What makes a good competitive grant application?
A competitive grant is a method of funding stimulus provided by the government towards a specified sector and/or activity. These grants are provided throughout the year in funding cycles that regularly open and close and typically involve a set budget that is allocated until all funds for that grant are allocated. This may take one year or several years for the funds to be depleted, depending on the amount and quality of applications that are submitted teamed with the committed funds per cycle.
Competitive grants provide an estimated $500+ million in funding every year, however in order to stand out from the crowd an application requires a compelling business case and sound financial analysis.
Examples of the most lucrative competitive grants available include the Accelerating Commercialisation Grant (worth up to $1 million), Sovereign Industrial Capability Priority Grants (worth up to $3 million) and the South Australian Commercialisation Research and Startup Fund (worth up to $1 million) – and that’s just to name a few.
When millions of dollars are available to businesses to apply for; the application process is never going to be easy.
Applications are onerous, extensive and time-consuming; Avant Group’s competitive grants team averages just over 80 man-hours per competitive grant application. Of course, when we get to tell our clients they have won the funding – it’s all worth it.
While there are no guarantees of success, there are several things you can do to make your application stand out from the crowd.
I have put together a few key pointers for putting together a good competitive grant application.
Look at previous successful applicants
If a competitive grant has been available for several years, there will be a publicly available list of past successful applicants.
Once funding has been allocated to a project, the project’s details will appear publicly on the grant website. Make sure to read about these past projects and ask what they have in common. Typically you might see that they are:
- Projects that will deliver economic growth by either creating jobs in the short and long-term or will help boost an industry or overall economy
- Projects that support key Australian primary industries or primary industries in a specific region/state. For example, manufacturing, agriculture and viticulture, major infrastructure and construction, medical/pharmaceuticals etc.
- Projects that will boost areas at an economic disadvantage, particularly regional and rural areas or minority groups
- Projects that have the potential to generate international export opportunities The above are a few key examples that many successful competitive grant applications share; however this list is by no means exhaustive and will depend on the specific grant you’re applying for.
Understand the political environment
Government grants and funding are political by nature.
If you are applying for funding for a project in a specific region, investigate what industries underpin that region. Is it agriculture or manufacturing? Tourism or wine-making? If you can demonstrate funding for your project will support a key primary industry, then you have a much higher chance of success.
Research the MPs who are responsible for allocating the funding for the grant you’re applying for as well. Do they have any special interest areas or appear to show support for specific industries? For example, mining, manufacturing or agriculture?
Is an election near? If you’re applying for a grant at a time when an election is coming up, there may be a higher chance of being successful if the MP overseeing the funding is fighting for their seat.
If the funding is being allocated by an MP in a more marginal seat, that may also be an advantageous time to apply for the funding.
Be realistic – what can be realistically achieved?
When you are recommending a project for government funding it’s important to be realistic.
Most applications will ask you to submit a milestone timeline for your project from the date funding is received to expected project completion. You will need to provide approximate dates for when each necessary milestone will be completed.
It may be tempting to demonstrate that a project can be completed in a short amount of time, but it’s better to be realistic. A large construction project is likely to take years and if you know there may be roadblocks at particular stages, give yourself an extra few months on top of what you expect your deadline will be.
Note that all grant funding contracts will have a firm fixed end date – so the project must be delivered within this timeframe as grant monies will not be provided past this time.
If you do receive the funding, you will be required to meet the milestones by your expected dates. If you are too late past delivering on your milestones, you can seek an extension but only within the agreed project end date.
A few more things you need to know about competitive grants:
- You must not commence your project or any expenditure associated with it until you have received notification of funding
- You need to demonstrate your project will not proceed without government funding
- Ensure you read the guidelines and check your eligibility. There’s no sense wasting time on a grant that you are not eligible for. However eligibility guidelines can be complicated so speak to an expert if you’re not certain about your eligibility. At Avant Group we offer a complimentary grant eligibility assessment service.
- There is no flexibility on deadlines. Although some competitive grants are open on an ongoing basis i.e. there is no fixed deadline, there are other that do have specific opening and closing dates ever year e.g. VIC Boost Your Business vouchers. For these grants if you miss the deadline by one minute, your application will not be included. Since most grants are completed through an online government portal, it’s important to keep in mind on the day applications are due a lot of these portals can become very slow or may crash. So ideally you want to also submit your application a few days before the due date if possible.