Grants and Sales Enablement for GovTech Startups
This webinar covers today’s grant funding ecosystem for GovTech startups and how founders can best strategize in 2022. You will learn how to find the right grant program for your company, evaluate opportunities, and develop relationships with government agencies.
In This 1-Hour Session, We Covered:
- Finding the right grant opportunities for your company
- How to prepare your company to receive funding
- Tips to manage the grant funding application process
- Managing the cash flow and timelines of government grant agreements
- Accessing and building relationships with your civil servants
About the Speakers
Sedale Turbovsky, Co-Founder & CEO, OpenGrants
Sedale Turbovsky is the CEO and co-founder of OpenGrants, a venture-backed startup focused on building modern infrastructure for funding. He has been an entrepreneur since childhood. After honing his leadership skills as an outdoor guide in his younger years, he started his professional career as an independent consultant focused on delivering data products and digital strategies to enterprise clients in South America. He is experienced in independent grant writing and public/private partnerships at the highest level, having worked directly with OpenGrants’ current strategic partner, Momentum.
Sarah Nicoll, Co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer, CivStart
Sarah is a nonprofit management and partnerships professional passionate about helping governments most effectively serve their citizens. For the past decade, she has worked for organizations with a range of missions from ending world hunger to improving government data and transparency. As a Co-Founder and the Chief Strategy Officer, Sarah is excited to help governments innovate by partnering with startups and promoting inclusivity within the sector. Sarah lives in Leesburg, VA is originally from Rochester, NY, and received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Political Science from Wheaton College (IL).
Read the Transcription
Please note, this transcription is automatically generated and may contain some spelling and contextual errors.
Welcome to grants and sales enablement for gov tech, startups. I’m super excited to have you all here. We’re just going to get into kind of an interview, talk a bit about this concept. And then we will open up about 15 minutes at the end of the webinar for Q and A ,and discussion based on that.
I am the CEO and co-founder OpenGrants and OpenGrants is the easy way to win grant funding.
We are on a mission to deploy infrastructure, modern financial infrastructure, to make grant funding transparent, equitable, and accessible. Super excited to have you all here today to learn more about grants and sales enablement. Because right now there’s this kind of unprecedented thing happening in the world.
I think you all are aware. We’ve all experienced this pandemic and on the heels of that, then as that continues, there is so much grant funding out there. And there’s huge appetite from government to leverage that, to really procure innovative solutions that you all might be providing as a startup that sells to governments.
This is something that’s unlocked, all kinds of really cool opportunities for us as a company. So I’m really excited to share. I don’t know of what I’ve learned about the space. Both in my experience as a founder, as well as I spent about seven years as a consultant in this space, helping other companies navigate this area, which is why I developed a passion in particular for grant funding.
I’m really excited and very stoked to have Sarah Nicole here. She is the co-founder and chief strategy officer at CivStart. And Sarah, I’m going to go ahead and let you. Introduce yourself. And tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Hi everyone. And thanks so much for having me on today with you. So CivStart, we’re a nonprofit and we’re really focused on helping governments be more innovative and serve their communities through partners. With a startup solution. So emerging technologies in the space companies that are passionate about helping governments improve either their internal processes or help how they interact with citizens or how they just better their communities through those different products.
And so the ways that we do that is we have an accelerator program. It’s a two-year long program for. And civic tech startups, where we try to help them navigate and succeed in the government space, focused on state and local governments. And then we also have some innovation programs for governments themselves where we take governments through challenge-based pilot programs and oversee the success, trying to give governments more capacity to do these sorts of partnerships, de-risks startups for those governments, and also try to make it a more equitable.
For those startups to be able to build those important relationships with government decision-makers. And I think one area that I really don’t know much about, but I believe could probably be very helpful to the startups in our accelerator program are, taking advantage of grants to more easily partner with.
Governments and break down some barriers through those financial opportunities. And yeah, just excited to be here and really pick your brains today. Dale, I have a bunch of questions, but I’d like to interview you with today and dive into that. I think my first question really is I know there are a lot of grant opportunities out there every company’s different Navy, they are run by an underrepresented founder or they’re focused on a really specific issue area.
