Mastercard Strive EU Innovation Fund: Terms and Conditions

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Mastercard Strive EU

Strive EU is the latest addition to Strive, the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth’s global portfolio of philanthropic programs that support small businesses to thrive in the digital economy. The two-year program consists of a €4.5 million innovation fund, cross-pollination of best practices across Europe’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, and efforts to better represent the needs of small businesses within the European Union.

Strive EU is an initiative of Caribou Digital and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, with philanthropic investment from the Mastercard Impact Fund. The Strive EU program is implemented with support from the European Microfinance Network.

Caribou Digital

Caribou Digital administers the Strive EU program and is the Fund Manager for the Strive EU Innovation Fund. Caribou Digital delivers fund management, learning partnerships, and research, advisory, and measurement services, supporting organizations worldwide to build more inclusive and ethical digital economies.

Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth

The Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth advances equitable and sustainable economic growth and financial inclusion around the world and administers the philanthropic Mastercard Impact Fund to produce independent research, scalable global programs, and an empowered community of thinkers, leaders, and doers on the front lines of inclusive growth.

Mastercard Impact Fund

The Mastercard Impact Fund is an independently directed 501(c)(3) tax-exempt private foundation administered by the Center for Inclusive Growth. As of December 2022, the Fund has committed more than $320 million in grants to 172 organizations. These programs have enabled 5.5 million people and 25 million small businesses in 97 countries to access financial services, tools, and other support.

European Microfinance Network

The European Microfinance Network (EMN) is a member-based not-for-profit organization which promotes microfinance as a tool to fight social and financial exclusion in Europe through self-employment and the creation of micro-enterprises. For Strive EU, EMN will engage and inform stakeholders about micro- and small business perspectives with the objective of giving them a stronger voice in the EU.

Strive EU Innovation Fund

The Strive EU Innovation Fund (“the Fund”) is awarding €4.5 million of grants for digital and data-first solutions that support small businesses across the European Union. Up to 20 successful winners will receive up to €500,000 to validate and develop their solutions over a 12- to 18-month period. Grantees will receive mentoring, capacity-building support, access to select Mastercard resources, and opportunities for exposure and publicity.

Strive EU’s four innovation fund themes

The Fund is seeking projects that develop new solutions or innovative business models that support small businesses to: 

  1. Unlock working capital and credit through embedded finance.
  2. Go digital safely by bolstering cybersecurity.
  3. Navigate evolving consumer preferences and regulatory expectations around environmental sustainability.
  4. Harness artificial intelligence (AI) to save time and make money.

The Fund seeks innovative projects that depart from business-as-usual operations and support the growth of micro- and small enterprises with up to 10 employees.

Winner Benefits

Strive EU Innovation Fund grantees will receive:

  1. Grant funding of up to €500,000. Funding is for a specific grant project and must be used within a 12- to 18-month period, as defined in the application. Requests of €250,000 and above require a 10% match funding component from another source.
  2. Bespoke support from Strive and Mastercard teams, including insights from across the global Strive portfolio and beyond, and facilitated connections with potential partners when possible.
  3. Access to select Mastercard Start Path resources, including recorded expert briefing sessions, pitch training, and venture capital pitching events.
  4. Mentorship from best-in-class industry experts. Grantees will be paired with mentors who will provide tailored support to empower grantees to navigate challenges, leverage opportunities, and chart a course towards sustainable growth and impact.
  5. Visibility. Grantees will gain exposure and publicity through a series of hosted events and a co-created communications campaign.
  6. Mastercard Award for Extraordinary Impact. Projects that dramatically exceed impact targets will be nominated to receive an additional award from Mastercard.

Application process and key dates

All applications must be received via the online application system, Submittable (“the portal”). No applications will be accepted, for any reason, after the deadline.

Key dates in the application process in 2024 are as follows. URL to application page.

Application process

  • January 23: Fund opens for applications.
  • March 11: Applications close at 12 noon (midday) CET. Applicants should ensure they have received email confirmation from Submittable. For any issues or questions, please contact or via the Submittable website.

