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We know that communicating your founder ability isn’t an easy task. To help you, we’ve outlined exactly what we look for in applications, so you can decide what you want to focus on in your application.

Challenges convention

Drive to achieve



Clarity of thought

Valuable technical knowledge, skills or understanding

Applicability or commerciality

Our criteria shouldn’t be read as a checklist, and they’re not designed to select people out. It’s extremely rare for someone to score highly on every criteria.

We want people with a variety of backgrounds. We’re looking for outliers, who have done unusual things. Typically, our founders are particularly strong on a couple of criteria, but not all.

What do we mean by ‘smart’?

Over the past ten years, we’ve refined our definition of what smart means, to get to the heart of what you need to become a founder.

When it comes to being a founder, we know that being smart really matters –  but this doesn’t necessarily mean academically smart, it refers to your ability to process and solve complex problems.

On a daily basis, founders need to solve both macro and micro problems. Our founders are often faced with problems they haven’t encountered before, so they need to be able to assess and solve them at speed and with intellectual curiosity.

How do you demonstrate it?

  • Show us how you think – how have you thought critically about the industries, markets, technologies and companies that you have interacted with.
  • Tell us about big and hard problems that you’ve solved.
  • Show us that you can overcome obstacles in creative ways.

It’s possible to demonstrate that you are smart through impressive academic work, e.g. having studied at a top institution, winning prizes, publishing papers, graduating at the top of your class, working with impressive professors.

But it’s equally possible to demonstrate smartness having never gone to university. You might have dropped out of school to build something yourself, or teach yourself to code, or compete in hackathons, maths olympiads, chess competitions.

Mohammad Danesh (co-founder, Transcelestial, SG1) got his PhD from NUS, and had an offer to work for one of Cambridge’s top research labs. He turned it down to join EF.

Why Danesh turned down a PhD to join EF
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Clarity of Thought