Maybe they’re a nonprofit. I guess my big question is. How do you find right. Grab grant opportunity for your company and do those different types of factors play into that?
That’s a great question. Before we dive deep into the space, I do want to quickly share the results of the poll and just say super excited to see that a ton of you’re excited to learn your optimism.
Deservedly. So probably skeptical about grants and probably like many of us definitely, needing some midweek inspiration and some of y’all are in the other category. Thank you all for showing up genuinely, and I’m really excited to get into this. So I’m going to go ahead and stop sharing that.
And and just dive in a bit to the question here, which is, how do we find the right grant for our how do we find the right grant for our startup? The place to start really? Getting very specific about what you need and what the opportunity is. So as a, and just to give some examples and I’m going to go ahead and stop sharing our faces here just to give some examples, as a startup, you might be looking specifically to sell a transportation solution to government, or you might be looking to you might be looking to sell some kind of technology.
The government, like maybe radios, or maybe you have a better way to run their procurement system or accounting. And when you say generally that you are doing accounting or you’re working in transportation, it’s going to be hard to find the right kind of grant. And and this might sound really basic, but like the first step is getting really specific about the value you provide and how that is.
Communicated in within government. And so there’s two things to break down. One is like getting your specific value. If you are a transportation provider and you handle last mile solutions from like a bus stop to people’s houses and you do it autonomously, that’s a really cool value proposition and that’s very specific.
Then the next step is figuring out like how government talks about. Because the words they use and the language they use might be very different. And this is something that I think the team at Civ start can really help with something your advisors can help with because they are there’s more work than you think going on between government and the private sector.
Trying to like, just solve communication problems, like just like language the very basics of like the things they say sound really different than the things you do, but they might be the same thing. And so there’s an initial hurdle to overcome right there. And I think that’s the first thing to figure out is.
Is how does the government talk about your solution? One of the easy ways to figure that out is actually to just reach out to them. They are there to help you and there the whole idea of a civil servant, and it’s right there and like that description of what they do. And so I think so that, like the first thing that you want to do is potentially once you figured out your value proposition is get a meeting set up and say can we be helpful?
How can we help? And then take that information back and then you can start your search because they’ll probably list off a few things that maybe sound very specific. They’ll probably use some really specific terminology as well. And then you can use that to go then search grant or grant funding and figure out where there’s maybe some good opportunities.
The other thing to consider of course, You want to look not only in terms of eligibility, you want to look down on the eligibility for you, the eligibility for the government, and flip that concept of you getting the money to the government is getting the money and you’re going to be a subcontractor.
So those are, to kinda summarize one is, get clear about your value proposition and very specific. Two is figure out the language that the government uses to describe your value proposition. And then three is to start that search and include in terms of eligibility, not only small businesses or whatever kind of entity you are, but also government, because as you look at what’s available to government in terms of grant funding, this becomes a huge help to them because they don’t necessarily even know what’s available.
And one question I had, it looks like smells had it in the chat as well as, how far along do you have to be in the development of your product? To be eligible for these grants or maybe, and this is something I was thinking about too. Maybe the grant could actually help you in the development of your products for a specific government partner, government need. What have you found is common or this necessary?
That’s a great question. Unfortunately the answer is it depends, right? So it depends on the program and the grant itself. So for example, the DOD has a famous app, quirks and DOD have their SBIR programs, which literally allow you and fund you to go and talk to end users of your product when you’re just in like even the concept phase or prototype phase.
And you get funding from the government to go spend a bunch of times. Interviewing and talking to end users of your product and getting a deep understanding of exactly what kind of needs they have. And then you effectively work with them to co-develop the solution. And that’s what the, that specific program is about.
And then. SBIR are programs that I believe 11 different agencies across the us federal government. So that’s one example. And then there are similar programs or matching programs at the state level. You probably, you will not find them in local government, but state, some state agencies also have matching programs like that.
So sometimes it’s like they want like concepts, just ideas. On the other hand there are plenty of grants that kind of require or ask for fairly mature products where they’re looking to potentially demonstrate the product’s effectiveness in a real world environment. And then there’s other grant funding that is.
