Lenka Gourdie received a grant to help with her first business, online site BagServant.co.uk in 2011. She spoke to Business Advice about how the opportunity came about, why the admin-filled process deterred her from future applications and what advice she’d give to other small businesses looking into grant funding.
Since setting up BagServant, Gourdie has started up a variety of other firms across the fashion and lifestyle sectors and now runs a consultancy firm focusing on branding and customer engagement along with online platform Hotifyme.com.
Back when her first business was just taking off, Gourdie looked into ways to monetise the website – as revenue wasn’t high. She landed on the idea of handbag customisation, so to get that underway Gourdie sought a grant to develop a prototype.
(1) What led to you applying for grant funding?
When we run BagServant, I believed that women would want to be able to buy a tailored and bespoke bag. We worked with emerging designers who were very interested in delivering this service.
I looked for partners and funding to help me to deliver this and across Creative Works (a government & EU funded body). Through this we applied jointly with Kingston University for the grant.
I saw an opportunity to work with their digital team to design a platform for customisation and create a prototype to test the market. This grant allowed us to conduct market research with the brands to find out their interest and the exact details what they would need to use this platform.
(2) Was it hard to find right grant funding to fit your business?
It was not difficult as I had a connection with Kingston University and they introduced me to Creative Works. It was actually at the early stage of my research into funding options.
We had to make our application form very appealing to stand out of the crowd, so working on this application with a partner took longer than we estimated.
(3) What went into the process of applying for the grant – was it a time-consuming process?
The application process itself took too long, especially if you are a small business and you have other priorities and responsibilities.
It was our responsibility to negotiate the IP with the university and this took too long. The funder did not have set rules for this. The negotiation process used the majority of the money we received and at the end we had to come to a compromise in order to start the work on the actual development.
The work itself took too long so we didn’t meet the set deadline.
(4) What will the finance allow you to do now?
As the project took too long to complete, the quality of the work did not meet our and market expectations and we could not progress with the outcome. While we were paid for our work, the number of hours put into it was significantly more than the amount we were paid. With no outcome and being a small business, we felt that diversified our efforts.
(5) Do you think there is enough grant funding out there for businesses of your size?
I have not looked for other grands since this experience. The bad experience of the process, the time consumed by filling forms, agreeing T&Cs, IP and then waiting for the final product put me off.
I think there are lots of opportunities, but I strongly believe that a small company needs to be very aware of the efforts, resources and their priorities. If were to apply for a grant again I would be more careful this time and make sure that the outcome will help me to achieve my long-term objectives.
(6) What tips would you give to anyone looking for grant funding?
I would suggest exploring all other available options fist. If you are creative and proactive enough, there are many opportunities. It also depends on the type of product or service you are selling. If you are a small business, every minute you spend your energy on counts, especially if you don’t have the resources available you need to run the business and you rely on few resources.
I’d like to suggest conducting good research, especially making sure that, if a partner is involved, it is the right partner for you. I also feel that the grant needs to be right. If you receive the grant, does it give you the outcome you need to grow your business?
(7) What are the biggest challenges you face as a business builder?
Time and resources (money, skills, necessary knowledge). Also access to the right business partners as well as funding.
I am a big believer if you do something what you are passionate about, that you were born to do, you are more likely going to overcome any obstacles. A grant is a good option, but it needs to be right for the business, market and the product.
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