Welcome to Idea Support!

The BALSA Foundation - the philanthropic arm of The BALSA Group - helps first-time St. Louis entrepreneurs turn their ideas into real businesses.  We provide practical advice and critical insight through Idea Support, and award cash and in-kind grants through our Entry Fund.  Last spring more than 40 BALSA members and alumni participated as Idea Supporters to help nearly 100 aspiring entrepreneurs take the next step in starting their business.

We welcome all current and former BALSA members, as well as others with significant entrepreneurial experience, to be Idea Supporters.  As an Idea Supporter you will receive applications to review (about one per month) which describe a business idea, passion, and plan.  Your task is to answer several questions about the proposal and provide feedback to improve the idea. The perspective you gained as a BALSA consultant or entrepreneur is invaluable to nascent business people, and the time you devote to each application can make a real impact in someone's life and their community.

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What is the purpose and scope of the review?

We receive applications from a broad range of people, from high school students and moms to professors and veterans, and at different stages of business development. In all cases your comments should be constructive, actionable, and written in an encouraging tone. You may be the applicant's first encounter with the St. Louis entrepreneurial community so please be supportive. Our goal is to lower the barriers to entry to the entrepreneurial community and to empower each applicant so that they can have the confidence to pursue their ideas. We respect your time and the effort required, and do not expect you to closely edit, proofread, or rewrite the application.  We want candid, constructive encouragement and feedback to entrepreneurs.

What is the Idea Support timeline?

Idea Support is open all year.  During that time, as applications are received and assigned to reviewers, you will receive an email from the Program Director with the principal application response, detailed instructions, and review questions.  We ask that you carefully read the application and complete the review within 14 days.

Will I know who the applicant is?  Will they know who I am?

No, we will anonymize the application and we will not share the identity of the Idea Supporter. However, you may request that your name and contact information be shared with the applicant if you would like to provide additional mentorship to the entrepreneur.

How many applications will I be asked to review?

We aim to provide you with about one application every month or two.  This will, of course, be contingent on the number of applications submitted and number of reviewers available.  You can always request to receive more or fewer applications by contacting the Program Director.  Of course, choosing to be an Idea Supporter is voluntary and you have the choice to opt-out at any time. 

How much time should I spend on the application ?  How long should my responses be?

We find that it takes about an hour to read through the application and provide useful feedback, though this will differ depending on the application and your working style.  One approach is to read the application once when you first receive it, and then read it again when you have the time to write your feedback.  Note that you don’t need to answer all the review questions - they are meant as a guide.  Use your judgement to provide the most useful feedback you can in the time you have.

The application is of poor quality or I don’t believe it can work.  What do I say?

Sometimes we receive applications that are poorly written or ineffective. The BALSA Foundation has been effective at reaching out to broad swaths of society, and as a result sometimes the applications that come in are pretty rough.  In all cases, our aim is to be helpful and supportive, and provide the applicant an opportunity to think through the application and make it better.  

Try to pick out a couple concrete things that the applicant can do to make the application better and focus on those.  There will be no way to make a poor application be excellent based on just one review; instead, think of your review as providing the applicants a step forward on the process to a better application.  There will be many other steps to go, but your role is to provide guidance to take just the next one.  

I don’t think I can finish on time.  What do I do?

We ask that all reviews be returned within two weeks of receiving them.  The feedback you provide as an Idea Supporter is an invaluable resource to the applicants and a central component of the BALSA Foundation's mission.  Being able to provide quality feedback to applicants in a timely manner is a key aspect of Idea Support.

If you receive an application and cannot commit to reviewing it within two weeks, please notify the Program Director as soon as possible so that it can be assigned to another reviewer.  If you are running late but are still planning on completing  the review, please reach out to the Program Director and let them know what is happening.

The applicant needs to do some homework first.  What resources can I refer them to?

In the cases where the application requires significant work, you, as an Idea Supporter, can point the applicant to the following Foundation resources:

  • The Entrepreneur’s Roadmap
  • Sample Applications
  • Additional tips for a strong application

What does “Idea, Passion, Plan” mean?  How do I assess these?

The applicants are asked to respond to the following questions. How well do they address each question?
Idea: What is the need you are addressing and what is your solution to meet this need?
Passion: What experience and expertise does your team have that will contribute to success?
Plan: What are the milestones you aim to reach for your business and what is your anticipated budget to meet these milestones?

NEW: What criteria are used for the BALSA Grant?

Here is the rubric used for external review of BALSA Grant applications. You may use it to provide a quantitative score for your review.  We may incorporate some version of this rubric in future Idea Support reviews.