Specifically for buying Nokia radius, like maybe your job as a startup is like retailing radio systems to fire departments, that’s, maybe that’s your startup or maybe you’re selling like, SAS solutions to to manage ambulance dispatch or some other kind of emergency services that the city is interested in buying.
The there’s so many different grant programs out there and it’s really expensive. And unfortunately there’s not like a set rule of this is this way, but what you can be sure of is, if you go out there and start to explore the ecosystem you definitely want to ask first and figure out what, how they talk about your solution and what that kind of like government language is.
And then you can start diving into where you go. But I think the exciting takeaway maybe. No matter where you are on the spectrum of like pro like conceptual, like I wrote this down as an idea to fully baked, there are typically grant funding programs for kind of that continuum of experience and maturity in terms of your technology.
And so the government is an incredible innovation partner, but they do require some navigation and that’s the challenge frequently.
Yeah, absolutely. And have you found too, I know you talked a lot about the product itself and what issue it’s focused on and finding the right language based on that.
Are there also other grants for folks to consider that are based around the founder themselves? At sip start, we are really intentional about working with a lot of underrepresented founders, a lot of women minority in the space, just trying to make the gov tech ecosystem a little bit more equitable.
I think about 60% of the founders in our program are within those categories. Are there grants specific to supporting certain types of founders or do you find that it’s mostly around the issue that.
This is a great question. We get it all the time where people will come in and they’ll say, Hey, I searched for like diverse founders for, I searched for founders who identify as ax and I didn’t find anything.
And I always tell them, I was like, that’s not how this gets talked about. And so there’s two things I think that are really important here for folks to understand. And first and foremost is that. There are a lot of set asides in, there is a huge focus now on kind of diversity, equity and inclusion, and a lot of these programs and, say what you will, but a lot of the programs are doing a lot better.
There’s of course, some like the whole spectrum of experience still, but there’s definitely some shining stars out there. And then there’s some not so great programs that are, getting dragged along, but there’s definitely a movement it’s been very encouraging to see a lot more of of a DEI lens applied to this space, however, where it gets confusing.
I think for founders and folks trying to navigate is that is not what the government. In their communication they’ll lead with a specific solution, but they will have set aside targets and other incentives that as you look at the application, you’ll find that, oh, this, there’s some, there’s some additional weight given.
If the if the founding team. From a diverse background or if it’s a, if it’s a women led business, then there’s some additional weight given to the application itself, literally like weighting in terms of your points in score or another really interesting lens that’s applied frequently is does this impact or generate an outcome for communities from.
Some from backgrounds that are in like an economically disadvantaged area or that, from diverse areas. And so that those are aspects of grant applications. They’re not typically what leads. As the kind of purpose of the application. And so as you go through and search for grants, you’ll find that frequently.
You want to, once again, you want to focus in on that kind of value proposition product. What have you, and then as you look at the application itself, you’ll find ways to really take advantage of those opportunities based on your own kind of background and experience.
Yeah. That’s really helpful clarity actually.
As you go on and try to search for those sorts of things. So we’ve talked a lot about maybe how to start off searching for the right grant for you, but is there more that you had shared just around how to prepare your company in general, to partner with the governments or to be eligible for grant other things that folks should be keeping in mind?
Certainly. Let me zoom out first and circle back to also the idea of finding the right funding. So once you’ve done that kind of process of understanding your value proposition, how it’s talked about and how to engage around that the next thing you want to try to tackle is really what.
What are the like expansive opportunities out there because there’s usually a lot and you can start to funnel those down. So you want to start, we talked about it as developing a fundraising strategy. You want to be really intentional about how you approach the market and the opportunities. And the reason for that is that you’ll find that there are some opportunities while they may be a really great fit.
They’re just massively competitive. And while it’s always great to go compete and win your chances of winning there are generally less. And so if you can find the. For example, if you can find a really cool program with local government or at an agency that doesn’t get as much attention as the DOD, you can often be much more competitive receive funding, build those government relationships, and then you can go and use that case study to go tell that story to other agencies and then be more competitive in those subsequent applications.
And as a strategy, you definitely want to first look at the universe of opportunities and then build a. The same way you would look at sales, right? So you build a funnel and look at all right. What’s most likely to convert, to use more of a sales terminology. What’s most likely to convert to actual funding and an actual relationship.
