Getting a business grant: How five SMEs received assistance

SmallBusiness.co.uk speaks to five companies that got financial assistance and asks how they went about securing it.

Business grants are notoriously hard to come by, but there is assistance out there if you know where to look. Here, we speak to five businesses that came by funding and quiz them on how they managed to achieve the vital cash.

Noel and Natasha Gordon, co-founders of comparison and deals website The Best Deal Guide

What funding did you receive?

We recently won a competition run by Intuit, Love Our Local Business, in which we were awarded £1,000.

What is the competition for and how did you find out about it?

The competition is offering small businesses like ours a chance to win some funds to help growth. We came across it advertised on the web and instantly made our ‘Wish’ and got our community involved.

How did you apply for the competition?

We simply went to www.loveourlocalbusiness.com and entered our ‘Wish’. We gave our names, business and how we would use the money to help growth.

What advice would you give for companies looking to enter their business into competitions for growth?

Don’t give up and use every resource at your disposal to help you achieve something amazing.

We have thousands of friends on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and many others. We got our social community involved by inspiring and empowering them to help make a difference. We did this by being personal with every single person that voted for us. No generic social-networking, just personal invitations to vote, made them feel good about doing something that can make a difference and willingness to ask everyone to help. For every ten people that say no, one will say yes and every yes counts. We luckily had a massive input from the community, so it was more like nine out of ten people said yes. We are truly grateful for our amazing community.

Have you raised other funds, and if so how?

This is the first business competition we have ever entered. Until now we funded our business ourselves.

Any other comments about the competition?

I think that we were given an amazing opportunity to showcase our business in a way that had previously eluded us. Only when we entered this competition did all the pieces finally slot together. It made us think of a driven way of getting our social-network evolved and it gave us a perspective that may elude many companies online to how people want to be ‘social’ online.

Scott Downie, chairman of digital company Memory Box Network

What is the grant and what does it offer?

Our grant was from Nominet Trust and came in two different sections. An initial grant of £80,000 was made for us to prove our concept and the social value of our project to ascertain that people would actually gain some benefit from our system and also use it.

Once we have evaluated that we were then awarded a further £160,000 to be part of the funding that would carry us through to the final development and release of our services online and our in-person work streams.

Breaking the grant up like this meant that it was easier to obtain and that we now have the proof that other funders want to see, also that we have a major funder who is willing to back us puts out a very positive message and opens a lot of doors!

Is the money offered on a sliding scale or a fixed amount?

The money was for fixed amounts but was released on a scheduled basis after reporting back to Nominet Trust.

How did you find out about the grant and when did you investigate it?

I found out about the grant initially through the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations funding book that we buy each year.

In that there are lists of potential funders making grants to the third sector. After reading through the book thoroughly the Nominet Trust description seemed to fit our project 100 per cent. We made an initial application but were turned down.

I thought that we were such a good fit that I continued to contact them and spoke to a number of people about them then had direct contact with Annika Small and Ian Ritchie who both encouraged me to apply again and we then were successful in getting through the first and second rounds to receive an offer for funding.

How did you apply for the grant?

It was initially through the website and then once through the first round there was phone discussions and a I was invited to a meeting in Oxford.

Once we had had that meeting our second round application was then put in front of the Nominet Trust board to make a final decision. They then came back to me and suggested that we break up the grant in to two stages with the initial round costing a third of our total application.

Once we had gone through our initial six-month concept stage we then went through the whole process again and with the exception of the meeting. We were then successful in proving that we had achieved what we set out to achieve and the board awarded us the remaining money.

What are the conditions of the grant?

Each period that we get funded we provide information on how the grant has been spent and where we are with the project.

The conditions of the grant are really just that we spend it on what we said we will and that we report back. Nominet trust are an extremely forward thinking funder in that they want us to succeed in every manner but they realise things change sometimes and with the best intention things sometimes don’t work out.

We are not ‘marked’ in terms of numbers that we have engaged with or in the pounds and pence way that more traditional social funders work but in the overall difference that a project can make and the learning that can be shared with others who are undertaking the same path that we have.

