TSB Smart Grants: Application and project cohesion


One of the difficulties that has, for us, been a regular hurdle in preparing applications has been to keep the application and project cohesive.

When people find out exactly what kind of project TSB wants to see, one tempting approach is to make up a project that will fit the bill.

However, this is very difficult to pull off. The TSB Smart Grants application covers the project from many different angles, and one of the consequences of that is that it’s very difficult to keep an application cohesive when the project is made up to support the company’s aims, rather than something that truly makes sense from both commercial and technical perspectives.

A project, not a business

For example, one common mistake is to go back and forth between project and business depending on which section you’re writing. The business opportunity and market opportunity seem like great places to tout the prospects of the business, so, for example, the ROI answer will seem like a great place to quote the ROI figures for the business. The same holds for the exploitation question and the benefits.

Then, when you get to the technical approach section, you might shift to talking about the project, what it will take to deliver it, etc. Then go back to a business focus for the innovation and skills sections, while focusing on the project for the risks and funding sections.

However, doing this will only alienate the assessors, who are trying to figure out what the benefits of the project are, rather than whether the business is interesting. Faced with a muddle, some of them will do their best to disentangle the project and the business and figure out if the application is worth funding, while others will react impatiently and penalise the entire application. In a highly competitive process like the TSB grants, this kind of mistake will almost certainly turn what might have been a winning application into a failure, no matter how interesting the business and the project might be.

A better approach

What you should do instead is to cleanly separate the project and the business, and make sure that the application focuses on the project from each of the angles being asked about.

The business opportunity, for example, needs to examine what business opportunity the project fulfills. If there is no business opportunity, if there is no market that will be unlocked by carrying out the project, then it is probably not a good candidate for TSB funding.

The benefits section needs to focus on what the project itself, specifically, will do (and, ideally, quantify it!).

The exploitation section can’t merely discuss the way the business normally makes money. It needs to explore specifically how the project itself will be monetised, how it will lead to additional monetisation opportunities not available without the project, etc.

Finally, the project plan, technical approach, budget, and finances, all need to relate to the project, rather than the business.

If all those things are clearly cohesive and form a concrete project that may or may not go ahead (or go ahead at a slower pace), a project that is the right type of project, with the right kinds of benefits and the right types of difficulties, then the result will be a strong application with good chances of getting funding.

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