For any tech start-up in Scotland (and anywhere else for that matter) there are two factors that commonly present a real challenge and they are time and cash. While you might feel like you’ve exhausted all possibilities of obtaining support on either front, there are often opportunities that are lurking in the background that you mightn’t be aware of. Public sector support is available for a whole host of business opportunities in the UK and is valuable from a funding, practical advice, networking and contacts point of view.
When things are looking gloomy, it’s worth remembering that there’s an amazing amount of support available for your business that will help you from both a financial and time point of view. Sometimes these support mechanisms aren’t all that well publicised so may well be overlooked unless either you or your business advisor has their finger firmly on the pulse of the solutions that might be available to you. All of that said, I have to say that although these options exist, it doesn’t mean to say that they’ll be easy to get your hands on.
When it comes to obtaining help or support, if your company is creating jobs, showing strong growth or trading internationally, your chances of getting public sector support greatly increase, but still won’t be easy. However, if you know where to look and have the right “package” on offer support can usually be found.
It’s worth bearing in mind that almost all public sector funding or support is “ring-fenced” and is intended to help you with a specific project or activity, not with a broad launch. In other words, the vast majority of support that’s available in the public sector is specialised and focused. To make sure you get on the right track to secure what might be available to you, it’s really important to make sure you speak to the right people and get the right advice. The commercialisation advisers at the Alba Incubation Service support tech start-ups in Scotland and we all know exactly where to seek out possible public sector support for people like you.
Assuming there is a potential public sector funding option open to you, it’s worth bearing in mind that you’ll pretty much always need a strong business plan and financial forecasts to even stand a chance of success. You should also go into the notion with the understanding that there’ll normally be some hoops you’ll need to jump through in order to secure the support you’re hoping for. Those hoops might be as straightforward as a form or two to fill in or could involve presentations or a more complex application process. Whether or not the support warrants the effort required on your part can only be determined by you and your advisor, but in most cases, if the right funding opportunity has been identified this is normally time well spent.
When you’re seeking public sector funding, it’s essential that you’re patient because invariably the whole process takes significantly longer than you’d expect or hope. You should also approach this solution in the knowledge that it is likely to represent only a part of your overall support package. In most instances public sector funding will call for match funding from an alternative source. With this in mind, it is also important to consider whether support is “de minimis” as this might impact on future funding. For example if you are looking to get angel investment and want to register for the SEIS tax incentive, any de minimis support would have to be subtracted from the £150,000 maximum allowance. Because of this, it’s important to plan ahead and make sure you don’t close any future doors by opening one that may seem like an easy option in the short term.
While much of the message I’m sending about public sector funding might seem a bit negative, this is because I prefer to send people down this route with realistic expectations. Like any business activity, it is useful to plan ahead when thinking about your funding and in particular consider important projects that you have on the horizon where public sector support would be appropriate and helpful over the coming months and or years.
If you’re interested in finding out more about public sector funding, there’s lots of information online about available help and www.scottish-enterprise.com and www.business.scotland.gov.uk are great places to start. I’d also recommend that you get ahead of the game and get out and network. Speak to people about getting support and even if they can’t help they may know someone who can. But remember, don’t spend too much time chasing grants and getting lots of different advice: focus on key activities and key support and drive your idea forward like you stole it and ENJOY!