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There are a number of finance options for businesses looking for funding, ranging from loans to investments. Among the most sought after are small business grants, as they do not need to be paid back.
Read on for more information on what small business grants and start up business grants are currently available in the UK, and how you can access specific funding in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
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What is a small business grant?
Small business grants and start up business grants are non-repayable sums of money that are normally given for a specific purpose or project, such as training, employment, expansion, research, property improvements, or to revitalise a local area. They can come from European, national, regional, and local sources, and are available for a range of industries.
Each small business grant comes with different guidelines and eligibility criteria, and many also have a fairly lengthy application process due to the level of competition surrounding business funding.
What is the difference between a small business grant and a loan?
The most important difference between a small business grant and a business loan is that a loan must be repaid, while a grant normally does not. The non-repayable nature of a grant can make securing one highly competitive.
However, some grants may be partially or conditionally repayable, so it is important to check before applying.
Similarly, before taking out a business loan, you should carefully consider whether it is the best option for your organisation, as you will be liable to pay back the full amount with interest.
How to apply for small business grants
Each business grant, whether it is for small businesses or start ups, will have its own application process. However, there are some general steps you can follow to try to ensure you have the best shot possible at submitting a successful application.
- Do your research: Find out exactly what the provider of the grant is looking for, so you can tailor your application accordingly. This will also help you avoid wasting time on grants you aren’t eligible for.
- Apply as early as possible: Some grant pots may have less money as time goes on, so applying early could boost your chances.
- Keep on top of deadlines: Don’t miss out on a small business grant by letting an application deadline pass you by. Make a note of when you need to submit your proposal, and any further stages in the future.
- Be clear: Unless it is necessary, try to avoid getting bogged down in technical jargon or overly complicated language. You want your proposal to be simple and easy to understand.
- Be specific: This is not only in describing what your business does and how you meet the eligibility criteria, but what you will use the grant money for, and the aims and outcomes you are looking to achieve.
- Be thorough: One of the best ways to show why you should receive a grant is by providing a detailed business plan. It may even be a requirement of the application.
» MORE: How to write a business plan
What small business grants are available in the UK?
The number of small business grants across the UK frequently changes, as deadlines expire and new schemes are introduced.
So it is important to bear in mind that the list below is not exhaustive. There may be other small business grants available that are specific to your locality or industry. You can check for the most up-to-date funding options at your local business hub, the government’s business funding search tool, and your dedicated industry organisations.
Sectors: Not for profit
Amount: Varies based on location and grant requested
This fund has a number of different grants available to organisations, with the aim of transforming the appearance of high streets and town centres, as well as stimulating the local economy. The exact aims and details of each grant varies between home countries. Organisations can find grants to fund feasibility work into a project and then receive further grants for developmental and larger project costs.
Sectors: Registered CITB businesses
Amount: Depends on training course costs
Employers in the construction industry can apply for business funding to contribute towards the costs of training their employees. The scheme helps to make sure construction workers have the right skills and qualifications to perform their work to a high standard.
Sectors: Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
Amount: Up to £2,500
SMEs without access to gigabit-capable internet connections in rural areas can apply for a broadband voucher.
Sectors: Senior leadership at businesses older than a year, with five to 5-249 employees
Amount: 90% of course fees
With Help to Grow: Management, you can attend a 12-week course, with one-to-one mentoring, that is 90% funded by the government, leaving you to pay £750 per person. It is for senior leaders who want to develop their skills and strategies.
There are numerous innovation competitions that can help businesses access funding. The link above on gov.uk is updated regularly, with new opportunities across many different sectors opening as others close, so there may be one that applies to your business.
Sectors: Any (in partnership with academic/research organisation and qualified graduates)
Amount: Up to 67% of project cost for SMEs, up to 50% for large companies, and up to 75% for third sector organisations. Total costs can range between £80,000 and £100,000 per project year.
A Knowledge Transfer Partnership can help your business get the specialist skills and expertise it needs to fulfil an innovative project and bring about change. The grant contributes to the costs of hiring a suitably qualified graduate, while also giving your business access to specialist resources, expert input and consultancy, and a range of support from the wider network.