And there’s a variety of ways to figure that out and suss it out. But the first thing you want to do. Is once again, reach out. There’s you know, I think frequently what I see is founders doing like cold applications basically cold calling for grants, right? So they’ll just send in an application without having ever talked to the people at the program, talked to the people at the agency they’ve made no like human connection there.
And then they wonder why they don’t get funded. And unfortunately, this space like any other we spend a lot of time in tech frequently and forget that like humans are a thing and human interaction is a thing. That’s that needs to lead here as well. You want to reach out, have those discussions and you can just ask them, how competitive is this product?
And they’ll usually not tell you exactly the answer, but they’ll say, oh yeah, we receive 20,000 applications and we give out six the EDA has published something, I think yesterday, or they said, Hey, we got 560, I believe applications for the for some grants that they put out. And I think they were making like 12 awards.
So that’s really competitive. But there’s other agencies that literally will award everyone who applies because they get so few applications. But that’s just the reality. And so you definitely want to build that funnel, the value at what’s going to convert. What’s most likely to convert because you’re going to spend time and energy on the application itself and you don’t want to have to do that.
And then, obviously not get the outcome that you’re hoping for. So the way to optimize that process is to build that. Dial in, those specific kind of what’s most competitive and how are we going to be most competitive and then lean into that, build those relationships. And then, like, all right we’re going to put in these three grant applications and hopefully one of them or two of them, or all of them get awarded.
So that’s a deeper dive on that process. And we have a great webinar about building. Funding strategies on our YouTube channel. So you can pop over there and check it out and happy to include that in follow up email to this to this event. And then the, to jump forward then what are the other things you need to do to prepare to work with the government?
This one? This is the reason that I love grant applications and the space in general is because of. The government is an incredible financial opportunity for a startup. It can literally, it can take you from zero to like enterprise all at once. And they are incredibly sticky as customers.
There’s no churn. They will keep paying you forever. And they have, they cut really big checks. They spend a ton of money. And so just generally speaking, it’s a very exciting space. And unfortunately, a lot of times companies just are either dissuaded actively by the investors from participating or simply don’t approach the space of.
Because it’s so hard to navigate and difficult, but honestly, if you if you bite it off in little chunks and just work through the process, you can get there. And then, the first thing you need to do of course is be a company. Make sure that you’ve filed your tax ID and that you have an EIN and that you are registered and whatever portals you need to get registered in.
And this is like the first stumbling block where. We I’ve seen companies, successfully be awarded a grant and then they haven’t completed their Sam registration. And so they don’t get any funding. That’s the it’s paperwork and it wouldn’t have taken that long, but they didn’t do it.
And so it doesn’t work out. The other situation, of course, that occurs in this space all the time is that you go to a government and you say, okay we’d like to sell you the solution. We helped you get the grant funding. So they got the grant money they’re ready to pay you. And then they say, oh, our procurement process works.
And then they list off like the most awful thing you’ve ever heard of. And then you’re like that’s six months. And by that time they spend the money on something else where they needed it. It was something mission critical and you weren’t ready to actually pay the government. And so this is something like, I think that a lot entrepreneurs, maybe aren’t aware of, if you aren’t just figure it out, like from the very beginning, it’s the first question.
That we ask, anytime we start building a relationship with a government agency is, Hey, what’s the procurement process for a little bit of a simpler way to ask them, Hey, how, what do we need to do to get paid by you? And they’ll send you a list, like they’re ready to go with that. And it varies from government to government.
And unfortunately there’s almost zero standardization here, but typically, requires you sending in some paperwork and getting approved and potentially having insurance and there’s a whole slew of required. And processes out there in order to actually be able to sell to they get like the, just the physical act of them, writing you a check.
There’s a lot of paperwork involved in that. And I think that’s a thing that people forget or don’t understand properly. And it’s a big stumbling block. And unfortunately as the world exists right now, there’s not a lot of ways around it. Grant funds. It is exciting because it does tend to shortcut the process a little bit.
But if the grant funding goes to the government agency, then once again, you’re right back on that procurement track where yes, they’re ready to partner with you. They want to spend that grant money on your company. And all of a sudden you are, three or four months away from delivering a solution.
