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10 top government grants for start-ups

Tuesday, 21 August 2012 | By Oliver Milman

feature-Australian-Dollars-thumbGovernment grants are notoriously hard to snare for start-up businesses and can involve completing a mountain of time-sapping paperwork in the application process.


However, it appears the system isn’t always as stringent as it should be. A damning report tabled in the Victorian Parliament last week showed that 50% of all businesses awarded grants had failed to properly meet the criteria.


Before you rush off your application in the belief that it’s open season on grants, it’s worth remembering that countless more start-ups are still rejected for grants than are accepted.


To help you navigate the complex web of grants, we have partnered with Victoria’s Small Business Festival to hold an instructive, free webinar, no matter where your business is located. You can sign up to the webinar by clicking here.


But it’s also worth getting a good handle on what grants are out there for start-ups. The most obvious candidate for new ventures is Commercialisation Australia, which offers matched funding up to $2 million for proof of concept, early-stage commercialisation, skills and management support.


But there are others that you may not be quite so familiar with. We’ve picked out 10 of the best, but maybe little-known, grants available to small businesses.


For information on each grant, click on the tabs below:



1. Enterprise Connect


Website: http://www.enterpriseconnect.gov.au




An offshoot of the federal Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, Enterprise Connect is perhaps best known for the free business review it performs for entrepreneurs.


But the network also oversees several start-up focused programs that have cash attached.


The Researchers in Business Grant provides 50% of salary costs, to a maximum of $50,000, for university researchers to work on new idea within a business for between two and 12 months.


There’s also the Tailored Advisory Service Grant, which stumps up half the cash needed, up to $20,000, to engage a consultant to make improvements in your business.

2. Clean Technology Innovation Program


Website: http://www.ausindustry.gov.au/programs/CleanTechnology/CleanTechnologyInnovation




The Federal Government conjured a flurry of clean tech programs this time last year as part of its carbon pricing package.


Now that the carbon tax is up and running, it’s well worth looking through the package for a helping hand, if you’re in the green business space.


Perhaps most relevant to start-ups is the $200 million Clean Technology Innovation Program, which aims to support the kinds of nascent clean tech projects that Australia has frustratingly lost to other markets – most notably China – in recent years.


Grants, on matched funding basis, are available, ranging from $50,000 to $5 million. The eligibility is fairly wide – wind, solar and wave technologies are obvious candidates, but the grant also covers waste management and energy efficiency.

3. TQUAL Grants


Website: http://www.ret.gov.au/tourism/business/tq/tgrants




Need a leg-up for a new business idea that will attract tourists and provide employment opportunities for locals? If so, it’s worth knowing there’s an available grant.


TQUAL Grants are designed for both large and small businesses in the tourism industry intent on creating projects to develop tourism, economic development and employment.


The programs and projects have to be aimed at “innovative” ideas to improve economic development and employment.


There are two different streams in the grants project and they provide two different levels of funding:

  • Strategic Tourism Investment Grants. These provide up to $1 million for larger scale projects.
  • Tourism Quality Projects. These grants provide up to $100,000 for smaller-scale projects for collaborative development projects, focused on private sector investment.

The next application round opens in February.

4. Export Market Development Grant


Website: http://www.austrade.gov.au/What-Is-EMDG/default.aspx




The strong Australian dollar has made life tough for many Australian businesses, not least its exporters.


Given that most start-ups don’t look beyond their local area for customers anyway, it’s clear that more needs to be done to help Australian businesses access overseas markets.


The Export Market Development Grant is currently the best avenue for assistance. It’s aimed at any exporting business, as long as it’s a small enterprise.


The rules were changed last year so that 50% of export promotion expenses are reimbursed by the government, although the total expenses threshold also increased, to $20,000.


Each eligible application can provide up to seven different grants. The applications are open for the 2011-12 year and close on November 30.

5. Venture Capital Limited Partnerships


Website: http://www.ausindustry.gov.au/programs/venture-capital/vclp




The flow of start-up capital may be slow and stuttering in Australia, but overseas investors are increasingly looking Down Under for strong returns.


