How to navigate the tangled web of government startup grants

Don’t leave money on the table for your startup.

Governments across Canada want to support startups, but the funding landscape is murky at best.

Despite billions of dollars in grants available, many startups don’t seek them due to the complexity of applying, the confusion of finding them, or a mix of both. The Cisco Grants Support Program is working to resolve this issue. The Grants Office helps start-ups of all sizes navigate Canada’s funding landscape and apply for relevant funding.

You will really see a wide range of scholarships in terms of subject or topic.

Speaking to BetaKit, Stephanie Cesar, Grant Development Consultant, and Ashley Schultz, Global Manager for Research and Consultation, shared what types of grants are available to Canadian startups, the common misconceptions startup founders have about grant funding, and three ways to find a government grant without wasting your time.

What’s in a scholarship?

One of the first things founders need to know about grants is how many there are, both in terms of total amount and type. Cesar and Schultz shared three different categories of grants available to startup founders, each one with special features that depend on the respective project:

Installation: Validate an idea, create a business plan, create a website or hire the first employees.

Upscale: Participate in advanced research in partnership with a university, export commercialization, open international offices, or construct or retrofit new physical buildings as needed.

Founder support: Mentoring, mental health support for founders and opportunities to collaborate with other companies for mutual benefit.

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“In the startup ecosystem, you’re really going to see a massive range of grants related to subject or topic,” Schultz said.

Don’t take it for granted

Having worked with many startups and other organizations, Cesar and Schultz know that business leaders have some misconceptions when it comes to obtaining and applying for grants.

Many startup founders believe that they don’t qualify for grants because they are either too early or their project is too specific. Thankfully, Schultz said, the reality is that grants exist for all levels and stages of the business.

Cesar found that many organizations shy away from applying for grants because they simply get lost in the research and application process. She added that many founders feel it’s just taking too much time and stop midway, something the Cisco Grants Support Program is designed to help with.

“Any stage in the process is a good time to contact the Cisco Grants Support Office,” Schultz said.

Another common concern Schultz and Cesar hear from founders is the need to avoid certain grants (usually the larger grants) because they believe that having a large number of applicants makes their chances of success too small to justify the effort involved in applying . This comes with another misconception that all grants are unique, meaning you can’t reuse content from one application to the next. While Schultz said every grant has unique elements, you can often reuse a significant amount of information, saving time and making it easier to apply for grants, regardless of perceived (or actual) competitiveness.

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The last concern Schultz hears from founders is that if he doesn’t get a grant, the entire application process was a waste of time. While she understands the frustration of spending time on an application without getting the money, she said the application process helps companies clarify their goals, history, and metrics — which is valuable in itself.

“Even if you don’t succeed, it’s really helpful for organizations big and small to go through these steps and have that path at your feet,” Schultz said.

Three ways to find grants for Canadian startups

Both Schultz and Cesar lamented that it can be difficult for startups to find the right grants for their circumstances in Canada because there are so many, but added that the amount of grants and support is also a hugely positive factor. To help startup founders find scholarships that might work for them, they suggested three avenues:

1. Canada Business Benefits Finder: a grant search engine that allows you to enter the characteristics of your project and see what grants or loans from government agencies may be available. It’s also connected to the Accelerated Growth Service, a free advisory service offered by the government to help you navigate some of the more complex government-sponsored grants.

“That’s the best place to start,” Cesar said.

2. Regional Development Agencies: seven agencies across Canada that help with region-specific development projects. These agencies, Schultz said, often have more money to distribute than provincial governments because they cover entire regions of the country, such as All of Atlantic Canada (ACOA) or the PrairiesCan.

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3. Cisco Grants Support Program: The Support Program Office is happy to help at any stage of a company’s life cycle as grants are available for the earliest stages of idea validation for specific commercialization, export and growth projects.

All of these avenues aim to help entrepreneurs sort through the vast web of grants, tax credits, and other startup funding opportunities. While the process may take some time, it’s worth it not only for the potential financial gain but also for the exercise of applying – as you refine this information for different uses, you may find that it becomes a strategic component of your company.

Click here if you have questions or want to learn more about the Cisco Grants Support Program.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

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