At least from getting paid because you don’t have the. Sign a contract and go through a procurement process. So figuring out like what the procurement process is and then getting in that door is key.
Yeah. Certainly a big barrier for governments in partnering with. Gov tech startups is just that they don’t have the funding that they’re unwilling to.
So finding a grant like that could be huge for getting that initial partner. And then once you have a good case study like that, it’s easier to get in the door with other governments through regional referrals or just proof of concept. It sounds we’ve talked about finding.
Grant to apply to the application process itself. And then once you get awarded a grant, the procurement process is a piece, but even I think the grant itself, the timelines and the cash flows associated with allotments for agreements is especially for a startup, could be a little daunting when cashflow is really imperative to staying afloat.
So can you talk a little bit more about that things to keep in mind as far as the process of being awarded a grant or maybe even complying with the grant reporting or anything like that in the cashflow?
Yeah. And this kind of goes to things to prepare for sure. You definitely want to have your accounting really dial, like books need to be super clean and clear.
Especially if you’re going to get multiple grants. Cause at some point you’re going to get audited and if your accounting is off, I can be a really big problem for you in terms of doing future work with the government. So just take that note. And also of course the other thing is if you have not retained legal counsel, Do not sign a contract with the government without having an attorney who is retained by your company, review it.
So a couple of notes there, but on a, at a high level standpoint, government does not pay. They’re not like a, this is not like a SAS agreement, right? Where you have someone saying. They pay, they pay their money and it goes into your account and it’s right there. And then you get paid so frequently government grants work on reimbursement which means that you have to float the cash up front and do the work and deliver product, and then you get paid.
And there are a lot of ways to navigate that. There’s all kinds of different things out there. But you do need to be prepared for that, where you’re waiting on. Potentially, 90 days to get paid on significant capital outlay. So just as a night, just as a. I an example at my first startup carbon blue, we would submit invoices and we would get paid 65 days later, which meant that, or 45 days later, which meant that we had to float sometimes, 200, 300 K for a good amount of time.
And as an early stage startup, that can be really difficult because you don’t necessarily have, $10 million sitting around. There are a variety of of opportunities to work with. Basically folks who will do cash forwarding or contract factoring. We have a few a few relationships and partners in that space.
In fact, that open grants folks who will specifically look at your government contract, because ultimately your grant gets signed up assigned as a contract. You have this contract that you are like, okay. All right. So I got a contract. Government’s going to reimburse me for a million dollars for this demonstration project, but I have to go out and buy all this equipment and do all this stuff.
And then I get to send them invoices and they send us money. And that’s how that process frequently works. There are a variety of tools out there, of course, cashflow management and just having a good CFO is a great way. If you happen to have cash if you don’t have that money around Also there’s frequent frequently.
There are a lot of VCs and other folks who see getting a grant as a good signal. So you potentially can raise money. But you can also work with people who will effectively charge you a small fee or sometimes a large fee, but they will then forward you the cash that you need to sustain your operation.
Because then this is one of the big benefits of working with government. Every lender in the world knows that the U S government or governments in general are going to pay their bills. If they, if there’s a contract and there’s a bill, they’re going to pay it. They might not pay it quickly, but they will do it.
They’ll get it done eventually. And so it’s a great, like in terms of collateral, it’s pretty solid. And you’ll find a lot of lenders that are willing to work with you on those in those kinds of situations, because you have the contract and they know the government’s going to pay you eventually.
Okay. Yeah, that’s helpful to know. I guess skipping back a step it’s hard enough to find a grant that you think is the right fit for you. But that sometimes the application process itself is extremely daunting and time consuming. Do you have any, advice or tips for the actual application process?
And is there a way to utilize resources for future grant applications, things that people should be saving, keeping in mind as they apply to things and put a lot of work into that?
Yeah, I will. I will mention first the the nice workaround, which is that maybe if you’re selling the government, you can get really good at finding grants.
The government can use buy. To buy your tech or your service, which means that you will never, ever have to put in a grant application because they will do it for you. And that is the ideal, right? That’s that’s the super kind of And it’s not a shortcut, but it’s definitely a pretty sweet way to work.
