Starting your own business may feel like a daunting, lonely experience, but it doesn’t have to be that way with government support available if you know where to look.
There are hundreds of government funding and assistance schemes available to businesses in Australia.
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Mike Boorn Plener, convener of the annual Grants Connector event, says that grant money is just business funding and that the only difference is that business owners don’t need to pay it back, just report how the money was used.
“The government is mainly looking for a return to society rather than a fiscal return on investment,” he says.
Here we look at several ways that businesses can and do use government funding to grow and develop and where to find it.
Proof of concept
Many people have a great idea but do not have the funds to turn that idea into a reality. But if you can show that your idea will benefit society, there is funding available to turn that idea into an actual concept.
A key place for funding is Commercialisation Australia, which offers proof of concept funding of $50,000-$250,000. Participants have to match the grant funding on a 50:50 basis with the participant funding half of the costs. For example $50,000 from the participant and $50,000 from Commercialisation Australia.
Research and development
If you’re doing research and development, you may be eligible for a tax benefit.
The R&D Tax Incentive aims to help more businesses do research and development and innovate. It’s also broad based, meaning it’s open to firms of all sizes in all sectors conducting eligible research and development.
The scheme’s two-core components include:
- A 45% refundable tax offset (equivalent to a 150% deduction) to eligible enterprises with a turnover of less than $20 million a year;
- A non-refundable 40% tax offset (equivalent to 133% deduction) to other eligible businesses.
“One of the beauties of the R&D Tax concessions is the government gives you back a portion of what you’ve spent already,” Plener says.
“Business owners constantly get surprised that what they’d consider to be ‘we’re just developing our product’ is, in the eyes of the government, considered research and development.”
One of the key grant programs available for businesses wanting to improve their markets overseas are Export Market Development Grants.
Administered by Austrade, the scheme supports a wide range of industry sectors and products, including inbound tourism and the export of intellectual property and know-how outside Australia.
Plener suggests that some businesses struggle to attract clients in Australia so they access funding and export their services overseas. This then builds their reputation in Australia as the international experience adds credibility.
Under the scheme, small and medium-sized businesses are encouraged to develop export markets.
It reimburses up to 50% of eligible export promotion expenses above $10,000 provided that the total expenses are at least $20,000. It also provides up to seven grants to each eligible applicant.
To access the scheme for the first time businesses need to have spent $20,000 over two years on eligible export marketing expenses.
Hiring new employees
If your business is growing and you’re considering taking on staff there are several grants available to encourage employers to hire.
“Keeping work in Australia is something that the government likes to support,” Plener says.
If you’re considering taking on an apprentice, you could access the federal government’s Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program.
Agriculture and food
Agriculture is being touted as the next big industry to take up the slack of Australia’s slowing mining sector. And with Asia’s middle class set to boom, the opportunities to feed populations to our north with higher incomes is increasingly impossible to ignore.
Food producers may consider seeking export grants or consider funding from Commercialisation Australia if they have a product or idea that can improve agricultural production.
Cutting down on power bills is one way businesses seek to manage their costs. Certain states have energy saving schemes which businesses can tap.
With the National Australian Built Environment Ratings System (Nabers) measuring the environmental performance of buildings, energy saving can have a significant commercial impact.
So if you’d like to improve the Nabers rating of your business, you might want to install LED lighting, which could attract government assistance.
If you’re planning an event that could bring in people from outside your area, you may be eligible for support.
Large cities and regions are especially aware of the benefits events such as conferences can have for tourism and raising their profiles.
Medical devices and developments
Australia has a proud history of innovation in the medical field.
The cochlear implant was invented in Australia while a vaccine for cervical cancer was developed by Australian researchers.
Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council administers grants for medical research.
Commercialisation Australia may also be a source of funding in this area.
Ben Cusack, principal at grants consultancy Bulletpoint, has pointed out a number of other government programs that can assist businesses such as:
Enterprise Connect This federal government initiative offers a free comprehensive business review. At the end of the review a business can apply for a Tailored Advisory Service grant for half the cost of engaging a consultant to make improvements up to a maximum of $20,000.
TCF Small Business Program Provides grants of up to $50,000 for projects to improve the business enterprise culture of established small textile, clothing and footwear businesses. The business must make an eligible product in Australia or design an eligible product to be made in the country, have less than 20 employees, a turnover of at least $100,000 and provide a minimum cash contribution to the project of 25% of eligible expenditure.
T-QUAL Matched funding for small-scale tourism projects. These grants provide funding of between $15,000 and $100,000 to support collaborative tourism industry development projects, particularly those that stimulate private sector investment. Its website says that grants are currently on hold following the federal election.