Grants can be a bit of a double-edged sword for startups. Cash in the bank to do what you set out to do is the motivator, but the application itself can sometimes make it seem an impossible task. Our take on it is that when there is a suitable competition, and you feel your project would fit within scope, then you can't afford not to apply for what is, essentially, free money.
Business grants and research grants can come in various formats — academic grants, government, sector-specific or project-specific (such as to develop a vaccine), or even grants put up by private companies to further the field (such as blockchain or biotechs). Keep in mind all these locations when searching for opportunities to find funding.
We compiled our top tips for success from our team who have worked on dozens of small business grant applications:
What new business grants are available?
Set reminders in your calendar to periodically search for competitions.
When you find them announced, add it into your calendar with a link for a week or so before it opens to give yourself time to register interest. Add in submission deadlines and key times such as timezone and time of day you need to submit by. Next, add your colleagues to the invites and block out time in their calendar to ensure you have everyone you need to do a great job.
Plan to submit in good time, no one wants that last-minute panic attack.
When you find a start up business grant competition that you think you can apply for, see if you can research previous awards, to get an idea of the type, size and ambition needed to be successful. Start planning what you will do as part of the competition before it starts, particularly the deliverables, what differs to your business as usual plans, the limits on where the project begins, ends and the interaction with the rest of your team.
When you start writing, the most important aspect is to tell a compelling story.
The questions can get quite specific, so its important to not get too lost in detail. Think about the potential impact and spell it out clearly — my favourite tool for this is the 'so what?' rule. If you have written something, and a person would read it and not see the big picture, benefit, or how it justifies the money, add in your "so we can X". Just those few words can bring it together for a reviewer who is tired, grumpy, and reading 50 of these.
Don't forget to be honest about the risks. Ignore them and the reviewer will think you didn't realise it and the project is not fully thought through.
Identify, score and list out your mitigating plans. Even if you don't have a plan to minimise that risk, at least be honest so the reviewer knows this is a well put together and considered plan.
Divide and delegate. It's great to keep one voice, particularly across similar types of questions eg technical or financial, but most applications will be too much for one person to tackle alone, so spread between the team. Keep checking in and reviewing each others work, so you are all driving at the same points and not diverging or mentioning something in one area but not another.
Find out who will review the application and get as much relevant feedback as possible. Where you can, try to contact ex-employees to get a feel for reviewer styles. There are specific bodies who can help with this, sometimes for free, such as the Knowledge Transfer Network. Other paid organisations can help with the review and can be worth while if you this is your first application.
Lastly, get feedback from anyone and everyone. Ask your friends, family and colleagues to all review for comprehension (remember your reviewer may not be an industry expert), and basic things like grammar and spelling.
Get super granular with your finances.
It's really worth putting in the time to go fully bottom up and calculate all your needs.
If you win, you might not be able to change too much, so you need to really think through finances, to ensure you have accounted for everything. Think through all suppliers, review your monthly spend and categories to check you didn't miss anything.
Our preferred way is to start with what you spend today, check out all the spend areas and then start thinking what needs to change to achieve X. Do you need new lab equipment? More team members, and therefore, more taxes?
To be honest, free money is always good, so it makes sense to apply where you can. Don't be put off if you apply and get rejected, or if writing feels like a dark art, it comes with practice and you will improve with feedback. It's worth getting right if you are going to put in time or effort, so take it seriously and give it 150%.
Finally, be ready for when you succeed, as that hiring plan might come around sooner than you thought. Good luck!
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