Sectors: Community businesses, social enterprises, charities
Amount: Up to £5,000 (Community Business Trade Up development grant); up to £25,000 (Community Business Trade Up matched equity investment); up to £12,000 (Discovery Fund)
These programmes aim to support community enterprises that make a positive difference to the local area, both those that are starting up and those looking to grow and become more sustainable. The programmes also offer expert support and advice alongside the grant funding.
Amount: Discounts on purchase price, varies depending on the type of vehicle
Thanks to this grant, businesses can receive a discount when buying specified models of new, low-emission vehicles, from wheelchair accessible vehicles, motorcycles and mopeds, to vans, trucks and taxis. To get the benefit of this grant, businesses don’t need to apply for anything as dealers include the value of the grant in the vehicle’s price.
Sectors: Science and technology SMEs
While not technically a grant, R&D tax relief can provide free funding if your business is trying to innovate in the science and technology sector. If you are an eligible SME, you can deduct 86% of your qualifying costs from your yearly profit, on top of the usual 100% deduction, giving a 186% total. If your business is loss making, you can instead claim a tax credit worth up to 10% of the surrenderable loss.
Sectors: Community, charity, not-for-profit, voluntary
Amount: Smaller grants between £300 and £10,000; larger funding up to £500,000
The Community Fund aims to bring a positive impact to local communities by building strong relationships, bringing people together, improving spaces in the local area, and supporting people as they reach their potential. It contains many types of funds, from smaller grants between £300 and £10,000, to larger funding up to £500,000.
Sectors: Charities, community groups, non-for-profits and relevant individuals
Amount: From £3,000 to £5 million
The Heritage Fund is designed to help heritage projects – whether they are national, regional or local – aimed at boosting the local economy, and creating better places to live, work and visit. The grants can be used for a wide range of projects including training costs, repair and maintenance, professional fees and other heritage-focused activities.
Sectors: Charities, not-for-profit
Amount: £2,000 to £10,000 to cover up to 50% of costs (Small Grants Programme for SMEs with annual income under £250,000); £10,000 to £100,000 (Major Grants for businesses with turnover up to £1 million)
Organisations can receive a grant from Trusthouse to help with running costs or one-off capital costs for projects that will help solve either rural issues or urban deprivation.
Sector: Export businesses with an annual turnover between £250,000 and £5 million
Amount: £2,000 or £4,000
If you are an exporter looking to exhibit at overseas trade shows, then the UK Tradeshow Progamme can help you access £2,000 or £4,000 in grants towards exhibition costs, stand costs (including design, construction and dressing), conference fees and promotional materials.
Sectors: Social businesses
Amount: Up to £8,000 for social businesses running under than one year; up to £18,000 for social businesses trading for longer than a year
These awards are designed to help businesses targeting lasting social change. For businesses that have been up trading over a year, UnLtd offers grants of up to £18,000 in order to help you grow and expand.
What start up business grants are available across the UK?
Although not strictly a start up grant, per se, the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) can help you raise funds in the early stages of your business.
SEIS promotes investment into early-stage companies by offering tax relief to individual investors in your company. Your start up can raise no more than £150,000 in SEIS investment, and you will need to make sure you adhere to the scheme’s rules to ensure your investors continue to receive their tax relief.
Social entrepreneurs across the UK looking to start a business, or whose business has been up and running for less than a year, can also access up to £8,000 in start up business grants from UnLtd.
Meanwhile, if you specifically want to enter the beauty industry by opening a new salon, or offering a new service, you can apply for a Beauty Backed Trust Start-up Grant worth up to £5,000.
Small business and start up grants in England
On top of the grants available across the UK, there are a range of small business grants and start up grants specifically created for England and its composite regions.
To make sure you are up to date with the various grants available in England, you can search the Local Enterprise Partnership growth hub for your region, or use the government’s nationwide business funding search tool.
Below is a selection of small business and start up grants available in England alone.
