Granting a golden opportunity?

01 May, 2007
Grants and support programmes may be the thin end of the wedge for financing your firm, but you could find one that suits your business, advises Adam Bernstein
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There are many times when a business may need money and advice and it's estimated there are around £5 billion-worth of support grants and programmes you could tap into.
However, each programme will have its own strict terms and conditions that apply to all applicants. These govern, for example, the use of the monies, what happens if the business stops trading and, if repayments are due, when they are to be paid. Expect demands for immediate repayment if the rules aren't followed and you need to know that government grants are normally for projects that are at planning stage only.You may only get part of the money you need, as the organisation behind the assistance expects you to be able to match its commitment with your own money. The proportion you get will vary according to the funding programme.SourcesGrants and assistance programmes are made available by the government through the various departments, the European Union, various Regional Development Agencies throughout the UK, local authorities, local development agencies, Business Links, Chambers of Commerce and County Enterprise Boards. Some funding is also distributed through colleges and the Learning and Skills Council.There are 13 different types of grant and help available, inclu-ding cash, repayable grants, consultancy, subsidies, technology help and advice and information. The grants are channelled in various ways: some encourage investment in innovation, research and development and some are there to specifically help small businesses.Others help with training and skills through the Learning and Skills Council as well as the Business Links. If you want to employ New Deal candidates or training of young people, you may be able to get help from Jobcentre Plus.Age and inexperience needn't be a barrier. Indeed, assistance and funds are available from The Prince's Trust to those who may be unemployed, or employed in a part-time or low-paid job, are aged 18-30 and have a business idea.Grants are meant to stimulate business activity and this is the reason why a business based in an 'assisted area' may be able to get extra grants if they can help with regional development, urban regeneration or an improvement in prospects for local employment.Find the grantsYou can find out much of the information online for nothing. However, some information is chargeable.Through the Business Links website, you can search through the Grants and Support Directory for nothing. There are several thousand national and local programmes available, at all levels, depending on what you want, where you are and so on.But there are also private sector agencies that provide information on available grants and can give assistance in applying for them. However, it is worthwhile searching online and comparing a few different agencies. Many of them charge a fee or subscription, but remember, none of them can guarantee success in getting funding for you.To find them, just go online and search for "support and grants".The application processAssuming you have gone through the process of finding the grant you want to apply for, and making sure you qualify, you will want to make your proposal. But before you do, it might be worth making personal contact with the provider - you might pick up some tips. Remembering that you may have to put some of your own money up, you need to be able to show the specific purpose for the grant. Don't start work before you've been given the green light on funding, as you'll exclude yourself if you do. Also, heed any deadlines.If you need any advice when preparing your proposal, consider speaking to an adviser at a Business Link.You will have to provide a detailed description of the reason for the application, give an explanation of the benefits of the project, detail the plan and provide full financial data, provide details of your own experience and that of your (senior) colleagues, complete the application form and submit a business plan. The decision is not always quick and could take many months.Dealing with rejection Many fail with their application the first time around. Asking the organisation concerned why you've been rejected will help you when you re-apply.Typically, the reasons why applications are turned down include:? the failure to prove the need for the money? providing information that is out of date? a failure to show that own funds are available? submitting a plan that is poorly written and produced? failure to show how the research you have done will turn into concrete working business? quoting any facts that are fanciful or unbacked? failure to show the importance of receiving funding; and that the application has been made to the wrong organisation.If you cannot get a grant, you may have to resort to other forms of finance, such as the traditional bank loan. Alternatively, you may want to consider selling shares in your business.Grant eligibilitySeveral points count towards eligi- bility for grants:? Location. Through regional economic variations, social and financial needs, businesses in some parts of the UK get extra grants. Further, to attract businesses or maintain employment in the local economy, some local authorities offer their own grants.? Size of business. The size of your business, in terms of either number of employees or turnover, may have a bearing on eligibility. A lot of grants are deliberately limited to small or medium- sized enterprises.? Type of industry. It shouldn't be a surprise to know that government and local authorities wish to encourage certain industry sectors, while they feel others do not need any assistance. Also, the European Commission places limits and checks on the help that some sectors receive.? Purpose. Grants are invariably awarded for a specific purpose, such as buying plant and equipment, improving work areas or developing export markets. Other uses will be barred. n



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