Adatree Founder Jill Berry Shares 4 Tips for Getting Government Grants to Boost Your Startup

Funding can be the difference between slower organic growth and accelerating your business success, whether it’s used to hire staff or pay for resources to accelerate your progress.

There’s a way to jump-start your business without having to start on your own or bring in investors too early in your journey. Grants are a great way to support your business in the early stages of growth. Depending on your industry, your purpose, or the position of your founders, you can access many different types of grants. Situations that tend to attract funding include innovation and research and development, founders with special backgrounds or alumni status, and social purpose enterprises.

When we launched Adatree, we secured a $25,000 MVP grant from the NSW Treasury and a win in the University of Sydney’s Genesis Program competition, which included $25,000 in funding, expert mentorship and media exposure.

Here’s how you can take advantage of grants and funding to accelerate your business.

1. Do thorough research

Grants come from a variety of sources. Government grants are usually accessed through specific departments – for example, if you are a technology company, you could try the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. However, also consider if you could access grants in another department. If you produce agricultural technologies, you can also consult the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources. General business grants are also available and at different levels of government; your state government and even local councils have grant programs.

Other sources of grants include universities and other research and educational institutions, industry bodies, and professional organizations and foundations. If you’re a technology company, I recommend applying for Amazon’s AWS Activate or Microsoft for Startups, which covers you for technology expenses with credits. While $3,000 or $5,000 here and there might not seem like a lot, it does add up and can help keep costs down.

Showing off is also helpful. Go to networking events, attend pitch parties, and even attend conferences. When we applied for the NSW MVP grant, we met their team after they saw us presenting at a conference, so it was great to make that connection in person too.

2. Read the fine print

Review the eligibility criteria in detail before you start writing a grant application. Grants you think are suitable may have specific criteria that disqualify you.

We looked at a female founder grant; I am CEO and largest shareholder of Adatree, but I was not eligible because I had male co-founders, and the grant required me to own 50% or more. Some grant programs, like many COVID programs, are only for struggling established businesses or nonprofits.

It is rare to see solely funded grants. In addition to cash, you may receive other in-kind support, ranging from free office space and access to facilities to expert advice and mentorship, or ancillary services that can help you manage your company. So think about what would really benefit you before you apply.

The fine print will also indicate what they expect in return. For example, you may need to complete certain activities by a deadline, or it may not be a cash grant, but compensation requiring you to keep receipts and claim the reimbursement of costs at a later date. If you don’t have adequate cash flow, matching grants may not be right for you.

3. Think of the request as an investment

The application process requires a lot of rigor. Check the submission deadline before you start to ensure you have enough time to apply, and double-check all the information you need to provide. Some of them may be budgetary, others may be an external endorsement, such as a letter of recommendation from an expert.

We applied for an R&D grant through AusIndustry, which we found particularly complicated. It’s based on assumptions, starting with a framework and lots of documentation.

Discount rules change frequently, so it’s worth hiring a consultant to take care of all of this. I recommend getting professional help in general. There are specialist grant writers you can hire or you can take training from organizations such as Grant’d, which aim to help you navigate these grants and applications.

4. Partners can be an asset

If you partner with research organizations, there are a myriad of grants available if you apply jointly for a grant that requires a company and a research organization to submit together. If you can find and partner with the best Australian researchers in a specific field or topic, you will often find that the granting agency will fund their involvement. It’s a huge extra for your business, and it really boosts your IP. An example is CSIRO Kick-Start.

Like any investment, grants take time to materialize, and sometimes they don’t pay off at all. So while you shouldn’t rely on them to run your business, they are still a valuable bottom line for several reasons.

First, the application process helps you define your business and refine your offering. Second, when they arrive, the funds can save you from having to dip into your savings for all the costs of starting a business. The alternative is often to raise capital sooner than expected, which can dilute ownership of your business.

If a grant can help shape your business to be the best it can be, sooner rather than later, it’s definitely worth seeking out.

  • Applications are now open for NSW Small Business Month grant applications, which close August 5. Details here.

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