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During his time studying Maths and Economics at Aston University, Growth Hub’s Projects and Grants Executive, Ben Crosby, undertook a placement year that gave him the opportunity to work on a European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) program in graduate recruitment.

“I really enjoyed that placement – so much so that it encouraged me to pursue project work of that kind,” explains Ben. “Ultimately, that led me to the Growth Hub.

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“I have a rule, which is I only apply for jobs that I really want. If there’s something I’m not sure about or I have any doubts, I simply won’t go for it. The Growth Hub immediately struck a chord with me; reading the job description and discovering what it was all about was really inspiring.”

Ben joined the Growth Hub after he graduated in 2016 and began working on their ERDF projects: Ready2Grow and Innovate Northamptonshire.

“When I first met the Growth Hub team, it was pretty clear to me they were the kind of people I wanted to work with,” says Ben. “I also realised the work itself would give me the opportunity to discover and work with lots of different types of businesses. The innovation and ideas we’re exposed to are fascinating.”

Ben’s role is wide-ranging, but he can usually be found working on the background elements of grant applications, such as dealing with funders, managing stakeholders and ensuring each application remains on track and compliant.

“We’re sometimes affectionately referred to as the ‘project police’,” laughs Ben. “That’s because we have to make sure everyone is following the rules and that the various compliance requirements are taken into account.”

Ben also spends his time undertaking operational tasks, dealing with ERDF claims and planning the open calls for funding.

“I also get involved in the decision-making process for applications and help the team ascertain whether or not they’re eligible,” he explains. “Entrepreneurs sometimes go head-first into a grant application without realising the requirements, such as demonstrating a desire for growth and to create jobs that will benefit the regional economy.”

The Ready2Grow project is designed for entrepreneurs who already own a business or are looking to start one. The Growth Hub offers tailored one-to-one support and workshops that cover a variety of topics such as funding, HR, marketing and business sustainability.

“We run a few grant streams,” says Ben. “These include a business support grant for revenue (which relates to consultancy services) and one for capital, which is for assistance with buying tangible assets and other investment-related tasks.”

If you’re wondering how complex grant application are, Ben has some comforting words.

“The grant process is relatively straightforward,” he explains. “We assess each application before they go through to an appraisal, and then onto an external panel, who will make the ultimate decision. Sometimes, they’ll come back and ask some follow-up questions, but we usually identify those missing elements at the appraisal stage to save time!

“If the application is successful, it’s down to us to send on the formal award of the grant: known as the Grant Funding Agreement (GFA). It’s an agreement in writing that outlines the terms of the grant funding.”

As Ben warns, waiting for the Grant Funding Agreement to come through is vital.

“It’s important for applicants to wait until they receive the GFA before spending, because we encounter a lot of people who spend their money without the agreement in place, and the grant can’t account for retrospective investment.

“My advice is to always wait for the cast-iron go-ahead from us that the grant has been fully approved before spending anything or proceeding with the project. If you feel you can’t wait, then we advise chatting to us first, so that we’re aware and have the opportunity to see if anything can be done.”

The time it takes for a grant to be awarded varies significantly. For open calls, there is usually a six-week appraisal time frame, but the earlier you get your application in, the sooner Ben and his team can address any potential issues.

So, what makes a successful grant application?

“I recommend simply following and answering the questions systematically,” advises Ben. “Taking time to explain what your business is all about and why it needs the funding will be the difference between getting a grant and being turned down.

“We love it when we see applications where people have answered each question fully, and it’s clearly been proofread. Sometimes, people will send us their business plans along with the application, too, which is great, because it helps illustrate the bigger picture.”

Ben also recommends taking a holistic approach to grant applications by looking at what the business is doing now and explaining what would be different after gaining access to the funds.

“Highlight the difference it’ll make,” he says. “Show the impact of that funding on your business, and prove to us and the panel how the money will help you grow your business and generate more jobs.”

What about common pitfalls?

“A common mistake we see in grant applications is listing costs that are ineligible,” warns Ben. “That’s usually an immediate ‘no’ in terms of funding, and demonstrates why speaking to us to find out what is eligible is vital; our business advisers are here to help with queries like that, and they’ll save you a huge amount of time.

“We also see some fairly sparse applications, where there’s only two or three-line answers in each section. My advice is to make maximum use of the space you’re given – the sections can contain around three-hundred words, and this is your opportunity to illustrate your business and demonstrate how seriously you’re taking your application.”

If you’re interested in grant funding, there’s an open call available which closes on 3rd August 2018 at midday. If you’re unsure whether or not the grant is a good fit for your business, we can chat through the eligibility criteria and assess your suitability – just get in touch!

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