Venture Capital Limited Partnerships, set up by the Federal Government, are designed to speed up the flow of foreign investment in “high-risk start-ups and expanding Australian companies.”


The scheme, which sees venture capital funds structured as limited partnerships, are available for fund managers with assets up to $250 million.


When funds register as a Venture Capital Limited Partnership, they are able to access flow-through taxation treatment. And eligible foreign investors are exempt from capital gains tax on their shares of any profits made by the funds.


The manager of the fund is able to claim their carried interest on capital account rather than revenue.


But investments must be held for a minimum of 12 months and they must also be “at risk”. Target projects cannot have more than $250 million in assets, and at least 50% of the employees and assets are to be in Australia.


Also, businesses cannot have their primary activity in property or land development, finance, insurance, construction or infrastructure.

6. iLab

Website: http://www.ilabaccelerator.com/




As well as the grants available at federal level, there are also various state-based funds open to fledgling entrepreneurs.


The Queensland Government-funded iLab is one of Australia’s leading public schemes for tech start-ups.


Founded in 2000, the accelerator has incubated more than 100 start-ups and helped them raise more than $70 million in grant and investment capital to fund their growth and generated nearly 400 technology jobs.


Acquired by a University of Queensland subsidiary in 2009, iLab still receives state government funding for its new programs, which include the Germinate Program, which offers grants of up to $20,000 for early-stage technologies, and the Accelerate Program, which includes investment of up to $50,000 for product or technical services, or used as matching funds for other grants.

7. Grow Your Business – Group Programs


Website: http://www.business.vic.gov.au/grants-and-assistance/programs/grow-your-business/grow-your-business-group-programs




No matter how good your idea or even how plentiful your resources, a promising business can easily be sunk by poor decision-making and bad management practices.


The Victorian Government’s Grow Your Business program is a useful addition to the grant landscape due to its focus on developing the management skills needed to grow young ventures.


Eligible groups (a minimum of five to a maximum of 15 business participants) can apply for a grant of 75% of costs for the total group project up to a maximum of $15,000.


The scheme consists of a subsidised workshop for the participants, with expert advice on business planning, finance and marketing.


Along with the group element, entrepreneurs can also access six to eight hours of one-on-one help from a consultant.

8. Enterprise Melbourne


Website: http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/enterprisemelbourne




Melbourne businesses aren’t the only CBD dwellers to suffer from the rise of out-of-town mega malls – it’s an Australia-wide phenomenon that many small firms have to grapple with.


However, not every inner city start-up gets the kind of support offered to Melbourne ventures. The City of Melbourne offers grants of up to $30,000 to “new and innovative” businesses to upgrade their premises, revamp their websites or purchase specialised equipment.


Grants are given to small businesses that can demonstrate a “strong point of difference” in the marketplace and are in target sectors including retail, biotechnology, financial services or the creative industries.

9. Startup House


Website: http://www.business.nsw.gov.au/assistance-and-support/grants/business/startuphouse




The NSW Government may have come under fire for slashing its small business events program, but it still offers a very different kind of start-up help from other states in the form of Startup House.


Startup House is a 3,344 square metre co-working facility for tech ventures in San Francisco. The NSW Government will pick selected ventures from the state to relocate to the premises, paying 50% of their costs, up to $1,250 each.


In April, the state government unveiled the first four start-ups to take part in the program, with high hopes that the participants can crack the US market.

10. Innovator of the Year Award


Website: http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/ScienceInnovation/Innovator/about.htm




In a bid to shake its tag as a mining-only state, Western Australia has come up with a decent awards system to back early-stage businesses.


The overall Innovator of the Year Award gets a package worth $100,000, which includes a $50,000 cash prize and financial support of $50,000 to further develop their concept. There are also smaller prizes available in other categories.


The WA Government hopes that the awards, open to innovators yet to make any money from their inventions, will spur a new entrepreneurial community based around the Innovation Centre at the Technology Park, Bentley.