Selection process

  • April 8: Shortlisted applicants selected and invited to complete a mini proposal.
  • April 19: Deadline for mini proposals from shortlisted applicants.
  • May 24: Finalists selected based on mini proposals and invited to prepare final pitches.
  • June 17: Judging Showcase and selection of winning applications.

Contracting process

  • By July 31: Due diligence and contracting completed with winners.
  • November: Announcement of grantees at Strive EU annual event.

Applying to the fund

Applications are subject to the following terms.

  • Applications must be submitted in English. Grant management and reporting will be in English. Efforts will be made to support other languages where possible.
  • Funding requests can range from €100,000 to €500,000. At least 10% match funding is required for requests of €250,000 and above (see matching requirements).
  • The use of AI tools in the creation of application responses is strongly discouraged as it can exacerbate bias in a merit-based process. While AI can provide valuable assistance in drafting responses, it is not always equipped to adequately address specific questions. Applicants are advised to demonstrate their true and authentic talent.
  • Shortlisted applicants must present and substantiate their project budget and rationale for the requested funding amount. Shortlisted applicants will be asked to complete a mini proposal which includes a short series of questions, a high/level project plan, and a pitch for jury selection. Shortlisted applicants may be asked to share documentation for verification (see Appendix I for examples).
  • Shortlisted applicants invited to the finalist stage agree to work with the Caribou Digital team, take onboard relevant feedback, and complete a short pitch to the selection committee during the week commencing June 24, 2024, for the Judging Showcase. This Judging Showcase will determine the winners of the Innovation Fund.
  • Funding is contingent upon agreement with Caribou Digital’s Grant Agreement (which will be shared with shortlisted applicants) without significant alterations.
  • Feedback or complaints should be sent to the Strive team at Strive is committed to maintaining a fair, transparent, and inclusive process. Should an applicant encounter any form of discrimination or unfair treatment during the process, they may report it confidentially through Caribou Digital’s independent whistleblowing page.

Terms of grant funding

  • Grants will be provided for the designated project purpose.
  • Disbursement of funds will be contingent upon the successful completion of agreed milestones, as verified by the Fund Manager at Caribou Digital.
  • As events are a key component of support provided by Strive EU, a small amount of the grant will be ring-fenced to cover event attendance. Grantees are expected to attend a minimum of one in-person and three virtual events during the project.
  • Grantees agree to share learnings, insights, and co-agreed data with the Caribou Digital team through the grant period in order to support Strive’s learning agenda.

Eligibility criteria

Eligibility criteria:

Applicant organizations

  • Can be startups, established companies, nonprofits, non-governmental organizations, civil society entities, social enterprises, and/or other similar organizational types.
  • Can be single organizations or a consortium of multiple organizations provided that the lead entity is registered and operating in at least one EU country.
  • Cannot be government or academic institutions.
  • Must be registered and operational in at least one EU market.

Proposed projects and solutions

  • Must align with at least one of the four focus themes.
  • Must support businesses with fewer than 10 employees.
  • Must be digital and/or data-first.
  • Must be implemented in at least one EU market.
  • Must be feasible to complete in 12 to 18 months.
  • Should be at least in the Product Definition phase and ready to demonstrate that a more mature phase has been achieved by the end of the project (see Appendix II).
  • Must not focus on capacity building, such as training or mentorship.

Due diligence

All selected grantees will be subject to thorough due diligence checks to verify that, among other criteria, organizations are:

  • Able to demonstrate at least one year of legal and ethical operations and commendable performance.
  • Compliant with all applicable laws, including adhering to fundamental human rights and all international and EU labor standards.
  • Compliant with business licensing, taxation, employee, privacy, and other relevant regulations in all operational jurisdictions.
  • In adherence to anti-corruption, anti-money laundering (AML), and EU and US sanctions, laws, and regulations, including data and privacy regulations.
  • Not involved in unethical activities such as arms production or tobacco.
  • Not owned or controlled by government officials.
  • Able to prove financial health, with adequate systems in place for regular reporting.

