Advice for Early Stage and Startup Grant Applicants
July 21st 2020
It’s often hard to know what to write in grant applications. You may wonder what the people reading your application want to hear about your business or your future plans.
What can you tell them that will help them see how successful your business could be with their financial support, you may ask yourself?
And yet, if you take a look at the questions grant applications ask, you’ll start to see some similarities regarding what information you should share about your business. That is, the questions posed in grant applications give you a clue regarding what the awards committee is most interested in.
What Grant Programs Ask Applicants
For example, here are just a few grant programs and some of the questions they pose to applicants:
The NAV Small Business grant program, which is accepting applications through September 1, 2020 for a grant of $10,000 and another of $5,000, wants you to tell the committee:
- What your business does
- A challenge the business has overcome
- A challenge you continue to struggle with
- How the grant funds could help you overcome your challenge
- Details regarding how you’d use the prize money
The Halstead Grant for jewelry designers, which awards a $7,500 cash grant to a metal jewelry designer (this year’s application is due by August 1, 2020), has a downloadable application which asks, among other things:
- What your budget for spending the $7,500 grant would look like.
- What sales and distribution channels will you use?
- Who is your direct competition?
- When do you expect to break even?
Among government grants, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends that grant applicants:
- Offer innovative solutions to an unmet clinical need
- Provide solutions that have significant commercial potential
- Leverage the expertise of the company owner/founder
- Seek funding that, essentially, moves the company’s products or services forward
- Are aligned with NIA’s research priorities
Whether or not you have any interest in a scientific grant from the NIA or other government programs, or if you’re pursuing a grant from a private nonprofit or corporate organization, you can probably start to see overlap, or similarities, across the different applications.
That’s what you should focus on.
What You Should Tell Grant Committees
Just among these three programs, it’s clear they want to know:
- What kind of business you run. That is, what do you sell, how, and to whom? What problem does it solve for your customers?
- Is your company currently profitable – are you making money? If not, what will it take for you to be profitable? What’s holding you back?
- How will winning the grant make a difference in your business? What will that money enable you to do that you can’t do right now, such as buy equipment, create a website, expand your inventory?
- How will you use the money? They want specifics. Break it down. Account for every dollar.
Some grant applications will have other questions unrelated to your business, such as about who you are, your personal struggles, and maybe how you’re giving back to your community. You’ll certainly want to answer those as best you can, and just keep in mind that they want to hear how you’ll be successful if you win the grant.
Make it clear how the grant will turn things around for you, or make great success possible for you.
Choosing What to Include, What to Leave Out
Sometimes grant applications will have limits on how long your answer can be, such as “no more than 500 words.” If so, make sure you use as many of those words as you can. Offer detailed responses. Don’t expect readers to be able to fill in the blanks if you tell them, for example, “I plan to increase sales by 25%.” Explain how.
Some grants don’t limit you length-wise, which means you can offer more specifics regarding why there is demand for your product or service, why your product or service is better than what’s currently available, and how you’re going to grow your company.
After all, grant programs want to encourage and support business owners who have figured out what they need to be successful and are just lacking some money. If you keep that in the back of your mind as you’re filling out grant applications, you’ll help committee members get a clearer picture of how much good that money can do in your business. That’s the key to being seriously considered in many programs.