How to Ace Grant Applications and Get the Government to Fund Your Startup
You’re looking for a grant for your budding venture. That’s exciting! But the grant application process can feel overwhelming. What do successful grant applications even look like? It’s not as challenging as you might think. In fact, there are simple rules to follow in order to be a successful grant recipient.
There are three general types of grant applications: letter of inquiry, letter proposal, and full grant proposal.
There are a few ways you can find a grant:
- Become familiar with the right terminology to do an online search
- Government websites like the Canadian Industry Sector guide
- Organizations that have partnered to offer grant opportunities like Canada Starts, a fund in partnership with Ownr, Staples, Shopify, and Moneris, that is committed to investing in Canadian new entrepreneurs.
- Look in your own industry—follow and communicate with other entrepreneurs
1. Review successful grant applications
As the old saying goes, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The same is true for grant applications. Reviewing a successful grant application can help you identify what the selection committee is looking for.
When reviewing a successful grant application, pay close attention to the details that have gone into the application. Selection committees are looking for enough detail about your business to feel confident in investing in you. This includes identification of your niche and brand. These may seem like elements that can be hammered out later, but having a clear vision for a business is essential to a successful grant application.
Pay attention to the language as well. Is it clear and concise? Is it organized logically? Successful grant applications will give you a good idea of what the language will be like, and how detailed and clear you should be.
2. Make a work-back calendar
A work-back calendar is one of the best tools in any entrepreneur’s toolbelt. It is a system that starts at the deadline, and organizes tasks and due dates in a backwards fashion.
When you find the grant you want to apply for, note the deadline in your calendar for when you need to submit your application. Then a week prior to that, create your own deadline. A few weeks before that, commit to solidifying financials. Move backwards until all the tasks are in your calendar.
Creating a work-back calendar helps to realistically diarize all tasks and ensures you have enough time to complete them all.
3. Make sure you have a solid business plan
A business plan is a document that contains pertinent information about a business, including owners and other key stakeholders, target market, structural organization, and plans to generate revenue. Even if the selection committee doesn’t specifically require a business plan, having one is a valuable reference tool. It’s also needed for other funding sources, such as loans and credit.
A business plan is fairly standard and should include:
- A description of what your business is offering
- A description of your competitive advantage
- Your business goals, including finances needed to meet those goals
- Financial forecast
- If your business is already up and running, an overview of your achievements thus far
It’s also worth noting that detailing what gap in the market that your business fills will set you apart from the rest. Outlining this in the business plan section of your grant application shows that you’ve done your research.
4. Be clear about what you will use the funds for
A part of a business grant application is a proposal of what the grant funds will be used for. Corporations and organizations want to know that their investment in you will be used wisely, and honouring that in your grant application will go a long way in lending you credibility to the selection committee.
Be as realistic and specific as possible. For example, it’s better to itemize upgrade equipment as “industrial oven, dishwasher,” etc., rather than simply stating “upgrade kitchen materials.” That way you can also get a clearer picture of what these expenditures will actually cost in your financial plan. If it’s marketing and advertising, do your research. Find out what your target demographics are and note which platforms will hit the right market.
Selection committees are more likely to award funds to those grant applicants who include what the funds will be used for in their grant application than those who don’t.
5. Have someone review your grant application
Even sole entrepreneurs don’t work in silos. You may write your grant application yourself, but it’s helpful to have someone review it, preferably someone who has already written business grant applications. Better yet, someone who’s been a successful recipient. Other entrepreneurs in your community may help with this, and there are plenty of organizations that offer grant application reviews.
By the time you submit your grant application, you may have been looking at it for hours, and it’s easy to miss costly mistakes. Even if it’s just for spelling, punctuation, and grammar, never submit a grant application that has only had one set of eyes on it.
Grant applications dos and don’ts
- Make sure you’re applying for the right grant. Check the eligibility requirements and see what businesses they’ve funded in the past
- Watch the calendar for the deadline and stick to your workback calendar
- Write a detailed and concise business plan
- Get help from business organizations or colleagues when writing your grant application
- Have multiple people review your grant application before submitting
- Recycle the same grant application you’ve used for previous grants. You’ll need to update it and make appropriate changes for each grant application
- Leave it until the last minute
- Write a vague business plan
- Submit the first draft
Applying for a business grant is a milestone for entrepreneurs, and the first place you should start is learning what goes into a winning grant application. Now you know everything you need to start applying.
Ready to ace your first grant application? Check out Canada Starts, a $200,000 fund from Ownr by RBC Ventures, Staples, Shopify, and Moneris supporting aspiring entrepreneurs. 40 applicants with standout applications will receive $5,000 to launch their dream business. What could you start with $5,000?
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