A full list of due diligence requirements will be provided at the shortlisting stage. Strive is not responsible for costs incurred during the due diligence process. The Fund Manager reserves the right to remove applicants from the process at any time should they not meet due diligence requirements.

Selection criteria

Proposals will be selected using four criteria.

1. Significance & impact

  • What impact could be achieved if the project is successful?
  • Is the solution trialing something truly new or innovative?
  • Will the proposed solution also address inequality based on gender, race, class, disability, and/or ethnicity?

2. Applicability & transferability

  • Does the project have the potential to scale beyond the grant period or catalyze capital from alternative sources following the end of the grant?
  • Can other organizations benefit from the insights generated by this project?
  • Can the solution or insights be applied, adapted, or transferred broadly?

3. Feasibility & sustainability

  • Does the articulated plan seem suitable for reaching the desired outcomes?
  • Does the requested budget seem reasonable for the project proposed?
  • Where applicable, does the match funding demonstrate buy-in and confidence from the applicant and investor community?
  • Does the project center on an idea that has financial viability beyond the life of the Strive grant?

4. Additionality

  • Would the innovative solution, insights, and/or body of evidence be realized without this funding from Strive EU?
  • Would the project be implemented in an improved way with this grant?
  • Is the funding inspiring something truly innovative by de-risking it for the awardee?

Commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion

Caribou Digital recognizes that perspectives of people from all backgrounds and abilities are imperative to realizing an equitable and inclusive digital economy. Therefore, the Strive EU program is consciously designed to ensure appropriate access and representation for all.

Inclusive criteria and selection

  • Valuing diversity: The selection process highly values projects that address inequality based on gender, race, class, disability, and/or ethnicity. Proposals that offer innovative approaches to these complex challenges are particularly encouraged.
  • Merit-based evaluation: Caribou Digital firmly upholds a policy of non-discrimination in the selection process. The Fund’s evaluation criteria are rooted in the merit and potential impact of proposals, ensuring a fair and unbiased approach.

Support for diverse needs

  • Pre-application guidance: Before the application deadline, the Caribou Digital team may offer guidance sessions accessible to all, focusing on providing clear information and answering queries.
  • For disabled applicants: The online application portal is designed to be user-friendly for those with visual, auditory, or motor impairments, adhering to the latest web accessibility standards (WCAG 2.1). For any specific accommodations or assistance, please contact The Caribou Digital team is dedicated to addressing the individual needs of applicants to ensure an equitable application experience.
  • Ongoing assistance: If reasonable accessibility accommodations are required during the application process, please email
  • Inclusivity: Strive aims to create a safe and welcoming space for all applicants. The Innovation Fund application forms and processes are designed to be inclusive and respectful of all ethnicities and gender identities and expressions. The team also welcomes feedback to improve processes and policies; please email

Matching requirements

The Fund mandates a minimum of 10% matching contribution from applicants applying for over €250,000 in order to demonstrate applicant confidence in and commitment to the solution. While there are no specific additional criteria for applying for over €250,000, at this level there will be additional scrutiny and higher expectations around demonstrated potential to scale or catalyze funding from other sources. Acceptance of match funding is subject to the Fund Manager’s approval.

  • Applicants must contribute at least 10% of a requested grant amount of €250,000 to €500,000. For instance, if an applicant seeks €300,000 from the Fund, a minimum contribution of €30,000 from other sources is required.
  • Matching contributions must be secured and available to spend before the start of the grant period. Acceptance of matching funds is at the discretion of the Fund Manager. Acceptance will not be unreasonably withheld. For instance, if funds were received within six months of the application date, this would be considered acceptable.
  • All matching funds must be utilized for the proposed project and within the grant period.
  • Contributions from existing Mastercard funding will not be considered.
  • Contributions can be made in cash, in kind, or some combination thereof.