This is a lot harder to measure and we don’t always get our heads around the evaluation but in essence it will help a lot more people by looking at not only what we deliver but the processes and paths that we have taken to get there!

What advice would you give for companies looking to seek a grant? What should they be prepared for?

Be prepared to put in a lot of hours working out your plans and research the market that you are going in to. The most important thing in applying for a grant is that you are credible and the funder gains confidence that you are the person to be doing this.

You could have the best idea in the world but if you are not worth investing in then you won’t get the money. There is no point in trying to second guess any questions you are going to get asked, you need to know everything!

Have you raised other funds, and if so how?

Yes we have raised other funds mainly on the back of the Nominet Trust money but not all. We are currently going through several large applications at the moment including Big Lottery and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

They all kind of follow the same process of initial first stage application then you are invited to a 2nd round if you are successful.

Any other comments about the grant?

Nominet Trust have been hugely supporting of us as an organisation and it has proven to be the springboard with other funders/key partners.

The support that we receive although not formally part of the grant offer includes advice, the online knowledge base, mentoring and partnering opportunities.

All of these add up to a support network and not just a pot of cash, one £ is as good as another £ but the advice and knowledge is invaluable! Knowing that we can pick up the phone and the people at Nominet Trust are non-judgemental and they really want to help makes all the difference!

Garry Partington, CEO and founder of market research technology solution provider RealityMine

What is the grant and what does it offer?

This was an investment from the North West Fund for Digital and GP Bullhound’s Sidecar fund which awarded RealityMine a total of £600,000 to develop research and analytics solutions as well as help to drive business development.

Is the money offered on a sliding scale or a fixed amount?

It was a fixed amount.

How did you find out about the investment and when did you investigate it?

Our corporate advisors are GP Bullhound and they helped us to investigate various avenues of funding. They have a technology focus so have a very good knowledge of the funding landscape in the sectors in which we operate.

We then did our own research and spent a considerable amount of time looking at what the process involved as well as the conditions tied to our acceptance of the offer.

How did you apply for the investment?

The North West Fund for Digital has a transparent application process – businesses can go on-line and apply for a grant of between £50,000 to £1.5 million.

We went through an application process, making sure that we gave all of the required information within the timescales set out by the fund.

What are the conditions of the grant?

The conditions include the requirement for the investment to be spent within the UK. The North West Fund for Digital also has observer status on the board of RealityMine.

What advice would you give for companies looking to seek a grant? What should they be prepared for?

Do the up-front research as to the funding options available to you and what the requirements and conditions are.

You must  understand your business in detail – this sounds obvious but we have all seen Dragon’s Den and how unprepared people can be to talk in detail about their businesses!

You should be ready to go through the financials and the business’s short, medium and long term forecasts and strategies.

Spend time preparing any presentations and practice talking through these beforehand. Standing in front of a panel of 25 investors can be very nerve-racking; the more practiced and prepared you are, the more likely you are to instil confidence that you and your company present a good case for investment.

Have you raised other funds, and if so how?

RealityMine also secured a grant from the Technology Strategy Board. This was for a specific project to develop our Omniscreen Media Measurement and Analytics.

We found and researched this grant ourselves and were successful in being awarded over £56,000 to be used on product innovation.

Any other comments about the grant?

Grants and investments are very useful in being able to finance aspects like research and development that small businesses may otherwise struggle to fund. There are lots of sources of funding available but businesses must be prepared to put the time in to produce a compelling case and ensure that the funding is used appropriately and to the best benefit. Half measures will just waste your business’s time as well as that of the funding body.

Cheryl Macdonald, founder of Yoga business Yogabellies

What is the grant and what does it offer?

It is from the Enterprise Growth in Glasgow (EGG) E-commerce Grants Solution. The grant is designed to help companies in Glasgow install e-commerce to encourage the development of businesses in Glasgow. It is targeted at those companies with growth potential and who want to retain, develop and create new jobs by developing an e-commerce service provision.

The grant is targeted at small and medium sized enterprises (SME’s). The grant can be used to enhance, update an existing e-commerce activity or to install new approaches to trading.

