Send in your ideas. Deadline October 1, 2024

Frequently Asked (and/or Anticipated) Questions

Main page | Guide for Applicants | Eligibility | FAQ

What kind of projects are you looking for?

This is really an open call. If you have an idea that contributes to the general idea of an internet operated by and for end-users, we invite you to propose.

Do you have examples of granted projects?

We have an overview of the projects currently funded by NLnet, with background information on all the projects and links to their websites.

Go to the overview of projects

Can we send you a proposal upfront to check its eligibility?

Unfortunately, you can't. This would move the whole structured procedure to a flood of unstructured and intransparent private dialogues, which would be unfair to other participants (and very inefficient as well). Luckily there is no need for this: the application procedure is very light-weight, and so you can just put in your proposal. If the project is not selected, you can iterate with the proposal as the cycle is quite fast (every two months a new call).

Do I need to work for an university or research institute to apply?

No, you don't. Application is open to all. The thing that counts is a good project proposal.

Do I need to have a legal entity like a company to apply?

No, you don't. You can apply as an individual, or as a formal or informal organisation of any type. Or even a collaboration of the two.

Can I remain anonymous?

You don't need to reveal your real name to us, prior to the project being selected. After that, we need to have this for compliance reasons - but we do not need to make it public. We can use a pseudonym in all outgoing communication, should this be desirable or necessary at your end.

Can young people apply?

Yes, you can. Note that you do not have to reveal your real identity to us prior to the project being selected, so we have no way of even knowing anyway. And we very much welcome upcoming talent. Young people that have not yet reached the age of legal consent in their country of origin (typically 18 years old) on the date of the deadline may apply without any constraints; consent from a legal guardian such as a parent does not have to be provided prior to initial submission, but will be required to enter any further negotiations. Use of a pseudonym also after that is recommended.

Is there a special programme for under-represented social groups?

Inclusiveness is important to us. Projects are reviewed on a number of criteria, one of which is the strategic dimensions of the project. Creating strong role models for under-represented groups can help expand the relevance and impact of our work and thus is considered a strategic dimension, and as such is taken into account during the review - alongside other strategic dimensions such as the effect of the project on the technology landscape, standardisation efforts which are under way, human rights aspects, contribution to societal dialogue, etc. If you represent an unrepresented group, consider yourself invited to pay attention to this in your application. Of course this is not mandatory in any way, if you feel it is too much effort or distracts from the project contents itself.

Can you sponsor our event, which is about X which falls within the scope of the call?

No we cannot, unfortunately, and to our regret. At current we can only financially contribute to events that meaningfully contribute in a direct way to an actual R&D project within the fund. E.g. a sprint or a hackathon. Please check the information on eligible costs. Of course you can still mention good opportunities in your application, and we encourage you to do so: this will increase our understanding, and perhaps we can think of others that might be interested.

I read that all projects should be released under an open source license. I'm developing a proprietary application, and want to open source only a small part. Is that allowed in a proposal?

If the part you want to develop and release as free and open source is relevant and is not itself dependent on your (or other) proprietary technology, sure.

Technology that can only be used with an individual closed source application will not adequately scale to the global internet, certainly not in the long run. If the fate of a certain technology depends on leadership decisions and the internal economy of a single commercial entity this should probably not be considered 'sustainably open'. Spending public funding for building private monopolies isn't in the public interest.

So in short: you can submit a proposal that fits snugly within a closed commercial environment, as long as that project itself is open source and doesn't depend on that closed environment - which would get in the way of permissionfree innovation and fair opportunities for all.

Am I allowed to offer additional, non-open licenses?

All projects are supposed to be released under a suitable free/libre/open source license. This allows for incremental innovation on top of your results, and as we explained is non-negotiable. We recommend you set up good governance processes for handling rights attached to your work, to make sure you and the users of your research retain agency in the future.

This condition however does not in any way exclude the legitimate holders of copyrights and other associated rights of dealing with your project results under additional licenses, even proprietary ones: there may be legitimate reasons (such as license incompatibility with third party complementary FLOSS efforts) for alternative licenses beyond the license you use for the project.

