Grants Program Strategy

Grants Program Strategy Doc

Goal: Provide an asynchronous space for key stakeholders to align on the overall strategy and framing for Grants as it transitions from MVP / pilot into a more fully scoped program through year end.

Overview / Mission: The NEAR Foundation initially launched the Grants Program at the start of 2021 with the mission to bootstrap the NEAR ecosystem with high quality projects. To date the program has funded [36] projects with [~$1.1M] equity free capital deployed primarily via NEAR tokens (w/ a small % in fiat currency).

The mission for the Grants Program remains the same. The developments within the NEAR ecosystem requires us to develop a more resilient and scalable program that can deploy capital to a greater number of diverse high quality projects with increased velocity.

Main Objectives

  • Provide funding to accelerate the growth of the NEAR ecosystem and broader community
  • Support the development of necessary and value add infrastructure / tooling to support continued innovation
  • Attract and reward a diverse set of open source driven projects and developers that build on NEAR

The Grants Program operations in concert and alignment with other teams focused on capital deployment to develop the NEAR ecosystem. We will ensure our objectives are informed by active coordination with these other teams (OWC, Community Fund, etc.)

Grants Program Strategic Approach

As NEAR matures the Grants Program needs to redefine its strategy in order to better align to the continually evolving NEAR community. Below are the three pillars of this updated approach:

Ecosystem Driven

The Grants program offers a pool of capital that can be deployed against the above objectives both tactically and nimbly. The NEAR ecosystem will continually evolve and thus the program needs to be able to refine which areas or innovation / development it should optimize against. In order to do so the Grants team and committee will work to articulate a current state of the ecosystem and its underlying needs at a regular cadence.

Currently the Grants Program is focused on the below areas within the ecosystem:

  • Infrastructure tools / features
    • Wallets
      • Discovery tool for staking
      • On/off ramp platforms (self-contained apps)
      • Asset management interface (FTs & NFTs)
      • Wallet SDK
      • Wallet javascript SDK
    • Active research / monitoring on state of EVM contracts
    • Aurora Integrations
      • Aurora integration explorer
    • RPC service providers
    • Native products / projects focused ecosystem development
  • Creator driven NFT marketplaces
    • Music / Art creators with meaningful existing followings
    • Marketplaces geared towards community development in specific regions
    • Marketplaces utilizing rainbow bridge integrations
  • DeFi focused projects
    • Primitive tooling & products which are tiered in the below framing
      • (1) Automated market makers, oracles, DEXs
      • (2) Native stablecoins, generalized lending, insurance
      • (3) Derivatives, synthetic assets
  • Impactful educational initiatives or programs
    • Initiatives focused on onboarding new devs into the NEAR ecosystem
    • Content and tools that allow devs to be self-serve and be successful
    • Developers, designers and NEAR enthusiasts interested in bringing new ideas and energy to inspire students
  • High caliber devs with ability to encourage other communities to build on NEAR

[Opportunistic Strategic Grants – capital deployments focused on unique value creation / community development scenarios

  • Meta Grants – grants to entities which will then deploy capital via their own model (e.g. DAOs, accelerators)
  • Ecosystem MVP – award major contributors to the community / ecosystem w/ one-off grant]

Outbound & Inbound Deal flow

  • Empower / activate the Grants Committee and other influential members of the NEAR community to refer quality projects & devs to the Grants Program. It is critical there is a clear understanding of the program’s value prop and general alignment of incentives.
    • Track KPIs related to grantees sourced via the Grants committee, NEAR community, or via structured partnerships
    • Deploy funding via grants to a subset on non-NEAR employee community members to proactively source projects (ie VC scouts)
    • Explore program referral program for the NEAR collective
  • The NEAR Grants program needs to position itself within the broader web3 ecosystem as the premiere grants program; offering significant benefit and long term value to grantees – beyond just a capital injection. The development of an efficient grants review process along with educational initiatives /materials for potential grantees will be important as we transition past our MVP.
    • As the program scales it will be worthwhile to explore programmatic support and service offerings for grantees

Process Simplicity & Velocity

  • Its crucial the grants application & review process is easy to understand for folks both externally and internally within NEAR entities
  • Implementation of a “business development ” approach around project acquisition
    • Lower touch review process for grants of a certain size (below $10K)
    • Accelerated review track for high quality / well-referenced projects
    • Interview process includes project tech / value prop review along with education about the grant program’s major benefits

Grants Committee

The Grants Committee is one of the core pieces of the program and has been instrumental in setting the current high bar for grantee project quality. The committee will continue to be a major element of the program. Below are what we envision as their primary responsibilities as the program evolves:

  • Collaborate with Grants Manager & team to align on Ecosystem strategy
  • Review, interview and vote to approve high profile projects
  • Outbound project deal flow sourcing for the program focused on ecosystem needs
    • A near term goal of the Grants program is to structure a formal framework for outbound that can empower the greater NEAR collective

Note: a goal by year end will be to include [X] folks within the committee who are influential NEAR community contributors but not employed by NEAR.

Program Operations & Improvements

Below is a rough outline of the Grants Program with some expected near-to-medium term enhancements. All of these and more are detailed in a more comprehensive roadmap planning document.

  • Top of the Funnel Development (Marketing / Prospecting)
    • Formalized outbound framework
    • Marketing materials and plan to support inbound dealflow (including social)
  • Grant Agreement Review
    • Automate elements of existing process
    • Set timing expectations for process w/ grantee
  • Onboarding
    • Offer guide for new grantees during kick-off call
    • Detail access points to the community and main POCs
    • Develop plan for recurring relationship development separate from milestone reviews
    • Agree on marketing and communication plan with grantees
  • Invoicing & Milestone Review
    • Document guidance for grantees about invoice process and timing expectations for capital distribution. Milestone reviews are directly tied to capital distribution and are a forcing function for better accountability
    • Tie existing financial invoice operations to grants pipeline activity for easier visibility
  • Offboarding or New Grant
    • Debrief on grant; collect feedback by grantees; consider process improvements
    • Assess renewal of grant
  • Reporting
    • Weekly reporting for Grants Committee and operation teams to help inform workflows
    • Monthly reporting to NEAR Collective for visibility and understanding of the program and performance
    • [Quarterly reporting] to broader NEAR ecosystem celebrating the Grants Program and educating the public
  • Programmatic Support
    • Devise methodology to offer connectivity to NEAR collective without straining bandwidth of groups with competing priorities
    • Increase grant involvement attractiveness for the NEAR Collective to gain broader attention and contribution
    • Determine pathways for grantees and projects to connect with resourcing in the community (guilds, DAOs, etc.)