A beginner’s guide to obtaining grant funding for UK startups

Business grants are widely recognised as one of the best ways to fund a startup, with countless options available for small businesses in the UK. And the best part? You don’t need to worry about paying it back.

Whilst this may all sound great, obtaining grant funding does come with its challenges – the main one being that they’re highly competitive. Plus, with so many types of grants available, finding the right one for your business can feel like a minefield.

In this guide, we’ll explain:

  • What business grants are, and how they work
  • When you should start looking for them
  • How to prepare your startup for grant funding
  • Where you can find startup grants for your small business

What is a business grant?

Business grants are a sum of money given to a business, most often by the government.

What founders can spend their money on depends on the type of grant they’ve received. Sometimes founders get free rein over what they spend, whereas others only allow for investing in specific areas – such as technology.

Business grants can also be paid slightly differently. They’re usually a lump sum, but they can also be reimbursements or payments that are staggered over a period of time. Some will even require you to ‘match’ the value of the grant in order for you to receive it.

When to look for startup grant funding

The application process for grants can be quite arduous and time consuming, and with plenty of competition out there, you need to make sure you get it right.

This means that, when it comes to looking for grant funding, the sooner you start, the better.

Many grants will also provide access to mentoring or expert advice alongside the funding package. Securing a grant early will let you tap into that advice and sense check your business is heading in the right direction before you start spending money.


“The key to obtaining grant funding is to plan early, well before the costs you are looking to fund have been incurred. Grants are typically only offered as an incentive to invest or create jobs that otherwise would not happen.”

David Cleverly, finance advisory expert at Propel by Deloitte

Getting your startup prepared for grant funding

In order to apply for a grant, startups will need to go through a series of tasks. These tend to include providing a business plan and explaining the business history – though the specifics do vary from case to case.

Businesses will also need to thoroughly explain what they intend to use the grant funding for. This is why it’s so important to understand which project or area of the business would be the most valuable to invest in when planning for grant funding, or you risk wasting valuable time and resources.


“Although grants are hugely beneficial, they do involve quite a bit of work, so I would urge business owners to make sure that they have enough resources to carry out the project.
“It is up to you as a business to decide what you want the money for and how you want to make the best use of it.”

Tarryn Gorre, CEO of Kafoodle

The process can feel laborious – but it’s worth it

The amount of preparation required to apply for a grant is quite significant, especially to a small business with limited resources.

Mehjabeen Patrick, Interim Chief Finance & Investment Officer at EIT Culture & Creativity, explains that while the process can feel laborious, it’s worth it to access the specialised support and network that this type of finance can bring.

“Businesses often come into the process thinking they can pitch and then instantly secure funding – but they need to be prepared for the process to be much more involved.

“We often need a couple of rounds of pitches to assess elements such as perceived risk or opportunity for job creation, and then once finance is offered we need to keep regular checks on businesses to support them in staying on track,” explained Mehjabeen.

What startup grants are out there?

With so many types of grants available, it pays to do your research beforehand to try and identify the right type of grant for your startup.

There are a number of sites you can access to help kick-start your research, such as local councils, national organisations and the government. Here are some ideas for where you can get started with your grant search:

GOV.UK

The government website should be your first port of call for small business financial support. There’s a comprehensive list of available funding, so you can search for grants according to industry, location, size and business stage.

For more information on startup support from the government, check out our guide to government support for small businesses

Innovate UK

Innovate UK is the UK’s national innovation agency, supporting business-led innovation across all sectors and technologies. 

Matt Dyson, co-founder of Rockit and The Pitch 2017 finalist, utilised an Innovate UK innovation voucher to the value of £5,000 to get expert help and advice on intellectual property (IP).

“With the initial IP registered early on, we were able to go public with our design and this is when we started entering and winning awards,” said Matt.

Other Pitch alumni have also been successful securing Innovate UK funding, including 2021 finalists Financielle and Hey! Food is Ready, and 2022 finalist Wing.

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)

There are currently 36 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) across England, which businesses can contact to find out more about local funding, support or guidance.

Enterprise Ireland

Enterprise Ireland is responsible for supporting the development of Irish manufacturing and internationally traded services companies. 

Find Business Support (Scotland)

Find Business Support provides an overview of all funding and services offered by public sector organisations across Scotland.This support includes advice, funding, networking opportunities, training, webinars and more. 

Business Wales

Helping people in Wales that are starting, running and growing businesses, Business Wales provides fully funded impartial information, advice, guidance and support.

Their finance locator also helps Welsh businesses find grants, loans and other finance that is available to them.

Global Fund for Women

Offering over 12,000 grants to more than 5,000 organisations, the Global Fund for Women supports gender justice movements to create meaningful change. 

UnLtd

UnLtd supports social entrepreneurs that are changing society for the better. For each successful applicant, they offer up to £18,000 of funding to help businesses grow their impact.

The Pitch is a startup competition that helps founders get investment ready. Enter The Pitch 2023 to benefit from free advice and mentoring, develop your pitch and get investor introductions.

For more information about raising money for your startup, visit our investment hub. Alternatively, you can read our other guide to learn four other ways to get money to start a business.

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Holly Sawyer

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