Look out world, here it comes. You read it here first. After a “gazillion” years of how business grants work, the world has changed. Maybe for good!
Who did it? Chase Bank and LivingSocial. (In full disclosure we are going after this grant. We want to use the money to take our Owners MBA™ for existing business online, add ebooks, apps, and include special segments for veterans, rural business owners, and owners who are disabled. We also want to create an owners community as we did for our Entrepreneurs’ Association in the 1990’s.)
Why did they do it? It depends on whom you ask.
1. There’s a marketing company (LivingSocial) and a bank (Chase Bank) giving 12 grants.
It ‘s for goods ($250,000 in cold hard cash to 12 companies) and services (online marketing support). Other allies may have done this before but it is a very unusual alliance especially one in which a marketing firm gets involved in a grant. I also think, the role of social media is now established in the world of grants. We may see a whole new role for online coupons as well.
2. This is a grant for a for profit company.
That’s unusual since SBIR is about the only legitimate for profit business grant out there and it’s from the government. Capital Factory and a few others have done this but not like this Chase Bank grant. (Also check out www.foundations.org and www.fdncenter.org for grant opportunities of all types although most are for non-profits.)
3. Eligibility trumps viability.
In order to be considered, you have to prove that your business passes the eligibility test. This is the newest part: you have to get 250 votes just to be eligible. The votes can only come from those with a facebook® account. They have to be in before June 30.
So, you have a tight deadline and a popularity contest instead of a reliance on viability of concept. If you’re somewhat biased, you might agree with a banker friend of mine:”this is a great way for those giving the grant to get new names for their sales pipeline”.
They do have a quality panel of judges that will evaluate the ideas but only AFTER you get your 250 votes. (BTW, we hope you’ll go vote for us where it says “Support Local”, the Business Success Center in Austin, Texas — we only need 50 more to in the running.)
What does this mean for you if you are looking for grant money?
If this is the way grants are going, you need to change how you approach your business. Here are three ways to prepare for the future that’s already here.
1. You need allies who have allies.
Unlike before when you could get letters of support and go directly to the source, now you need the “We”, the network within a network. They need to be active and really committed to you. And, you need to start early. I am going to add a field to my database: “Facebook Account and Name”. I haven’t tracked that before but I’m going to now and so should you.
2. You need an infrastructure that supports a marketing campaign to go after the votes and a “political” attitude.
You can’t buy the votes by making promises or giving gifts but you can use the online media a lot to “get elected”. I’ve had great help and support from my staff, allies including Jason Meeker and Jaxzen Marketing, and former and current clients including The Stage Alliance. No matter what happens, I couldn’t have gotten this far without them.
3. You need to sharpen your writing skills for an online approach.
The actual application for this grant only has 5 questions (6 if you include “what else would you like to tell us”). That’s only 2500/3000 words to convince judges that you are one of the top 12 companies that deserves this grant. I write for the Austin Business Journal‘s weekly “Ask the Expert” and I’m limited to 60 words. That’s tough. This is tougher. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve revised my copy because as it says once you’ve hit “Submit” it’s all over.
Apropos of how others feel, I thought I would share their comments. Some are going for the grant also. Some are just well wishers who are disappointed they can’t help. After all, not everyone has facebook or wants facebook. That’s reality.
• My wife and I deleted our Facebook accounts, in disagreement with Facebook’s new data policies and the surrounding non-sense hype. Is there another way to get votes in?
• I’m afraid I don’t do Facebook. There must be something wrong with me! Is there some other way I can help you?
From another Austin firm applying: “It’s unfortunate that meaningful and worthwhile businesses may not make the cut to even get considered because of a weak social networking operation, but I guess that is the message to entrepreneurs.”
If you decide to go after this grant, good luck!
If you don’t, expect to see this pattern repeated that makes social media a major part of the grant process.
Your thoughts and your votes appreciated — especially before June 3o, 2012.