Can I apply with multiple projects in one single round

Yes, theoretically you probably could - but there are some conditions to that. Note that if you submit multiple proposals in a single round, these typically have to be independent from each other. You cannot bypass the size conditions of the call by submitting a string of proposals that are tightly coupled to each other. If project B and C can only happen if project A is successful, you should probably be well under way finishing project A first before you block money for two more projects.

Each proposal also costs time to write and submit - and we cannot give that time back to you. The limits with regards to the maximum amount you can receive during the lifetime of the fund stay the same - whether or not you contribute to multiple projects.

I have patents assigned or pending on my idea. Can I meanwhile propose a project involving those patents? Should I disclose this in my application?

Yes, you must certainly disclose this. Patents can hinder other people and organisations from freely working and innovating with the technologies you may be creating, in different and sometimes unpredictable ways. Free and open source software licensing is based on copyright law, and may or may not have provisions with regards to patents. The interaction with patent law can be complex. We would prefer to understand potential patent situations at the application stage, given that we are talking about technologies which are to be created inside publicly funded research and development.

The final selection of projects is competitive. If the patents involved do not interfere with the relevance of your contribution, and the technology you develop becomes available under suitable open source licenses, your project may still be eligible.

I only heard about this call recently, can you postpone the deadline?

We get this question surprisingly regular. We are sympathetic to your need. Unfortunately, the deadline of such a large concerted effort really is a deadline and there is nothing we can do about this. That means when you submit after the deadline, you will submit to the next call. The deadline of which, fortunately, is just a mere two months away since we have a bimonthly cycle. Meanwhile, of course, you can just submit a preliminary proposal — unlike most procedures you should be able to complete a proposal in less than an hour.

I submitted to the wrong fund, now what?

I apparently did not look well enough when I submitted my project, but when looking at the mail copy of the application I got from you, I submitted to the wrong fund. Can you fix this for me?

By far the quickest variant is to resubmit to the right call. Just copy and paste your application details from the confirmation email. At your request, we can just discard the earlier submission. If the call you wanted to submit to is already closed, resubmission would of course not possible without unnecessary delay. In that case, please contact us as soon as possible to arrange for a manual alteration - and please include the assigned number in your mail to ease processing.

What happens if there are not enough good projects submitted?

From our long experience we know there are a lot of people with awesome ideas that need funding, and the funding is there to enable them to actually carry out this work in the public benefit. We believe we can give people a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do their part in fixing the internet. However, we also happen to have rather high quality standards, and intend to stick to them. We are not running a lottery where weak projects can submit in the hope of running away with leftover budget.

As a public benefit organisation, we have a moral obligation to spend that money frugally and effectively. So unspent budget is just pushed to the next rounds.

Can anyone in the whole world submit?


How sustainable is all this? Does all of it stop when project funding goes away?

We certainly hope not! One of the huge benefits of the design decision that all projects release their results under free/libre/open source licenses, means that we allow for incremental permissionless innovation. We invest in ideas and technology commons, not in individual businesses or particular business models.

Free software allow literally anyone to use whatever they want in whatever way fits their needs. As long as there is someone interested in developing or using the software, they can do so without asking anyone. Obviously, under those rather unique conditions, evolutionary sustainability is much improved over the situation where the 'owner' restricts development and may pull the plug at any time.

Furthermore, we spend a lot of effort in working with the technical and operational internet community as well as with other relevant stakeholders - preferably as early in the process of each project. This means not only that they get relevant feedback, but also that they are more likely to adhere to quality standards and operational practises that make it more likely that results are actually deployed.

What services do you offer to projects besides money?

One of our key objectives is to set a new global standard for supporting R&D projects. We are setting up a best-of-breed "greenhouse environment" (analogous to what an "accelerator" does for for-profit initiatives) for the projects and teams that are funded by the User-operated Internet Fund. Researchers and developers are mere humans, and the grasp of all relevant best practises they bring along initially is by definition limited.

No matter how brilliant a researcher is: the demands on technology that should actually run at scale on the modern internet today are huge, and continuously changing. Having a really good idea does not automatically mean that you know how to make your solution accessible to blind people, how to set up continuous integration and reproducible builds, how to orchestrate a responsible disclosure procedure, how to make sure that your application can be used with different languages and be properly localised to be compatible with different cultures, how to engineer secure software and what state of the art attack vectors you'd better deal with, how to engage with standards setting organisations, how to nurture and grow a developer community, how to write end user documentation, which software license best fits the goals of the project, how to deal with software patent trolling, how to support diversity with regards to gender and social identity, what considerations to take into account for software to be packaged by distributions, etcetera.

