ConsenSys Lab’s Hackathons & Micro-Grants for Start-Ups

From weekend project to full-time company

Zach Herring
5 min readOct 31, 2019

Important Note: “Micro-Grants” are what we were previously calling “Personal Best.”

Transitioning your project from a hobby to a company you’re building full time can be a daunting process. There are thousand things you could be doing at any given moment; how do you focus on the 1 or 2 things you should be doing? How do you keep the most important thing the most important thing?

We designed a new micro-grants program to answer that question for fledgling founders.

Before We Dive In, A Little About Relays…

ConsenSys Labs started Relays in April to run decentralized hackathons. Our aim with these hackathons are to be the best place to kick your Web3 company off over a 15-day period. These hackathons bring together top talent from around the world for a 15-day sprints to build, test, validate and promote new and exciting projects in the Web3 space.

Designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs form teams from all over the world to work on compelling real-world problems. Each team is provided the resources and capital they need to be successful and top teams have the opportunity to receive further funding to continue their project development.

Relays Hackathons By the Numbers

We’ve thrown three decentralized hackathons in 2019, with plans to ramp up the frequency to a rolling 50 day opportunity for entrepreneurs and hackers to present their work and walk away with just-enough funding to continue building their companies. If you want to start a company in 2019, this is the place to find partners, advisors, and capital.

In 2019, we’ve:

  • Partnered with some ~950 hackers together to build new projects
  • Paid out 275 ETH to winners
  • Launched 40 new open source projects started since April 2019
  • ~5 dApps smart contracts deployed to MainNet
  • Had 2 teams go on to receiving follow-on funding

What’s Next For Us? Micro-Grants for Start-Ups

These hackathons were just a slice of what we white-boarded back in February. In September, we prototyped and rolled out the pilot program for the next phase: micro-grants for promising alumni.

“We really loved your organizational support, the goal-oriented program hugely boosted up our motivation to keep working on Idle…”

— Matteo Pandolfi, co-founder, Idle

These micro-grants are structured like single-player hackathons. $2k-5k in ETH are up for grabs, depending on how far the teams push their products forward in the three weeks. Our goal is to force teams to think in terms of the major milestones that projects and teams cross in order to become companies and founders.

These milestones correspond with the kind of positive traction signals Accelerators and Seed Investors look for.

“The milestone-based grant funding + quantifiable results is a great idea. It really helps for people to know what the OKRs and KPIs are. Thanks for making my job as a leader easier!”

— Daniel Onggunhao, co-founder of Enable

This program was previously only open to winners of Relays Decentralized Hackathons. Due to demand, though, we’re excited to announce that we’re opening applications to all EthGlobal hackathon winners.

Apply for the next round of Labs Micro-Grants

How Relay’s Micro-Grants Work

Call-for-Applications over 3 Weeks

We’ve stressed out about making the application process as simple as possible. That’s why we’re only asking teams for 3 things, and leaving it up to the teams to provide what they think is important in assessing their project. We’re asking for:

1. Pitch deck — If you’re a winner from a Relay or other hackathon, you likely already have this. Still, it doesn’t hurt to review Cecily Mak’s talk on telling your product’s story and polish the deck with any new leanings or strategy you’ve developed since the Relay.
2. Ancillary Materials — What were your previous projects? Do you have videos of people using your product? What about testimonials from advisors you have? This is where you would drop any additional material you think is important for us to know when considering the project.
3. Blockers and Concerns — It’s important for a team to know what the most important thing is for their next steps. We’d like a read out of the biggest challenges your team is facing over the next 6 months to best ensure that our program is the best one to help you move forward.

Teams are Interviewed and Selected, Benchmarks are Set…

What is the most important thing your team could do to move your product forward in the next 4 weeks? That’s what these conversations will orient around. We’ll set goals across three categories, in Product, the underlying Technology, and the Business and Market side. Two benchmarks will be set across these categories, as base goals and stretch goals.

Some of the goals we’ve set with previous teams include…

  • User Studies written with 20+ respondents recruited, interviewed and the results analyzed
  • Ship UX improvements and smart contracts to MainNet
  • Customer acquisition and go-to-market strategies developed and tested in the wild

Finally, the work sprint begins!

We’ll meet weekly with your teams to go over progress and as often as necessary for advisory. In addition to advising, our advisors will be available for one-off IC work (ie. design, research, market planning) as needed.

In the past, that means we’ve written research scripts, co-run user testing sessions, designed clickable wire-frames, and sketched out go-to-market strategy with the teams.

…[By] pointing us to divide our goals into Technology, Product, and Business has been really helpful. Furthermore, your help on users’ research side has been fundamental and combined with Berlin Blockchain Week, it gave us useful insights from our users (specially on Idle next features).

— Matteo Pandolfi, co-founder, Idle

If this sounds like something your team would like to pursue in the coming months, reach out! DM me on Twitter or message me on Discord (LabsZach#0254).