Monetary contributions

  • What counts? Direct funding from the applicant organization or an associated third party (such as investors or donors). The source can be a grant, equity, or other financing. It must be received within 12 months prior to the application or expected to be received within six months following the application deadline (March 11, 2024).
  • How is this evidenced? A signed contract, bank statement, or letter confirming the total amount that has been disbursed and any associated conditions.
  • Examples: Cash reserves, revenue, investment (equity finance), grants, crowdfunding.

In-kind contributions

  • What counts? Any significant contribution to the project that is not financial. Applicants must be able to quantify the in-kind contribution in monetary value and demonstrate the results this contribution will achieve for the proposed project.
  • How is this evidenced? The Fund Manager and applicant will agree on how to value the commitment. Evidence could include a contract with a service provider.
  • Examples: Use of goods, services, and/or facilities (such as software), provision and access to equipment, etc.

Data sharing

The Innovation Fund is operated and managed by Caribou Digital (UK) Ltd. Caribou Digital is accountable to you for holding and processing of your information, including any personal data and confidential information. Data is held in accordance with Caribou Digital’s policies, in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (EU 2016/679) and the UK Data Protection Act 2018. Accordingly, Caribou Digital will be data controllers and processors for personal data submitted during the application.

Caribou Digital UK Ltd.’s Privacy Policy related to the Strive EU Innovation Fund. Hyperlink to this

By applying via the application portal, Submittable, you consent to your data being processed by Caribou Digital, including its contractors, in order to assess your application.

In accordance with our contractual obligations, information may be shared with the Innovation Fund donor, Mastercard Impact Fund, or their affiliate, the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Mastercard’s Global Privacy Notice covers both entities.  Sharing information with Mastercard employees involves the transfer of your data outside of the European Economic Area, for which we have a legally binding agreement to protect the transfer of your data.

Applicants who are shortlisted will be invited to complete a mini proposal. This proposal will be shared with a technical review panel consisting of 4 to 6 people, who will assess the application.

A summary of applications that progress to the final stage will be shared with the Strive EU Small Business Council, who will determine the eventual winners. The Small Business Council will consist of 10 to 12 people from European companies.

By applying via the portal, you consent to the terms and conditions set out by the portal owner, Submittable Holdings, Inc., 101 E. Front St, Suite #500, Missoula, MT, 59802. Caribou Digital are not responsible or liable for data collected or processed by Submittable. Learn more about Submittable’s privacy policy and Submittable’s approach to GDPR.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has more information on data protection in the UK and there is more information on the EU GDPR webpage.

Appendix I: Documentation requirements

To establish eligibility during the application process, applicants are required to upload documents after shortlisting. Documentation requests may include but are not limited to:

  1. Company registration
  2. Insurance documents
  3. Company policies:
  4. GDPR
  5. Finance and procurement
  6. Anti-corruption and anti-bribery
  7. Conflict of interest
  8. Health and safety
  9. HR policies including whistleblowing
  10. Data / privacy policy 
  11. Last two years financial reports

Appendix II: Project life cycle

Project life cycle refers to an innovation’s development stage and ambition. Eligible projects should be at least in the Product Definition stage and ready to demonstrate a more mature phase has been achieved by the end of the project. Projects requesting higher grant amounts must demonstrate high potential for scale. Please refer to the six stages of product development below.

  • Ideation: Initial idea generation phase, including defined business case, product functionality, and identified target market.
  • Product Definition: Scoping and concept phase defining the product strategy. This stage includes business analysis, value proposition, marketing strategy, and success metric definition.
  • Prototyping: Early stage prototype, including a sketch or a more elaborated computer-rendered initial design. Following the studies on the initial design, the outcome of the prototyping stage is a minimum viable product (MVP).
  • Detailed Design: With the engagement of stakeholders and prioritizing users' needs, a mockup is produced. It is an elaborated version of the previous MVP.
  • Validation and Testing: Iterative validation phase to implement user feedback based on the front-end and marketing plan testing.
  • Commercialization: Finalizing product specifications based on the iterated MVP; preparation for launch and scale across different customer segments and geographies.

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