, as it will distract from the actual info I’m sharing: strategies for applying as tech founder previously from academia. But if you post the above in a new thread, I’ll add constructive counter arguments there.

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Apologies as it is too far off topic but I was compelled to put something down :slight_smile:

Really, as an academic, you had to publish or perish and really I am super impressed with your story because making the transition to starting a company seems tougher to me than getting a global talent.

As someone who has built and sold companies, architected designed and engineered systems that over $1Trillion have been processed through for strategy and portfolio management not to mention digital health, I had put the public portion of my career behind me around 12 years ago. That worked against me. It’s something that I think others can learn from is all.

I wish my advisors had made that part clearer, but no worries. I used to have a podcast with over 2.5 million subscribers and … God willing … I have plans to get it up and running again and tell this whole story as part of making the world a better place.

If I do, I’ll come back, and we can talk live there :slight_smile:

@Christopher.Dailey, don’t get me wrong, I think its a valuable debate: GTV vs Innovator. There are pros and cons to each, also keeping in mind that 70% of GTV applicants are employees and therefore would not qualify for an Innovator VISA. As before, starting a new thread on this would be beneficial.

An update on Stage 2 times:

  • Had a BRP appointment on 26 January 2024 (Friday)
  • Received Home Office approval on 29 January 2024 (Monday)

So in total, the process, Stage 1 and Stage 2, took 3 weeks.

Extra info for Stage 2:

  • I paid extra and applied under the 1-week turn-around-time option.
  • I applied from within the UK
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Congratulations @elias :smiley: :clap: :clap: Well done!
Likewise, I have applied on 29th of Dec and until now there is only 1 edit on 17th of Jan. Similar to you, I’m changing the route from Skilled Worker Visa to GTV. Currently, I’m still waiting the result of my application. Hopefully will be endorsed like you.
Cheers,
Emre

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And final update:

  • BRP delivered on 31 January 2024

In my case, the whole process, from Stage 1 application, to BRP delivery, was very efficient: 3.5 weeks.

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Hi elias:
I am planning to apply for GTV. You profile seems similar to mine. I am compiling OC2 and here are my documents. would you help accessing these:
5). Explains what is our core product, process diagram, use case and how it works? It is getting longer than 3 pages how did you fit your product and information what kind of details you mentioned)?
6). Copy of the Purchase order from Company A
Copy of the Purchase Orders from Company B
Copy of the Purchase Order from Company C

And I put a note under each of these something like this shows an impact of our core product:
“As a direct outcome of successfully implementing the SecureSync solution, which integrates both hardware and software components to Company A, I secured approximately 30 contracts. Attached are a few examples of these contracts, collectively contributing to a turnaround of £ABC GBP from Company A.”

7). Invitation from a known national govt organisation as a guest speaker on tech talk event and included photos of my business travel to 5 countries (one travel is within 5 year but the others are before 5 years)
8). Exemplary Contributions to Mentorship and Community Building - I included my Instagram page having 1000+ followers.

Can I show the turn around for the last 5 years (balance sheets, cash flow, profit loss). What did you attach as a proof?

Hi Roha,

For 5) You will have to fit it into three pages. I had one page (landscape) for the system-architect diagram, where I highlighted my contributions with a red box. I also annotated the diagram to explain core features. And then a second page showing screenshots of youtube product walkthroughs. I only showed four screenshots in total. The first page of the document was just a few paragraphs where I describe what the product does and highlight my contributions, with reference to the figures (Fig1: architect diagram, Fig2: screenshots).

For 6) I’m not sure if they will see this as significant impact of the tech. It could be argued that it’s just revenue from core business activities. In my case, I had the client confirm the impact (their benefits), and a news article from another client in which they praised our product. I may be wrong though.

For 7) Not my area of expertise at all, as I went the academic criteria route. My understanding is that if you can clearly show that you were an invited guest speaker (poster-type screenshot, and picture of presenting) and can show a large number of attendees, and the event is considered leading in your field (at minimum relevant), then it could work. I don’t think business travel is strong evidence. Also, I highly doubt that Instagram followers will count. LinkedIn also doesn’t count. You may need to relook at 7 and 8 and see what evidence others included and that got endorsed.

For the last one, I showed revenue as MC. I just included screenshots of the income lines from the annual financial reports.

Hope it helps!

I am not not sure whether I place the copy of contracts A, B and C (these contracts highlight the client names who have purchased our product) in MC or OC?