Given recent circumstances, many businesses have considered sources of income they haven’t before – including applying for grant programs.
The grant application process can seem complex and daunting for anyone going through it for the first time, says Melissa Fardone, Director R&D and Grants at BDO Adelaide.
Businesses will typically look to a grant fund if they are trying to bring forward important strategic projects, secure internal approvals for projects they may not otherwise, or manage cashflow during tough times.
“I’d strongly advise businesses to apply if they can see there is a clear correlation between a specific project they’d like to undertake and the policy objectives or grant outlines supplied by the government.”
“In some cases, a government official may even have contacted you and encouraged you to apply – this is always a positive sign not to be ignored!” Says Fardone.
If you’re thinking of seeking out or applying for grants, it’s important to note that no two processes are the same. There are, however, responses to some common questions that are broadly applicable.
What’s typically involved in the process?
As a first step, Fardone recommends contacting the relevant person from the area of government that is administering the grant.
“Locating the right contact in government can be the hardest task of the whole process – have a chat to a specialist grant adviser at this stage and they should have extensive contacts and be able to help with getting the right person”, she says.
“Very few business owners have the time or resources to put into this stage, but it’s essential before progressing any further.”
If feedback during this conversation is generally positive, then proceed to the next step. This might include submitting an Expression of Interest (EOI).
If possible, ask your government contact to review your draft EOI and provide feedback. Although, in many instances, they may be barred from doing this – particularly for Federal Government programs.
“If this is the case, an adviser with plenty of grant experience will be able to help with EOI preparation and / or review before submission”, says Fardone.
If you get past the EOI stage, it’s time for the full application.
Fardone advises against rushing this stage of the process: “Again, seek feedback from your government contact or trusted adviser if possible. You’re better to put in too much than too little at this point.”
How much money should I ask for?
Look at the specifics of the particular grant you’re applying for. Many programs will publicly post information about previously successful applicants online, which can be used as a guide to how much other projects have received.
How long does the process take?
“These things are never fast”, says Fardone. “Most competitive grants will take at least 3 months from submission of the full application to receiving advice of the outcome.”
Who reviews applications and makes the decisions?
This is different for every grant. Many are reviewed by an independent committee, appointed by the Government. This committee might meet every 2 months and make recommendations to the Minister or other government delegate on who should receive funding.
What happens if I’m successful?
At this point, you will need to negotiate and sign a grant agreement with the relevant government department or agency. This will outline the project, milestones you must complete and how the grant money will be paid.
My application includes commercially sensitive information. Should I be worried about confidentiality?
“Always have this chat with the agency administering the grant,” says Fardone. “Generally speaking, the government are held to very high confidentiality standards and you’ll have no cause for concern.”
The biggest issues businesses run into when applying for grants are often avoidable, notes Fardone. “Putting a lot of time and effort into an application that isn’t up to scratch, or submitting an application for a project that just isn’t a good fit for that particular grant fund are two examples of this”, she says.
“I would always recommend that you don’t skip over those advice-seeking stages – having the right expertise and feedback can mean you avoid frustration or disappointment further down the track.”
James McIntyre, General Manager of Adelaide based 2XE agrees: “Like many businesses, we don’t always have the time or expertise when working through various government programs. Having someone who can advise, prepare and submit applications with us has been invaluable.”
Watch the webinar: Software and the R&D Tax Incentive
Melissa Fardone provides practical advice around how to structure and write tech-related R&D projects, including discussion on common pitfalls.