What is the grant and how did you find out about it?
The grant we received was from the Technology Strategy Board’s (TSB’s) Tech City Launchpad competition, which was worth £100,000. We had already been keen KTN (Knowledge Transfer Network) members in the ICT and Cyber Security segments of the TSB’s _Connect community, which was how we found out about the competition.
In our experience, the TSB has been very good at promoting its grants at least three months in advance via these networks, enabling small businesses to pull together their applications in plenty of time.
What did you do to apply? What did the entire process involve?
The grant application had two specific sections, the first being the production of a two-minute video summarising what the application was for. Once we had been successfully selected to go to the second stage, we had to produce a full project plan with more detailed company information, including a thorough breakdown of our intended project work, spend profile and risk registers.
The level of detail required was as demanding as any large corporate project I have undertaken. The proposal was then assessed by independent industry experts. The process is not for the faint hearted but well worth the effort if you get it right!
What were the conditions of the grant? Anything you could/couldn’t spend it on?
The grant was very particular in its conditions. These ranged from having to find matched funding form both industry and private investors (in exchange for an equity stake in the business), to not being able to use any of the funding on marketing of any form. However, that was fine for us at the time as we were in 100 per cent research and development (R&D) mode, so it fitted our needs perfectly.
This was quite an intensive process but for businesses that are in earlier stages there are simpler competitions for grant funding run by IC tomorrow, the digital programme of the TSB. They match you with relevant industry partners to build your idea into a fully-fledged business, which might work better for some people depending on your product and stage of development.
What did you spend it on?
The grant and matched funding totalled £200,000. We spent this predominantly on payroll for the necessary team members, and on a small set of capital equipment. We also used the funds for specialist software tools that were required to support our R&D and testing efforts.
How has it helped the company?
Without the injection of the grant funding, PixelPin would not have been able to increase its team to the size we needed. Nor would the business have been able to undertake the level of technical investigations and proving of product options that was required at that early stage. Having the monthly reporting structure also ensured laser focus on the job in hand, which was a secondary benefit but not to be ignored.
What advice would you give other companies with regards to applying for grants?
The most important point I would say is to ‘answer the exam question’. No matter how world changing and good your idea or business is, if you do not answer the very specific requirements of the grant application process you are wasting your time, and all your hard work will end up in the trash.
Also – make sure you apply in plenty of time. Miss a deadline and there is no second chance. It may seem like too great a time commitment when you’re busy focusing on building your actual product, but the grants do release you to undertake work you would not normally be able to fund on your own. That is certainly the case for PixelPin.
Anything to add about the process?
Taking into account the level of effort and then project management that is required for the release of a grant, it is important to realise that achieving a grant such as ours places you in the top 10 per cent of businesses nationally. Good grants therefore give you far more than immediate funds – they give you enduring kudos. This is because the TSB and other reputable grant-givers essentially do the technical and commercial due diligence that would be required from any investor. Having a grant from them is therefore a badge well worth enduring to achieve, especially for future rounds of investment.