And there are, there’s a lot of good programs out there that governments have access to that you simply as companies that are private do not. So that’s one opportunity. Of course, if you are getting a grant for yourself, there’s typically a kind of some kind of application process and. My kind of first note on this is just go talk.
You don’t even have to hire them necessarily, but go talk to a consultant who knows the program really well. There are a, there’s a huge network of kind of a cottage industry of consultants that are available out there. And they will have a conversation with you for free, just to tell you like what this application entails.
You know what it’s all about and you as a founder can then make a decision whether or not you want to work with them. And honestly, like this is something that I know that as founders and myself as a founder of something that I think we all struggle with, but. Frequently. It makes a lot more sense to just hire the consultant, pay them some money so that you don’t have to do this because it is a lot to learn.
There’s a steep learning curve. If you haven’t done a ton of them or you haven’t done a lot it’s very daunting and can be quite problematic for you. So that’s my suggestion. But if you think, if you find yourself, you think you’re just an expert, communicator expert, right? And the space and maybe you were in academia or maybe you were at an agency before and you can do it.
Then it’s just, attention to detail and follow the rules. And you’ll, you’ll be able to put in an application But honestly, in summation, I’d say, know, the ideal is find grant funding that the government can use to pay for your product. And the reason I bring that up and the reason that this is like a really great way to approach the market is that there, as I mentioned earlier, there are more opportunities for funding than there ever have been in the United States.
For government to buy stuff right now. And it’s so massive. In fact, in terms of the, like the amount of money that the government itself doesn’t know what’s going on and they just they’re overworked, they don’t have the tools. Like they just they’re not in a good spot really to be super informed.
So if you can go to an agency or a a government and say, look, we have this service that’s really. And we know that you have this need and you can bring a grant to the table and say, look, you can pay for it with this. Or you can cover 90% of your. With this, all of a sudden, you go from like having a pretty solid sales pitch to what will probably amount to a slam dunk.
And it will really like probably convert into a sale at that point. And so if you can pull that off, that’s really the way to go. But yeah, otherwise my personal thought here, it was like, this is one of those things that just makes sense to hire a consultant because they know the agencies, they often have relationships with the agency and the people doing the award so that they can get you some real insight about what those folks are looking for.
And they have a real streamlined process for addressing the opportunity. And so they’re just going to deliver a better outcome than you can. And the statistics prove it out. You’re about three times more likely to be successful. If you work with a professional grant writer who has experience rather than just doing it on your own.
And to go further, the firm I worked at, we had a 99.9% success rate applying for. And that’s based on two important things. One is we have those relationships in that experience. And two, we knew when to say no, and that’s the big value that you’ll get out of the consultants as well as they can really quickly help you say, oh, this is not a good fit.
This isn’t a good project. Let’s not move forward because they understand another level of what’s being driven at those agencies that, unless you, like I said, unless you have the experience, you probably just don’t have your head wrapped around fully, like what’s happening.
Yeah. That’s an impressive success rate that you all had.
I guess that’s a unique benefit, right? Of being a good tech startup is you are selling to government and therefore, sometimes the government will apply for the grant for you. We’ve even had governments approach sift start before wanting us, wanting to. Apply for grants that we would assist with or our startups versus would assist with.
And that’s always something we’re happy to do, but if you don’t, have the ability to hire a consultant, say to go out and build those relationships with the agencies or know the right people at those agencies in order to have that type of a scenario occur. What advice do you have any other thoughts or ways folks maybe could develop relationships?
There was civil servants that you would recommend.
Yeah. So there’s a few things I’ll throw out there. One is that there across the United States, there exists a network of consultants who are paid for by the federal government specifically to help you sell, to go. And these are called the procurement technical assistance centers.
And if you like search for the United States procurement technical assistance centers, you can find these places. They offer free services and you can get really great. One-on-one help from consultants who can help you navigate this stuff. They do not help you navigate grants in general. They will only help.
Apply for a navigate SPR, but they will help you navigate government relationships. So there’s that if you have no money to hire a consultant, that’s one resource, the SPD C’s are also another great heavily under utilized resource that’s provided for free to you. Taxpayers. So those are some thoughts.