Is the money offered on a sliding scale or a fixed amount?

A grant of up to 80 per cent, up to the value of £1,000 may be awarded towards the costs of establishing an e-commerce presence in a business. To enhance, update an existing provision or install new approaches to trading using ecommerce strategies

How did you find out about the grant and when did you investigate it?

We found out about the grant through being part of business accelerator Entrepreneurial Spark and investigated it at the beginning of the year.

How did you apply for the grant?

We filled out the application form and had a meeting with a member of business gateway.

What are the conditions of the grant?

Companies referred from Business Gateway, Glasgow City Council or its partner organisations are eligible. They must operate from business premises within Glasgow City Council’s boundary and must be able to demonstrate that they are trading, or have the ability to trade, nationally and/or internationally, and employ less than 250 people worldwide.

We are particularly interested in assessing applications from companies with employees who are paying the Glasgow Living Wage.

In all cases a company’s ability to pay for the e-commerce activity themselves will be taken into consideration before approval is given.

What advice would you give for companies looking to seek a grant? What should they be prepared for?

It can be a long wait for the grant to be processed but it is definitely worth the wait. Also a lot of grants need the money to be paid upfront and they will reimburse it.

Have you raised other funds, and if so how?

Yes, the Commonwealth Graduate Fund to take on a full-time employee.

Any other comments about the grant?

The e-commerce work taken out must be paid in full and the receipt sent before the grant will be reimbursed.

Esme Chilton, creative director of Creative Minds Nursery

What is the loan and what does it offer?

The funding we received was an allocation of the Regional Growth Fund, a pot of money set aside by the government to invest in growing businesses across the UK.

East Kent received the largest allocation of this funding out of anywhere in the UK, over £35 million, which is being distributed by Expansion East Kent as an interest free loan businesses must apply for and must match-fund themselves.

Is the money offered on a sliding scale or a fixed amount?

When we applied for the loan, we specified how much loan we would like. You weigh up how much money you need to achieve your goals, how much you can match fund and how much you can realistically pay back.

We applied for a loan of £100,000. Which we used to renovate the building we use for the nursery. We were lucky enough to be able to match fund the money through the Future Creative side of our business.

How did you find out about the loan and when did you investigate it?

We were one of the first five businesses to apply for Regional Growth Funding in East Kent, so we pioneered the programme!

We are a social enterprise and so we are naturally always looking for funding to help us grow, that is why I was curious to find out more about the Regional Growth Fund.

I went along to an event and was initially skeptical until I heard that the money was a loan and not a grant. The idea of a sustainable pot of money which is put back into the community for the next person to use really appealed to me.

How did you apply?

We had to write a business plan to sell the idea of our business and justify the amount of money we wanted to the people at Expansion East Kent.

One of the main goals of the government funding is to promote job creation, so we had to demonstrate that the business we would develop with the money would create jobs for local people.

Because the system of funding allocation is so new, we were all working out the system as we went along (including the Expansion East Kent team) so it took six months for application to go through and for us to get the money.

What are the conditions?

When you apply for Regional Growth Funding, you set your own goals and time scale for paying the money back based on your business model, the size of the business and the amount you have borrowed.

We produce a quarterly monitoring report to update on our progress and will begin paying the money back in small, regular amounts after two years.

What advice would you give for companies looking to seek a loan? What should they be prepared for?

The Regional Growth Fund is ideal for businesses that want to progress to the next stage or diversify into other areas because they can afford to match fund the money to invest back into themselves.

It is absolutely brilliant for East Kent that this pot of money has been set aside specifically to give local businesses a boost.

Since I moved to East Kent from London 25 years ago, the region has really picked up. A few years ago it was looking rather bit sad as the coalmines had closed and the seaside towns were falling into disrepair. Now though, there is a real atmosphere of excitement and energy, which is making the region feel really edgy.

There is an atmosphere of small business owners gelling together into a community to help themselves and make something happen – the Regional Growth Funding is a catalyst for this and is making it possible.

Further reading on government grants for small businesses

 

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Small Business Funding

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