Adding these requirements post-development is many times more expensive, and in some cases can be impossible. We aim to complement the knowledge and skill set of the project proposers with leading domain experts in the respective fields. We can't do all the work for you, but we can provide guidance and mentoring to tackle each of these topics.

Can I ask my users for a subscription fee to sustain my income?

Sure, as long as you also make the results of your project available under a free and open source license for other researchers and developers to work with. Such a license allows people to reuse it for any purpose they see fit. That in turn allows for incremental innovation and reuse. Free and open source software makes what you develop a technology commons, meaning complete strangers will spontaneously care about making what you have created go far and wide - something they would never do for a proprietary product restricted to a single commercial entity ...

Of course most ordinary people don't directly work with code themselves - they tend to leave that to experts like hosting companies and app stores. Very few people might be more qualified than you (as the creator of your technology) to provide services around your 'brain child' - and you might actually do some of your target user base a large favour by providing a hosted service they can pay for. It is therefore perfectly okay to (for instance) provide a hosted version with a monthly subscription fee attached.

Running software is not R&D but a service and comes at a cost in terms of operational expenditure (e.g. electrical power, hardware, etc) and human labour. Part of the user community is interested to outsource that work and pay for convenience and not having to worry. Others want or need to run the software you create themselves, for good reasons such as privacy or confidentiality. Some of the users would contribute back in code, some of which you can use for your customers. And of course others will just download the software and use it. However, every single user is proof that your project provides something worthwhile. You do not have customer lock-in, but as long as you provide enough value (innovation, operational excellence, etc) - people are likely to come to you again and again. You are after all the brains behind the software they depend on. And of course you can apply for follow up funding to continue 'working for the internet', based on the utility of your software and the relevance of your new plans.

Hosted services are not the only way to make a future living. Another type of users may want you to provide paid consultancy to add features they need, or to have you help out set up their own instance. The best model for sustainability depends really on the nature of your project, and will be specific to the problem you are solving and the target group(s) you address with your work. You can in fact make money from what you build in any way, as long as the result of the work funded by us is at least available under a free and open source license. There are many examples of free and open source projects that result in a sustainable income for their creators in very different ways, and also many that don't. This is no different from any other enterprise you may undertake. The grant we provide typically pays your entire income (and those of people you may involve) during the development of the project itself. So consider that you work for the internet, and that is its own reward. If the project is picked up by a wider community, that will give you an excellent position going forward. You could do worse than having a revolutionary internet technology on your resume...

The topic of this call doesn't really fit, are there other topics I could apply to?

If your research doesn't fit with the topic of the "User-operated Internet", please do check out our other funds like NGI Assure, which is similar to this call but addresses research and innovation in the area of technical assurances that make security and trustworthiness easier.

Also, you can check the website of the NGI initiative for open calls by other organisations.

When I receive donations, what happens?

Your grants take the form of a donation from NLnet Foundation. NLnet is a recognised public benefit organisation according to the Netherlands tax office, a status which translates in full or to some degree to many other parts of the planet - which may or many not include your country of residence and/or work. Taxation in a global context is a pleasantly complex, dynamic and inspiring issue that has intellectually challenged many great minds. It has damaged some of those (and many others too). There are unfortunately significant differences across countries, and even across regions within a single tax system you may find notable variations in treatment.

If you are from Europe, you might benefit from an initiative by the Philantropy Europe Association (Philea) called Legal Environment for Philanthropy in Europe. With the help of a network of local experts, they have crafted a very overview per country of key legal provisions that apply. This should help get you started. Obviously, your local tax authority is the authoritative answer to all matters concerning taxation, and if you are in doubt you are advised to contact them for guidance.

Go to: Legal Environment for Philanthropy in Europe (warning: trackers present, unfortunately.)

My question is not here?

Well, if you've read all this and still have a burning question: let us know. We are happy to help!