Douglas Hagedorn has leveraged a number of innovation grants from Alberta Innovates Tech Futures, TECTERRA and more to fund his technology company Tactalis. Tactalis creates tablet computers with tactile feedback that help people who are blind and visually impaired explore, create and share interactive digital media.
A few weeks ago, Douglas shared his grant writing experience with the local tech community so they too could learn how to apply for non-dilutive funding.
Before we jump into grant writing, we should quickly explain the different between grants and tax credits. Tax credits help companies recover cost that’s already been spent on an R&D project. Grants take more of a proactive approach. While not necessarily ‘free money,’ grants can range anywhere from $5K to $150K or more and are designed to achieve a specific task. (Take a look at our Innovation Funding overview to see our program comparison)
We compiled the top 10 tips that Douglas shared during his open and honest discussion about grant writing:
1. Be concise and consistent
Only say what you need to say to answer the question. Try to say as much as you can in as few words as possible.
Use consistent terminology to describe your technology and avoid introducing additional terms or synonyms throughout your application. The more concise your application, the easier it is for the reader to understand and evaluate.
2. Be calendar sensitive
Many programs have an ongoing application process. Be aware of slower-times such as Stampede and Christmas. Funders are people too.
If the program has a deadline, make a note in your calendar. If you have any questions, pick up the phone and give them a call.
3. Collaborate with your community
If you’ve worked with students or local service organizations to get the level of expertise you need, include it. Your application will be stronger if you demonstrate that you’re willing to work with other people and have been successful at doing so.
4. Explain valuable credentials
Don’t just list your team member’s name and their educational credentials (ie PhD or MBA.) The letters behind someone’s name don’t really count if you don’t explain what value they add to your company. You want to show that their speciality is worth the high cost or salary the company is expensing.
5. Don’t just copy and paste
Copying and pasting is an easy habit if you are writing multiple applications. However, the more you work at it, the better you’ll be at writing about your company. Every application is different and will require customized answers.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Click here to learn about 20+ Grant Programs in this Ultimate Guide to Innovation Funding.
6. Connect with past recipients
Many grants and funding programs post their past recipients on their websites. Go out of your way to connect with them to learn about their project, what funding they received and how to position your application.
7. Circulate your application
It’s way better to have someone else catch your grammatical errors and typos than the funder. Get a fresh set of eyes, possibly someone who doesn’t already have an intimate understanding of your company, to review your application.
8. Leave some cash on the table
You’re more likely to get funded if you can show that you understand the realistic costs needed to achieve your desired outcome.
For example, instead of simply requesting you need $100K to hire a software developer, ask for $88K and explain that you know that this is an average software developer’s salary according to the Alberta Wage Survey portal. Sometimes it’s worth leaving cash on the table to show that you know what you’re talking about.
9. Understand the cost
There is ‘no such thing as free money.’ Sometimes, your company will have to contribute a portion of the total project cost to secure the funding. This can be unexpected and most companies don’t budget for the additional GST or interest that they will need to pay as well.
Some programs are also loans that are only repayable if you are successful. Read through the funding program details carefully and plan accordingly.
10. Be cautious
Grants may stimulate a company in the short term, but should not be used as a crutch for long-term growth. Keep in mind that short-term employees, interns or contractors may not become long-term members of the team.
You also need to be cognizant when using grants to hire an employee, intern or contractor. After spending time getting them up to speed, there is no guarantee that they will continue with your company once their funding term is up. This can be a surprise for a few and is something to pay attention to when selecting the person for the grant.
Grant writing should not be confused with pitching. With grant writing, it’s more about showing that you have the experience, skills and team to accomplish their objective. Your job, ultimately, is to help funders justify their decision to fund you. Focus on the outcomes that your company can deliver that will help them meet their objectives too.
And on one final note, a thank you goes a long way. Make sure to let your funders know how much you appreciate their support!