Grants are elusive things, given to only the most worthy entrepreneurs. But if you have the product, the will and the patience, you could have your idea funded for 'free'.
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For anyone setting up a business the opportunity to obtain ‘free’ assistance in the form of grants or other types of support is one not to be missed. There are a wealth of business grants and other types of support available for both start-ups and developing businesses.
However, competition is high, so it is vital to ensure that the time and resources spent on this activity are highly targeted and will deliver results.
Based on our experience advising clients and when starting our own business we have developed a four step process to enable organisations to maximise their chance of success. This is summarised by the acronym RAPP: research, applicant suitability, preparation and patience.
It is important to bear in mind that nothing is totally free; typically you must be prepared to put in some of your own funds, unless it is for a very small amount. Many grants require match funding i.e. you need to match the funding from the grant provider.
However, do not just think of grants and support solely in terms of finance, as support can come in many forms. For example, when opening your business bank account you may be offered free book keeping software, while many local councils and Chambers of Commerce offer free training seminars on topics such as social media.
There are also opportunities to obtain mentoring from a more established business or through local universities and colleges.
The first step in seeking funding and support is to find out what is available. For financial support, grants are typically available at three levels: national, regional and local. Where you live or trade may significantly increase your chances of success of obtaining funding, particularly if your business is in an area defined as economically disadvantaged.
National grants primarily focus on growth and capital investment. For example, Innovate UK provide funding and support to businesses to accelerate sustainable economic growth. Innovate have a number of grant schemes running at any one time.
Innovate UK gives grants to organisations capable of boosting Britain's growth
Regional grants come from a local board specifically set up to help a region and which has Government and local authority support, such as a Local Enterprise Partnership. Local grants may be available from a local council, for example subsidised rents for start-up businesses or funding to help improve a high street retail unit.
Business organisations in your area should also be able to point to you towards potential sources of support. Your Chamber of Commerce, Local Enterprise Partnership and Growth Hub are good places to start.
Once you have identified an opportunity, it is important to ensure that you meet all the required criteria before spending time on an application. Grants and business support are typically only available for a specific type of project, such as development of a new product or job creation, and not for just starting a business.
The type of product or service for which you are seeking funding supporting has a major impact on your chances of success. Key areas for which grants and support are readily found are:
§ Innovation - there are a wide range of schemes and support to encourage research and development. As already mentioned, Innovate UK provides grants and support to help develop new products and services and put them in a position to be brought to market.
§ Training – there is plenty of funding and support to develop the skills of the business owner, and support for new employees where the business will be providing training and development such as the National Apprenticeship Service. Alternatively, you could employ an intern from the local university for the summer with the university providing match funding to pay their salary.
§ Exports – politicians’ emphasis on exports driving the economic recovery have led to considerable support and assistance for businesses looking to export the goods they manufacture. UK Trade & Investment provide funding and subsided advice and services to help business export their products.
Only the most worthy businesses need apply
Competition for grants and other forms of business support is high, so allow sufficient time to prepare and tailor your application to meet the specific criteria and conditions. A blanket application or plan is not going to work. The grant scheme provider will have objectives, strategies or aims which their funding supports, for example helping with youth employment, and you need show how you meet these in your application.
You must have a business plan that explains what you require the funding for and which is tailored to the grant provider’s specific criteria and conditions. On most occasions, this will have to be entered into the provider’s application form.
The final step in the process is patience. Take time completing your application (but without missing deadlines) and then be patient waiting for the result!
Be aware that after being awarded a grant, the work may not end there as the business may be required to report back on a regular basis to the organisation who made the grant. Alternatively, it may be an arrangement where the business has to spend the money before being reimbursed.
Business grants are notoriously hard to come by, but there is assistance out there if you know where to look. By following the RAPP process you can increase your chance of success. Good luck!