How NOT to approach a grant proposal (for startups).

Having written up at least 4 grant proposals for our company’s projects over the past year, I feel that I’m at least partially qualified to say this:

Grant writing (for startups) is a painful process.

Don’t get me wrong – every single person I’ve worked with at these grant agencies has been very helpful and enthusiastic and I am thankful for their guidance. Singapore is often cited as one of the best places to startup in Asia, with a multitude of sources of non-equity funding  for early / very early stage companies. These grants usually come from various (government-linked) statutory boards, like SPRING Singapore, Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), Media Development Authority (MDA). They generally range from $50,000 to $500,000 depending on the project.

Indeed, the government’s intentions are applaudable, with hopes of nurturing a flourishing ecosystem of entrepreneurs here in Singapore.

Unfortunately, my personal experience has been frustrating, to say the least. For example, our company wrote up and submitted a 25+ page grant proposal for a project in the middle of last year. It went through several parties, only to be told that it had to be rescoped after several months, which we spent time and effort to do. Later, after further discussion with the grant agency, we were told that it didn’t fit in the requirements of that particular grant, and that we should consider another grant instead. Right. If this was made clear at the start, it would have saved everyone a whole lot of mental anguish. For a new company, time and resources are absolutely critical.

If I could impart a few lessons from my experience for other startups which are applying for grant money:

  1. Pick the right grant. Each grant has a specific set of requirements, level of detail needed, quantum of funding, approval process and timelines. Consider carefully before starting to sink a single point of effort into writing up your proposal
  2. Talk with someone who has intimate knowledge of the grant early on. It could be an officer within the grant agency, or someone from another startup – they will be able to give you strong guidance on what works and what doesn’t. Many grant proposals are evaluated taking reference from previous, similar approved projects, so it’s essential to know what the expectations are. What happened was that we had only brief chats with the grant office and took our own stab in the dark, and it was not until later on when we had an officer assigned to our account did we figure out that the grant was not suitable for us at our current stage.

 

And for anyone who’s working on the other side of this (ie. grant agency), my wish would be that the grant process be more transparent from the start, and that the requirements be less rigid. Be willing to take more risks, on companies with ambitious visions but have not figured everything out yet. It is precisely this drive and innovation that Singapore desperately needs, if it is to remain relevant in the uncertain future ahead. If a startup already has concrete, data-proven business plans, product, distribution, implementation – they probably wouldn’t need the $50,000 that is provided.

Please do share your personal experiences with grant writing / application, be it similar or contrary, below in the comments. I’d love to hear them.

Spoiler : If your company already has a product and is looking to improve it, I would highly recommend exploring the Capability Development Grant from SPRING

 

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