The latest round of CRC-P grants was announced today and there was a bonanza of cash for those lucky enough to be awarded one. Or was it luck? Most of the companies who receive the big competitive grants are successful only after several rejections. They use the feedback to improve their next application until they make the winners list.
What differentiates the lucky from the rest, is a commitment to pursue every opportunity available through the many grant systems, across every level of Australian government and abroad. If your organisation works in any sort of manufacturing industry and you have not got a grant, it is highly likely that it has missed out on a lot of much-needed support just for want of trying.
Until recently, Circuitwise was like many organisations and did not really pursue grants seriously. However, with the Covid-inspired flurry of grants designed to stimulate the manufacturing sector, we applied for and received a $277,000 grant to modernise our manufacturing technologies.
In today’s CRC-P announcement a client of ours, Nanosonics, was awarded $2.9 million to develop ultrasensitive indicators to track decontamination in healthcare facilities.
There are many reasons companies miss out on grants. However, the core of the problem is an attitude that the effort is not worth the “slim” chance of being awarded the grant. Many people feel they are “too busy” with their jobs to get around to applying. However, persistence usually brings results.
In our case, we expended several days of effort in formulating our application, which is not a bad investment for the size of the grant we were awarded. An electronics design partner of ours, Genesys Electronics Design, had bi-weekly meetings for three months with its project partners authoring a detailed application and were ultimately awarded a $3 million grant to develop a cell manufacturing device for use in cell & gene therapy.
Grants vary enormously in size from around $25,000 for pre-revenue start-ups to typically several hundred thousand for industry/university translational research projects, and tens of millions for major industry collaborations.
A rule of thumb is that the bigger the grant, the more effort you need to put into your application. Our advice is to be meticulous in addressing every aspect of the grant requirements, analysing every question or criteria to understand the intent and ensure your answers align. This is not a trivial exercise and requires multiple application drafts until your application is perfect.
Another issue is the sheer number of grants available, in the order of 5000 or so.
Of these, only a small percentage are directly focused on manufacturing (about 100) and the specific number will vary from state to state. However, nearly half of them have a general business orientation that applies to any company. With so many grant opportunities available, companies are often just unaware they exist or that they are eligible.
To make life easy for you we decided to list some of the grants available. This is not exhaustive but is designed to inspire you to do your own homework and work out what might be applicable for you.
For practicality’s sake, the following lists cover national and mostly NSW grants only. You may need to research your own state-specific opportunities.
At a federal level, the Entrepreneurs’ Programme offers a range of opportunities. For example, the free Growth Roadmap service supports the development of a business plan by a business consultant and then offers a Growth Grant of up to $20,000 to implement the plan. The Accelerating Commercialisation grant offers up to $1 million in funding for businesses wanting to take their novel technology to market.
There is a lot of support to subsidise engagement with universities and other research institutions. The Australian Government’s Innovation Connections Grant provides up to $50,000 to support the salary of researchers dedicated to your project. The Jobs for NSW Funding Roadmap outlines $25,000 to $50,000 Tech Vouchers fund engagement with research organisations.
For early-stage start-ups, Minimum Viable Product Grants provide $25,000 to progress a proof-of-concept through to initial revenue. The CSIRO also provides Kickstart matched funding of up to $50,000 for companies to engage with its researchers. For post-revenue companies, Building Partnerships Grants of up to $100,000 are available for companies looking to expand their business. For companies looking to go even further and develop export markets, there are Export Market Development Grants to help promote your business.
The holy grail of grants is probably a Cooperative Research Centre Project grant which offers up to $3 million for collaborations typically between a university, a large corporate company and an SME. The good thing with CRC-P grants is that universities will often contribute cash as well. They do so because they generally claim IP ownership but provide an exclusive option to commercialise that IP to the financial contributor. There is usually one or two rounds of CRC-P grants every year so you just need to be aware of them coming up. Have a look at CRC-P grants awarded in previous rounds to get a sense of the types of projects awarded.
In addition to the above, each state has a number of local grants that requires some investigative work to discover. For example in NSW, the Physical Sciences Fund provides grants for translating fundamental scientific research into commercially viable technological innovations, such as those awarded in the 2019 round and the 2020 round.
Growth Sector Grants
The above grants apply to all companies in all industries. However, the Australian government provides additional support for businesses innovating in industry sectors it sees as high growth opportunities for the country. The Industry Growth Centres Initiative is currently targeting cyber security, food and agribusiness, mining technology, oil/gas/energy, medical technologies and advanced manufacturing.
The Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) provides commercialisation funds for innovations across a range of industries, covering the main growth centre topics but also including recycling, clean energy, defence and space. See current AMGC grant projects to get a sense of these kinds of grants.
The AMGC also administers part of the Australian government’s flagship response to the impact of Covid19 on the manufacturing sector – the Modern Manufacturing Strategy, which has included two rounds of the Manufacturing Modernisation Fund (which was the Circuitwise was awarded) and there are likely to be more rounds to come. The strategy also includes the largest of all grants available in Australia, being the Manufacturing Collaboration stream offering funding up to $200 million.
With the Covid inspired focus on health, there has been an astounding number of grants targeting the medical technology sector. We highlight this sector because Circuitwise is an ISO 13485 certified contract manufacturer of medical devices and many of our clients work in this field.
