Friday, 4 November 2011

“Looking for Funding” Tom Bathgate & Charles Lucas of “Going for Grants” Leeds Inventors Group 19th October 2011

Tom and Charles, through their business “Going for Grants” help businesses and individuals locate and secure funding for their projects. In the current economic climate finding funding for a new product has become more difficult but one of the main messages of this talk was that money is available – you just need to know where to look.

Tom and Charles compared the process to going fishing. To begin with you need to decide what fish you’re trying to catch. Eight out of ten people who come to them for assistance in getting grants don’t know how much they need, what they need it for, or when. You need to know which rod to use: you have to have a plan and know your figures – grant funding may be free but it isn’t easy to get. Which ponds are you going to look in?: Most funders want to know what you are willing to do. What effort will you put in? Why should the person who has the money fund you? Where else can you gain funding? – family and friends? Would some of your customers be interested in providing funding?
As far as grants are concerned, there are approximately 10,000 grants available – anything from £1,000 to over £1 million. Many grants have to be match-funded. Often the first qualification you need in order to get a grant is that you’ve been unable to get a loan from a bank (very often this is because you’re a start-up business and you haven’t got to the point of bringing in revenue).They will also want you to explain the economic benefit of giving you the money.

Many grants which were available are no longer there and the new Local Enterprise Partnerships are in their infancy so it’s likely to be some time before it becomes clear how they’re going to operate things. However things are starting to happen and it’s a good idea to keep checking regularly as the situation can change quickly.

GRAND – a Grant for Research & Development will be available through the Technology Strategy Board (which is likely to be responsible for most R&D grants). In each case when you apply for these grants you get feedback, so if you fail you can see why and you can re-apply. It’s also likely that Innovation Vouchers will start up again.

No matter how much or how little money you’re hoping to get, you need evidence. What do you need the money for and how did you work out the amount that you need? It’s important to understand that you need the funding to fit in with what you need, not the other way around. In other words, it’s not a case of asking how much is available and then trying to find reasons for needing that amount. It needs to be well planned, and it’s useful to ask the question – would you invest in you?    

A potential investor – whether it be grant money or other funding – will want to know the details of what you’re doing and how committed you are. They will want to know whether you have the necessary skills and experience to do what you’re doing and also to deal with the amount of money you’re asking for.

A clear business plan is vital – and it should inspire the reader rather than putting them to sleep! It has to be viable and include financial forecasts, realistic funding options and a clear strategy as to how you’re going to get to where you’re going. Very often an investor will not be worried about initial losses as long as they can get their investment back over a reasonable period of time.

Funding can often be related to postcodes – so where your business is located can be important. It may be that you’ll need to be flexible and think about where you could operate from.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

LIG 21st Sept 11 Fablabs – Factories of the Future? Jane Keats

Jane described how she first came across Fablabs – offering digital fabrication - when she was in the Netherlands. The first one appeared at MIT in the US around 2003 where computers, laser cutters and other equipment were set up to enable people to produce their own prototypes. They have now developed into a global network and there are 90 Fablabs worldwide, including places such as Kenya and Afghanistan. The most recent one to open was in Manchester last year and it is possible that one may be opening in Keighley.

Typically, the range of equipment can include laser cutters, wood routers, 3d printers, milling machines, basic hand tools, moulding equipment, embroidery machines, welding equipment and some electronic equipment. The normal procedure is to book in for a free introduction to the equipment and there are some periods, particularly at the weekend, when it can be used for free – this, of course, can be a good way to start and learn how to use the equipment effectively. Total lack of familiarity with some equipment and software can mean a steep learning curve though tutorials are available. One aspect of this which should be borne in mind, however, is that when using it for free you are expected to share what you learn. If you need to protect your intellectual property then you would need to rent space. In this way you could avoid the need to share.

Jane then looked in more detail at some of the equipment found in Fablabs and handed round some examples of smaller products which have recently been produced. This included necklaces, clocks, lights and a salt shaker.

All the Fablabs are linked internationally which means that if you have a problem which can’t be overcome in the Fablab where you’re working, there may be someone in one of the others who might be able to assist. Material can also be distributed more effectively between labs which can make it more effective than posting.