YouNoodle connects large organisations with start-ups through a challenge platform and by analysing data involved in challenge call application and evaluation processes.
YouNoodle is a sourcing and selection platform that corporations, governments and foundations can use to source and select early-stage startup companies that meet their solution needs. Users can pay to use the platform to facilitate grant programmes, innovation challenges, and similar selection processes. The platform provides tools to manage applications to grant programmes, run an initial screening process, and to then send applications to user-designated experts to evaluate and select relevant candidates. Applicants use the platform to apply for competitive opportunities to work with established organisations, and can access these opportunities at no fee.
As a result of facilitating these programmes, YouNoodle has gained access to data about startups and what they can offer according to startups own description, and the judgement of expert evaluators. This data gives YouNoodle insights into the potential success of startups even if they are not chosen as a ‘winner’ during a selection process. These insights allow them to broker further relationships between large organisations and early-stage startups.
YouNoodle started with the intent of becoming a social network for startups where entrepreneurs could look for co-founders, investment, team members, and advisors. The network model has evolved. In its current model, startups cannot join YouNoodle without submitting an application to a posted call. The platform operates a ‘closed network’ that does not feature publically-viewable profiles. Organisations who want to run a grant programme, innovation challenge, or other selection process use YouNoodle to set up an application form for startups to pitch their interest. Once submissions have been collected, organisations screen them to remove spam and extraneous entries. They then send the valid applications out to an external committee of experts which they have designated, and ask these experts to evaluate the submissions according to specific metrics. Experts are typically unpaid, and voluntarily contribute evaluations from within the service of the organisation which recruited them, whether a government, university foundation or other organisation. The platform aggregates evaluation scores and then submits these to the organisation running the programme, who selects a winner.
In addition to the specific process, the distributed evaluation process also gives YouNoodle an idea of the value of a startup in relation to other applicant startups as based on submitted applications and the perceptions of experts. By combining this data from across all programmes, YouNoodle achieves a broad view of which early-stage startups using the platform are most interesting. Using machine learning and custom algorithms to analyse programme-specific application forms, they can classify and analyse similar data fields to identify which startups have the greatest potential for success, and use these insights to increase the value of their system. Through a semi-automated process, YouNoodle can make contact with these startups, match them with additional organisations who have issued calls on the platform, and then broker a connection between the two parties to ensure relevant startups with high potential are directed toward the right opportunities. In doing so, YouNoodle hopes to enable startups, and the organisations in search of their help, to better take advantage of opportunities which already exist but which might not otherwise be discovered.
Although YouNoodle the company was founded in 2010, work on it started as early as 2007 with a project funded by Peter Thiel (Founders Fund), Max Levchin (PayPal), and Charles Lho (Amicus Group). In its early days, YouNoodle proposed an alternative valuation method that algorithmically predicted the success of startups who initiated the process by filling in a detailed questionnaire. Another platform, Quid, also grew out of this project, and now helps to search, model, and analyse strategic opportunities. YouNoodle received $1.1m in investment in 2014.
Recent activity includes work on machine learning platform, Longplay. Longplay draws on submission and evaluation data to curate searches to help organisations find relevant startup collaborators and their solutions. This platform is in an earlier stage of development than YouNoodle’s service, but provides another means for large organisations and small companies to match with one another.
YouNoodle has attracted participants from over 180 countries. The platform has engaged with over 200,000 startups, received detailed evaluations from over 20,000 experts, and enabled over 1000 selection processes that have connected relevant startups with organisations in need of their solutions. Its work has also been studied in research literature to assess the impact of entrepreneurship competitions. Around 10,000 new startups submit applications through the platform every three months.
Strengths: Over nearly a decade of iteration, YouNoodle has established a system for enabling funding organisations to connect with relevant startups. Smart use of data from applications and expert evaluations enables sophisticated ranking and matching.
Weaknesses: startups enter the YouNoodle ecosystem by submitting an application to a particular programme on the platform. Matching these startups to programmes/organisations other than the ones to which they applied is done through a semi-automated process. This may ensure a higher quality of interaction and more sophisticated matching – but also potentially limits the extent to which this functionality can scale.
YouNoodle has built up a large, rich data set over time, and appears to have proven its effectiveness as a platform for running grant programmes, challenges and similar contests to pair organisations with relevant early-stage startups. However, its ability to match organisations and startups globally on the platform – beyond the structure of an individual contest – appears to be less mature. This activity is currently semi-automated and seems secondary to YouNoodle’s core business as providing a platform to source and select startups via dedicated contests, but has the potential to provide further brokerage services between the actors it serves.