The stresses of the pandemic mean that business grants – and particularly innovation funding – have perhaps never been more important for UK businesses.
The good thing about grants is that you don’t have to pay grant money back. But you might have to meet a matched funding requirement (typically 25-50%), and you might also have to commit to agreed outputs during the application process. Many grants are also sector-specific or tied to a particular product or outcome.
There are thousands of business grants available in the UK, both at a national and regional level, but they’re not always easy to find. And once you find a grant that looks relevant you might find the application process challenging if it’s your first time. But you can always get help… If you register with Swoop, we can match your business with the most relevant grant providers as well as help you manage and complete the application process.
We’ve summarised the UK’s main sources of grants below.
1. Innovation funding
Innovation funding has never been more important than it is now, as the continued disruption caused by Covid-19 forces many of us to try new ways of doing business. It’s therefore no surprise that the UK government has accelerated investment into Innovate UK programmes this year.
For example, another round of Innovate UK Smart Grants is set to open on January 10th 2021. If you meet the eligibility criteria you can apply for a share of up to £25m to “deliver disruptive R&D innovations that can significantly impact the UK economy”.
There are many other competitions in niche areas, so it’s worth registering with Swoop to keep up-to-date with current Innovate UK competitions, as well as other grants, loans, equity opportunities and cost-savings measures.
It’s worth also looking at the tax incentives to support R&D activities.
2. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)
Remember Boris Johnson’s call to the LEPs for shovel-ready infrastructure projects in June 2020? The result, a month later, was the £900m Getting Building Fund allocated to LEPs who responded to the call by bidding for central funds. You can see how the funds are allocated to different LEPS in the link above. While this turnaround was perhaps unusually fast, it does demonstrate how important it is for local business communities to get on the radar of their LEPs ahead of any future funding calls. For the uninitiated, LEPs are responsible for bidding for central government funding – and for leveraging other funding from the private sector as well as from local partners such as housing associations, universities and colleges. There are currently 38 LEPs across the UK, each with their own pool of grants and funding opportunities for local small businesses. Our message here is: engage with your local LEP!
3. Growth Hubs
Growth hubs are local public/private sector partnerships led by the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) and, like the LEPS, they are funnels for government business support. For example, the government introduced a £20m funding initiative in June 2020 to help small and medium-sized businesses across England recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. This £20m is being distributed in varying amounts to different counties through Growth Hubs. Businesses can apply for grants (£1,000 – £5,000) to help them access new technology and other equipment as well as professional, legal, financial or other advice to help them get back on track.
The cut-off date for these grant applications is 28 February 2021, but you might already be too late because the grants are being awarded on a first-come first-serve basis and many Growth Hubs have already turned applicants away.
You can find your nearest Growth Hub using the Growth Hub finder.
Bear in mind that it’s likely that other organisations (not the Growth Hubs themselves) might actually administer the grants – it might be your local council.
4. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund
It doesn’t exist yet… but the government has said it’ll introduce the Shared Prosperity Fund to replace the European structural and investment funds after the transition period for Brexit has ended (on 31 December 2020). The design of the fund has not yet been finalised.
The EU’s five European structural and investment funds (which include the ERDF) are designed to implement the EU’s regional policy. The idea is to help lessen regional disparities in terms of income, wealth, and opportunities, not just in England. Although the UK has left the EU, projects awarded funding in the latest funding cycle, 2014-2020, will continue to receive funding until 2023.
Watch this space!
5. Covid-19 government cash grants
The government has created two new funds following its decision to put in place a nationwide lockdown from 5 November.
- Local Restrictions Support Grant Fund (LRSG)
This is a property-related grant for businesses that have been required to close because of the government’s restrictions during the second lockdown. These businesses include non-essential retail, leisure, hospitality, sports clubs and personal care such as hairdressing and beauty. The grants are mandatory, which means that councils don’t decide which businesses receive them. The size of the grant depends on the amount of business rates a business usually pays. Payments will start to be processed from 16 November 2020. Check if you’re eligible here.
- Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG)
These grants are discretionary and are being allocated by local authorities. The government is encouraging local authorities to use this funding to help businesses that aren’t legally required to close during the second lockdown, but are nevertheless severely impacted by the restrictions. Eligible businesses might include businesses that supply retail, leisure or hospitality businesses, businesses in the events sector, or businesses outside the business rates system, such as market stalls and those in shared premises. You might receive a grant of £5,000 or, if your business can demonstrate significant impact above £5,000, you might be awarded more, up to a maximum of £25,000.
You might have already applied for the Business Grants available to businesses affected by tier 2 and tier 3 restrictions. The original Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF) is now closed but you can still contact your council if you haven’t received your relief on business rates. The same applies for the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant for the tax year 2020-21.
How can I apply for a grant?
If you’re interested in applying for grants, in particular Innovate UK grants, Swoop can help. We’ve partnered with a broad range of UK and European business grant providers, as well as Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), to offer you access to grants and schemes all in one place. We’re constantly updating our database so that we can provide you with comprehensive up-to-date access to the latest grant opportunities.
If you’d like to speak to one of our advisors about how Swoop can help provide access to grant funding (as well as equity and loans) – and if you’d like to talk about how you can make further savings, register here.
Arabella is a former BBC business journalist who began her career as a policy analyst at the Bank of England and Financial Conduct Authority, and more recently worked in the communications and policy team at the British Business Bank.