Start up business grants in England
Across the country there are a number of start up business grants to help get your idea off the ground. These include:
- Elmbridge Start-up Boost: Start ups in Elmbridge, Surrey, can apply for a one-off grant worth a maximum of £1,000 to cover 50% of eligible costs related to getting your business off the ground.
- Hertfordshire Start-up Programme (HSUP): If you are hoping to start a new business in Hertfordshire, you may be eligible for 12 hours of free business support, worth £1,400.
- Malvern Hills Enterprise Scheme: If you are a new or young business in the Malvern Hills district, in Worcestershire, there are grants of £500 to £1,000 available if you meet the scheme’s criteria.
- Mansfield Business Start-Up Grant: If you are looking to start a new business in the Mansfield district, you may be eligible for a grant worth up to £2,500.
- Reigate & Barnstead Borough Council Business Support Grants: Start ups in the Reigate and Barnstead area with fewer than four employees can apply for a grant worth up to £1,000. This grant is also available to existing businesses.
- Scarborough Business Development Grant Scheme: Start up business grants of up to £1,000 are available in the Yorkshire town of Scarborough for new businesses and those trading for less than 18 months.
- West Midlands SME Grant Programme: New businesses in the West Midlands region can apply for a grant worth between £2,500 and £7,500.
- Worcester City Council Business Start-up Grant: If you are based in Worcester, and are at the start up stage or have been trading for less than 12 months, you can apply for funding from the City Council. If you are working from home, you can apply for a grant worth £1,000, while if you are in commercial premises, the grant is worth £2,000.
Creative and cultural grants in England
If you work in the creative and culture sectors, then these are some of the grants opportunities available to you:
- Arts Council England Funding: There are a number of grants available for cultural organisations through Arts Council England, including National Lottery Project Grants of over £30,000.
- Big House Elevator Grant: If you are a business based in Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire, you can access grants between £1,000 and £3,000, worth up to 40% of costs, to support your creative or digital projects.
Business energy grants in England
The following business grants are related to energy costs and usage:
- Business Energy Efficiency Programme (BEEP): If you are based in Worcestershire, you can access grants worth from £1,000 to £20,000 to cover up to 40% of the costs of making your business more energy efficient.
- Energy Efficiency Grant: If you are based in Coventry or Warwickshire, you can get grants of £1,000 to £50,000 to cover up to 40% of the costs of making your business more energy efficient. There are also Low Carbon Innovation Grants, worth up to £100,000, and Low Carbon Revenue Grants, worth up to £6,000, in the same region.
- Low Carbon Workspaces: If your business is located in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Hertfordshire, Milton Keynes or Northamptonshire, you can apply for match-funded grants of between £1,000 and £6,750 in order to recoup up to a third of the cost of energy-saving measures you implement in your workplace.
Science, product development research grants in England
If you work in the science and research sectors, or are looking to develop a new product, you may be able to get assistance through the following schemes:
- Arts University Bournemouth Innovation Studio Vouchers: Businesses in Dorset can benefit from the use of the Innovation Studio at Arts University Bournemouth. Access Vouchers allow you to use the facilities, including 3D printing, for prototyping and testing, while Innovation Vouchers provide match-funding worth up to 50% of the cost of a small research project.
- I-Construct Business Development Grant: Grants of £1,000 to £20,000 are available to part-fund developing and launching a new product or service in the construction sector. You will be required to provide 70% of the project’s funding.
- Medilink INSTILS: In the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire regions, life sciences businesses can access Specialist Networking Grants up to £3,000, Innovation Support Grants up to £20,000, and Med Tech Trials Grants up to £50,000.
- Medilink SoLSTICE: In the Leicester and the Leicestershire area, life sciences businesses can access Specialist Networking Grants up to £3,000, Innovation Support Grants up to £20,000, and Med Tech Trials Grants up to £50,000.
General business growth and expansion grants
There are many business grants available aimed at SMEs looking to grow and expand. These include:
- Beauty Backed Trust Support Grant: If you are an established beauty business or freelancer, you can apply for a grant worth up to £5,000 to help with running costs, additional training, or new equipment.
