Flicking through the papers there has been a lot of news recently about cuts to public sector funding and the fact that small businesses are struggling to get credit at any reasonable rate. Earlier in the year the local headlines were full of the £4 million budget cut for the West Midlands’ Arts Council and £48 million budget cut for Advantage West Midlands.
I know from networking events that are happening here that many businesses are buzzing with ideas and have the motivation to make it work. Now seems like a great time to do it – surely with fewer schemes launching there will be less competition and suppliers in all industries are looking for work and willing to give good rates, but that’s only if (and its a big ‘IF’ they can get the credit?!)
Because of this it was particularly interesting to hear about creative funding opportunities the other week when Fazeley Studios became the first stop on the Businesslink Creative Funding Roadshow headed up by Lara Ratnaraja. When Lara asked for a show of hands at the beginning of the session to find out which of the various available funds people knew about I was fairly typical. I vaguely understood 4ip and had heard of the Advantage Proof of Concept Fund – two out of five!
It was very interesting to hear that these FIVE funds are either created specifically for digital SMEs, or see digital media as a priority sector. Digital media is one of the five key groups that the Advantage Proof of Concept Fund are specifically encouraging to apply for money because they want to fund innovative projects. Out of ten eligible sectors, the Creative Industries also have the highest success rate in winning support from the Innovation Vouchers scheme which provides access to knowledge transfer schemes and experties from regional universities.
I was also struck bythe Innovation Networks scheme, which can provide £10,000 to £15,000 for companies that are collaborating with at least two other West Midlands based SMEs to develop an innovative new product and service. I know that just amaong Fazeley Studios tenants a lot of creative SMEs collaborate on new schemes (with varying degrees of formality)and may not realise that they are eligible for funding – or if they do seek support it is likely to be 4ip.
From talking to people, I got the impression that the main reason they do not apply for the funds that are available is because of the time it takes. Not only do companies have to figure out which fund they are eligible for, they also believe that the application will take ages. I sensed that a lot of people either don’t get round to it or don’t think the chances of success are strong enough to justify taking time out from the daily running of their business. But its not always true. I was surprised to hear that ACE’s Digital Content Programme doesn’t even have an application form, while the Advantage Proof of Concept Fund talks through all potential applications so that they only invite people to the stage of filling out forms if they have a realistic chance of success.
Anyway, as a small way towards cutting down on the time it takes to find relevant funds here’s a table of what I learned from the funding roadshow which summarises for each fund:
- What it can be used for
- Who can apply
- How much is available
- Whether it requires other funding
- How to apply
It’s only an outline so its also worth checking the websites for each fund if you think it might apply.
Another note on something a lot of small businesses seem to be unaware of, particularly when considering their first office, is business rates relief for SMEs. At the moment this isn’t given automatically, you have to apply to the local authority within 6 months of the end of the chargeable year.
Basically, if you are an SME which occupies just one non residential property with a rateable value below £15,000 per annum then you should investigate. You get a fixed 50 percent discount for a property with a rateable value below £5,000 then the percentage discount decreases on a sliding scale up to £15,000.
If you are thinking about moving offices or think you are paying too much in terms of business rates in your current office then BUSINESSLINK have a useful summary and database of links.