One of the main funding bodies is MTP Connect, the growth centre in this area. It administers several separate funds corresponding to different commercialisation stages. For initial translation of technologies from the lab to proof of concept, the Biomedical Translation Bridge Program provides up to $1 million (See in comments this is fully subscribed). The BioMedTech Horizons program provides $800, 000 to progress proof of concepts towards full commercialisation. See the Programs tab on the right of the home pages to see a full list of previous recipients.
Recently AND Health was chosen by the Australian Government to run a commercialisation program for early-stage MedTech. Its ANDHealth+ program helps companies commercialise Digital Health innovations, which is mainly software driven but does include supporting hardware. While the program is not strictly speaking a grant program, as no funds are transferred to the recipient, the participants share in $3.75 million funding per intake from pre-vetted suppliers and ANDHealth support staff.
In addition, each state and territory of Australia is aggressively promoting the MedTech sector. The NSW Medical Devices Fund provides $5 million in funding annually, usually split between around 3 recipients. See the Current and Previous Recipients link for project examples including the recipients of the 2019 and 2018 rounds.
At a federal level, the Department of Health provides the Medical Research Future Fund which funds the MTP Connect grants above but also the Early Stage Translation and Commercialisation Initiative.
Most of the grants listed above assume you already have your innovative idea/solution, often with a proof-of-concept already in place. However, another option is to support fundamental research that begins with a problem and identifies potential solutions, often from first principles. There is a range of grant mechanisms to fund such research.
The Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Linkage Program supports and subsidises research. The support varies but generally is about 50% of each individual researcher’s costs plus support for the research facilities infrastructure and overheads.
Linkage Projects provide funding up to $300,000 per year for 2-5 years, focused on a specific collaboration, usually between a company and a university.
ARC Hubs support multiple companies and universities collaborating together around a specific topic, which multiple sub-projects over several years. There are several hubs funded every year up to $1 million per year up to 5 years. For example, this year there were hubs on intelligent infrastructure, connected sensors for health, digital bioprocess development and robotics for asset management.
The ARC Centres of Excellence offer similar support. If you research the difference between these ARC offerings you will begin to appreciate the astounding and somewhat overwhelming array of subsidies and support on offer.
The Cooperative Research Centres offer longer-term collaborative research projects, up to 10 years. The longer time frame means funding can be upwards of $50 million split between dozens of companies. The beauty of the CRCs is that you can choose a much smaller size of project for a shorter time period.
The key point about all these collaborative research opportunities is that you get to rub shoulders with other companies and researchers, building strong connections. A challenge of these opportunities is you need to be connected before the applications are made. If you are looking to support translational research you need to be actively following tertiary institutions activity relevant to your field and make early contact with researchers to claim the space. Usually, the large collaborative research grant applications are led by a particular university, so you need to start building your relationships with them now.
Beyond the normal grants, there is a range of other financial support mechanisms available to businesses. These include tax incentives such as the R&D Tax Incentive and the Early Stage Investment Incentive. There is also a range of loan support mechanisms ranging from $200,000 to $1.2 million in loans or loan guarantees up to $5 million.
The above grants are the major ones that we know of. However, they just touch the surface. There is a huge range of other options including a variety of prizes, competitions, and challenges. Often societies, philanthropic organisations, and other types of institutions in a particular niche field will have grants for innovations solving problems unique to their area. If your idea or problem is in a very specific field, it is worth compiling a list of all associations in that field to see if they offer grants.
Universities, business incubators, and accelerators are another source of money, though usually in return for equity in the business. Councils are another whole level of government offering grants, though not to the same extent for innovation-related projects.
Writing Competitive Grant Applications
In most cases, the money that is available to you requires something in return. A small number of so-called entitlement grants come free if you meet the eligibility requirements. However, most grants are competitive and/or require matched funding to show you are serious. Your application also needs to reflect this.
With competitive Grants a selection panel will rank your application against others and award grants to the best, working down the list until they exhaust the pool of money allocated for that round of the grant.
A key point to remember is that the selection panel(s) will have a check sheet awarding a score to each question in the application, according to how well it was answered. A key mistake people make is not to evenly distribute their effort and word count according to the distribution of points for each question, which is usually defined in the grant guidelines.
Another mistake is not to read the question properly or misinterpret it, thus losing points for not answering the question. Often questions seem to be repetitive and there is a temptation to repeat yourself, even copy and pasting content from earlier in the application. However, careful analysis of these questions usually reveals a slightly different angle they are looking for. It’s somewhat of an art in how creative you can be in expressing your key points in multiple ways and how to align your most impressive nuggets of information to the right questions in the application.
There is a wide range of companies offering their services to help you write grant applications. Probably the most valuable aspect of these services is that, in building a relationship, they will ensure you don’t miss out on any opportunities applicable to you. They are also experienced in writing grant applications. These companies will charge for services which may be a flat fee or a percentage of the grant amount.
However, if you are motivated you don't need these services. The government's excellent Grants and Programs Finder or GrantConnect tools allow you to locate grants applicable to your situation. If you register with Grant Connect you can also choose to be notified by email of grants specific to your location and matching your selected keywords. Some of the private grant companies also have searchable databases (such as gemaker suggested in the comments).
When you look at the range of grants available and the examples of previous recipients, it is clear that people and companies missing out on grants are limited only by their own determination to take advantage of the opportunities. We encourage you to make the effort to apply for grants.