My other suggestion is simply to go meet folks. If you have the time and bandwidth to do that’s the best way. Of course. When we were building open grants, I literally spent all of 2019. Just like getting meetings with people at state agencies and sitting down with them and showing them like my little Figma drawing of what we were doing with open grants.
And it’s been massively useful moving forward and we’ve built some incredible relationships and we have great relationships that state local and federal government levels because we put in the time to do a ton of customer discovery. Not everyone has that luxury. I totally understand.
We did. And we took the opportunity to just go and myself personally took the opportunity to go and build those relationships. And that’s, part of it is just being genuine and showing up. And we’ve found that there are so many civil servants who are trying to do so many good things and they simply don’t have the resources and the time to tackle all the things.
And so they’re super happy to take a meeting with you, especially if you come in. With basically the line of like, how can we help you? It’s a really different space. I think the paradigm shifts that you should have the founders, typically they go into if you come to open grants and pitch us a product we’re at we’re on the defensive, like we don’t want to spend money.
And we generally are like trying not. Bill bring on more solutions. Really? We’ve got enough trying to keep our overhead down. That’s our mindset. And that’s the mindset of companies when you go to pitch them government on the other hand is they’re looking to spend money and looking for solutions like they’re ready to spend a bunch of money on you.
And I think that the minute you start to realize that and you come in and say, Hey, this is a. And the cool thing is they’re divorced from the money too. It’s they want to spend the money and it’s not their money and it’s not their company’s money. It’s the government’s money. So it’s whatever. And there’s a whole different discussion to have about that, but they are, they’re ready to spend money on you.
And so if you come in and say, Hey, how can we. Honestly with government, the discussion is almost never about like how much the thing costs it’s about are you going to deliver a value to us? And are you going to solve our problems? Are you solving our problem? You’re solving our problem. We’re just going to give you money.
Like we will spend all of the money if you will solve our problem. And so if you go and set up a meeting and really your lead in is how can we help? And you want to obviously make that really specific, but like that concept. I’ve had incredible meetings with everyone from the CIO of the state of California down to, like the people at the DMV, like across the board, if you can come in and say, Hey, how can you help?
And you start to get very specific and maybe, some of the problems they’re actively trying to solve when you include that in your intro, they will take things with you. And sometimes they have to take meetings with you, but like they’ll take meetings with you and it will be really productive.
And so I just highly suggest that kind of paradigm. For us founders in particular, for people with founders who are solid government, go build the relationships yourself, if you have the time. And then, ideally as you scale or look to scale, then you bring on people that do that or who have those relationships, but it’s very much still a relationships driven.
It’s definitely not like they’re not super inclined to just buy something out of a marketplace, even, the marketplaces that do exist are really there to solve procurement, which is something we talked about earlier. They’re not there to drive marketplace efficiencies, so to speak like Amazon they’re there to solve procurement.
You still have to build that relationship. There’s unfortunately, there’s no other suggestions that I have on how to hack that. Go do it yourself or hire somebody.
That’s definitely. What we preach at CivStart, it is it’s a very relationship focused industry and you can’t just create a product, start pitching it and expect people to want to buy it.
You have to really understand their unique needs first and create your product around that. And the government’s, really want to feel like you have a very deep understanding of their challenge before. You even start talking about how you can help. And so that’s really why we’ve started utilizing those challenge-based procurement methods in our government programs.
And it’s been pretty successful. So I definitely agree with you. And I think we still got to hang out at an ICM comp. And so I think those big, government association events are a great thing to spend some of your marketing dollars on. Get in the door and just mingle with those folks.
Listen to what they’re saying on this panel discussions and get involved as a thought leader before, a seller to them.
I do want to add, your challenge based approach to. Like solving issues. And procurement is very interesting because I think for me, it’s always lived as a evolution of a very common tool that a lot of governments use, which is the RFI process.
So there’s a lot of agencies and this kind of speaks to maybe how you start to build those relationships in a more scalable way early on, at least. And do your prospecting is governments across the board in the United States specifically, but. In the EU and some other places we’ll use what is called a request for information.
