Our guide to small business grants

Tim Cooper

5 Aug 2019

Our guide to small business grants

Small businesses often need loans to help with funding, but a grant is even better as you do not have to pay it back. There are many types of grant available to UK small companies and they can be a great way to kick-start or grow your business.

Most grants are offered by governmental agencies, industrial partners or a combination. Several come from the European Union, so if you want to apply for one of these, make sure you still have time to do it before the scheduled Brexit deadline of 31 October. If the grant is ongoing, you should also find out if it is likely to be protected after Brexit, or whether and when it could end.

Perhaps the biggest downside to grants is that they usually aim to support a specific sector, so you must match the profile of company the grant is trying to help. Grant schemes will also assess in detail the viability of your business and what you need the money for.

Here are some of the main grants available to UK small businesses.

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Better broadband subsidy scheme

The government has committed to providing every home and business in the UK with access to a basic broadband service. However, some firms still do not have access to an affordable broadband service with a speed of at least 2MB per second.

This scheme offers up to £350 to companies who fit this criteria, to subsidise installation of a faster broadband supply. Its website also lists potential suppliers and there are no limits on size or age of company that can apply.

Industrial partnership awards

This scheme supports academic-led science projects where an industry partner has an interest in its potential use. Partners contribute at least 10% to the full project cost, but additional contributions are encouraged.

Applications are assessed by research committees, using the same criteria as standard grant applications; however, IPA projects are usually preferred to standard grants of equivalent scientific merit.

The industry partner should be registered in the UK or have a UK research or manufacturing site.

Innovate UK

Innovate UK offers grants of between £25,000 and £10 million to help UK businesses realise the potential of new technologies, develop ideas and make them a commercial success. It also offers innovation loans of between £100,000 and £1 million.

Innovation loans are for UK-based small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) only, to carry out late-stage research and development projects.

Opportunities are open to any area of innovation but may fit with one of the UK industrial strategy’s grand challenge areas: artificial intelligence and data; the ageing society; clean growth; and the future of mobility.

Innovative medicines initiative

IMI is a partnership between the European Community and the pharmaceutical industry. Its grant programme aims to improve health outcomes by speeding up the development of, and patient access to, innovative medicines.

IMI calls for proposals are competitive. They are open to healthcare research organisations, including universities; pharmaceutical and other industries; small and medium-sized enterprises; patient organisations; and medicine regulators.

The organisations can be based in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Winning proposals are selected following evaluations by independent experts and approval by the IMI governing board.

Media grants

The European Commission’s creative media sub-programme grants are for businesses in the film, television, new media and video games industries.

Grants are available to help companies hire roles such as producer, video game developer, exhibitor, festival organiser and sales agent.

Repair grants for heritage at risk

Historic England provide grants to save historic sites in England that risk being lost. Any small company seeking to save a historic listed building, scheduled monument or designed landscape can seek grants for urgent repair and conservation.

You can also get grants for project development work, such as surveys and investigations, that enable repairs and improve future management. The programme focuses on those sites that could not go ahead without a grant from Historic England.

You could receive a decision within six months of submitting your complete application, but larger and more complex projects may take longer.

Stand-alone LINK

If your business is involved with exploratory science, you could be eligible for Stand-alone LINK grants.

These grants support collaborations in new areas of exploratory science with no current industrial use, but which may have future applications. They are for companies based in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Collaborative projects must be between at least one company and one academic partner. At least 50% of the project cost comes from industry. Partners must agree ownership and use of intellectual property arising from the project at the outset. An appropriate management framework must be in place with defined scientific and commercial deliverables.

Applications should be for pre-competitive research that would not be undertaken in this form without LINK support.

Construction Industry Training Board grants scheme – England

Are you a construction employer looking for extra funding to train your workforce?

The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) grants schemeoffers support and potential funding to help businesses increase their competitiveness in the sector. Grants cover day-to-day training, and funding covers specific projects and commissions.

Construction industry employers can get training grants to help maintain health and safety standards on construction sites and ensure the right skills are available for the industry to grow.

The grants cover short courses, qualifications and apprenticeships.

Regional grants

In addition to these UK-wide grants, a vast range of local government grants are available. Examples include the NBV grants to help small enterprises in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and greater Lincolnshire.

Some grants are also available for social enterprises. An example is the Key Fund in the Midlands and North of England.

This aims to help increase the community, economic and environmental impact of social enterprises; for example, in restoring derelict buildings; buying equipment; and meeting start-up costs.