So you want to apply for government funding?

Since closing Tinker London in late 2010 I’ve spent my time earning money through consultancy services and assessment work. I’ve been a technical and business assessor for funding bodies like Innovate UK, EIT Digital and Horizon 2020 projects. I’ve also been a partner on two government-funded projects. I thought I’d address some of the speculations and preconceived ideas people might have about funding and how assessment happens.

Firstly, I rarely get to meet the other assessors, so I’m on my own, at home usually, with my computer. In some cases I’ll be invited to join a group discussion with other assessors especially when the budget is high (over £5M) but even then we’re not the last people to make a decision.

I’ll take about 1h per assessment in general and I have to respond and rate every question. I get a strict assessment grid and I have to justify my decision for every question. In the case of Horizon 2020 work, I have to actually write up a 20–40 page report. So it’s all pretty proper and well organised. Noone can ever say to me that government money gets wasted, but not everyone knows how to apply for funding and that’s an issue.

I see some really interesting things come across my desk and within 3–4 questions I can immediately see that they don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t mean that they don’t know what they’re doing as a business, but they don’t know how to look legitimate to me on paper. I also don’t see many women apply which always kinda kills me. So here are a few simple pointers which might help you look more legitimate to an assessor like me.

  1. Don’t copy paste. Don’t copy paste from another application, we can tell. It looks lazy and like you don’t really care about applying for this. It’s tax payers money so we have to believe this is done with as much care as possible.
  2. Include a Gantt chart. If you get asked ‘how to do you plan to run this project, submit a Gantt chart along with your explanation. In the Gantt chart, make sure to show me who is working on a task, how long, and what dependancies there are. This allows an assessor to get a sense of the shape of your work so when you claim to have an Agile process we can actually see it in the Gantt. If you don’t have people for some tasks yet, just put their role in, but someone has to be doing that job (and if its the founder doing all the jobs at the same time that’s probably going to be a nightmare). A Gantt chart is both useful to you as an applicant and to an assessor so be thorough. Team Gantt is a pretty good friendly in-browser tool you can use.
  3. Include a risk register. This is another standard for presenting information and it’s really useful when done well. It allows an assessor to look at the highest risks you’ve identified and whether their mitigation plans seem credible. It’s a good format for realising the importance (not triviality) of your worries as a business. The Australian government have a nice template online you can follow.
  4. Include your planned sales numbers. Treat an application for public money as you would a VC. It’s a form aof investment and you have to make assessors dream a little about what your company’s success might look like. Share sales numbers, customers, secondary customers, markets, and how much of a dent into those markets you’ll make. Especially if the call for funding is in ‘innovation’ with a focus on small businesses, that story is really important.
  5. Apply with a partner company if you can. If you can’t, mention the people and organisations you’re looking to involve or sell to at the very beginning of the application. It’s always nice to see a company that has enough drive to be getting on with things, meeting future customers, building networks.
  6. Kill the buzzwords. Don’t use terrible terminology or buzzwords if you don’t need to. The assessors are, like me, very good at what they do and are going to get irritated by ‘synergy’ or whatever appearing a little too often. Be clear, concise and focused in your writing.

I can’t guarantee that doing these things will definitely get you funding, but it will help get your idea across and be good for your team. Finding funding is hard (I tried for almost 2 years for Good Night Lamp) so you don’t want to be dismissed for the wrong reasons. Public funding isn’t for everyone but by doing the things I’ve mentioned, you’re also probably going to make a better case to a more corporate investor. So with that in mind, I wish you good luck!

Author of 'Smarter Homes: how technology has changed your home life' (Apress, 2018) Writing a book on corporate innovation culture out in 2020. Designer. UK.

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