- Chichester District Council Grant Programme: If you are an SME in Chichester, in West Sussex, looking to implement growth projects, improve publicly owned spaces, or projects designed to help residents most in need, you can access grants both under and over £1,000.
- County Durham Growth Fund: SMEs based in County Durham can get grants covering 20% to 45% of eligible expenditure for projects costing at least £100,000.
- DRIVEN Programme: If you are based in Derbyshire or Nottinghamshire, you can apply for £1,000 towards the cost of employing a graduate for at least 400 hours over three months.
- East Sussex Invest Programme: If your business is based in East Sussex, you can apply for business grants from £10,000 up to £25,000.
- Elmbridge Business Boost Grants: If you are a retail business in the Elmbridge area, you can access grants worth up to £2,000 to improve your shop front, restore a shop back to commercial use, and up to £1,000 to help town or village projects aimed at driving new footfall, investment and streetscene or sustainability improvements.
- The Growth Fund: Businesses in Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland can apply for a grant totalling 30% of a planned capital investment worth at least £67,000.
- Growth Lincolnshire Grants: Businesses in Lincolnshire can apply for two local grants. The Business Growth Grant is worth between £1,000 and £5,000, and covers up to 40% of costs for capital grants, and 50% of costs for revenue grants, when purchasing equipment and software. The Digital Growth Grant, meanwhile, is worth £1,000, and covers 50% of the costs of implementing internal IT solutions, such as e-commerce platforms.
- Invest to Grow: If you are based in the East Midlands, and work in one of the eligible sectors (such as manufacturing, life sciences, construction, and engineering), you can access grants worth £15,000 to £250,000 for projects with a minimum cost of £50,000.
- Mansfield Business Growth, Shop Front Improvements and Vacant Shops Grants: Grants worth up to £2,500 are available to businesses in the Manfield district. These can be used to expand and grow your business, make shop-front improvements, or for occupying a vacant retail property.
- Manufacturing Growth Programme: If you are a SME manufacturer based in the West Midlands, Yorkshire & Humber, parts of the East Midlands, or the South East, you can access grants starting from £1,000 to go towards an ‘improvement project’.
- Nelson Town Deal Grants: Manufacturing businesses in the Nelson Town Deal area, in Lancashire, can apply for grants totalling up to 50% of project costs, up to a maximum of £100,000.
- North-East Business Support Fund: If you are based in the County Durham, Northumberland, Tees Valley or Tyne & Wear region, you can access grants covering 35% to 40% of costs for improvement projects worth up to £8,000.
- North of Tyne Growth Fund: Businesses in the Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland areas can apply for a grant totalling 30% of a planned capital investment worth at least £67,000.
- Stoke and Staffordshire Small Business Grant Schemes: If you are based in Stoke-on-Trent or Staffordshire, you can get business grants from £1,500 to £10,000.
- West Midlands SME Grant Programme: Existing businesses in the West Midlands region can apply for grants from £5,000 to £100,000, although that maximum amount will only be awarded in exceptional circumstances.
- Worcester City Council Business Growth Grant: If you are based in Worcester, you can apply for a match-funded grant worth up to £2,500 (if you work from home) or £5,000 (if you are in a commercial premises).
Business grants in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
Just as is the case in England, there are specific business grant schemes in the rest of the home countries.
To find out more about business grants in Scotland, you can visit our dedicated guide here.
For information on the various schemes available in Wales, you can read our guide here.
And for a summary of some of the small business grants on offer in Northern Ireland, you can visit here.
Other forms of business financing
If you are unsuccessful in applying for a business grant, there are a few other ways you can try to secure funding.
You could go down the crowdfunding route and try to raise money directly. Or to turn to another type of peer-to-peer lending platform in the search for funds. You could even look for an angel investor to help expand your business.
Of course there are also traditional business loans, which can help you access the funds you need to grow your organisation.
Image source: Getty Images
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