And this is when they’re at like early stages of trying to solve a problem or build a program and they will reach out to industry to ask about acts that say, what’s happening in VR, an example for virtual meetings, maybe that’s what they ask about you as a founder, Like people are always surprised.
They’re like, all right how did this, how did this company get this big contract? And it’s because they showed up early, like they showed up at that RFI process and they submitted like some very concise and very tailored to their product documents about what the industry looks like. And unfortunately, as the, in their role as civil servants, they don’t necessarily have the luxury of going out and talking to a bunch of people in the industry.
They don’t have the luxury or budget necessarily to. And definitely don’t have the time to hire McKinsey or Deloitte to tell them how about how an industry is developing sleeves, this RFI process. And the thing about the RFI process is that will start to shape their view of the industry and tech and all of the solutions.
And that’s their viewpoint. And so four companies show up and give them their information. That’s going to be how they understand the space. And so it’s very similar. Like you told us, if you spoke to your kids and cling on, they would just grow up, speaking clean on, right? That’s, what’s going to happen.
And so if you want your product and your tech and your company service, what have you in front of the. Get engaged early. And this goes back to just build a genuine relationship, like figure out who’s talking about what you’re doing and who’s interested and start building that relationship, provide them value really early.
So that they start to understand the space from your viewpoint or from a diverse array of viewpoints, ideally. But from a business standpoint, maybe it’s just your viewpoint and that’s fine because ultimately they will end up purchasing your solution. If that’s like the reality that they are being presented.
Yeah, absolutely. I know we only have about 15 minutes left, so I didn’t want to hog all the questions and see maybe. When I turned to any of the
audience questions. Yeah. Let’s get into it. And I’m going to go ahead and as I’m looking through these questions, I’m going to launch another poll.
I would love to hear from the audience, just what your challenges are right now in terms of fundraising and looking for grants in general. Let me know where you’re at in your process. And then I’m going to just scroll through these questions here and we will. We will get into it. And feel free to, as we’re rolling through as we’re rolling through these questions, feel free to add more.
But I’m just going to start at the top here. As the poll goes on and I’ll tackle this first question says grants.gov, Sam are more insane to navigate. How do you. Actually get access to bidding offers. If the government makes it possible to even begin applying, if this is a great, this is a great question.
Unfortunately like the UN I’ll go ahead and answer it here. The procurement process is the procurement process and, SIM starts doing some really cool things to innovate around that with their challenge approach and, government. They’re trying to make things easier, but it takes time.
One of the things I w I will suggest here is that if you really want to get into the government space, there are a variety of ways to really start to learn how to flex those muscles properly and get really good at it. So start offers an amazing program if you’re not a part of that. You might consider looking at what they have going on.
There’s also there’s also a variety of resources out there to help you navigate this space, many consultants. You can find them on open grants. You can find them just generally on, on the internet if you search around. But yeah, it’s a real challenge. And the government is acutely aware of how bad it is and it’s the reason we built open grants.
It’s the reason programs like step start exist. And honestly, there’s a huge opportunity for whoever kind of really solves this properly. But the reality is if you want to work with them, you got to learn to navigate that stuff.
And then I don’t, it’s there. I don’t know if you have additional thoughts you’d like to offer on that one, but that’s my my two sentence at least.
Yeah, no I totally agree with you. I think. You’re not going to, you’re not going to get rich fast in this industry. It takes a lot of patients and learning the culture and building those relationships. So I totally agree.
Awesome. Very cool. All right, I’m going to go ahead and end this poll as we dive into some of the rest of these questions. Thank you all for responding, finding the right grant opportunity. That’s the one, I’ll just say, selfish. I think what we’ve constructed of and grants is pretty awesome.
And if you take the time to sign up for free, I think we could probably find the right grant opportunities. So please do check it out and let us know how we can make it better. The other thing that I’ll throw out there is honestly talk to your advisors, people within your network, if you are lucky enough to have one, if you don’t have a network reach out to things like the P tax the procurement technical assistance centers work with, resources like, so start and get out there and start to network.
And just through your network and experience, you can also really start to dial that in. I see another big challenge out there for folks is building government relationships. Once again, Yeah. Some of these things, unfortunately, the reason they’re challenging is because there’s not a short way to do it, right?
Like you gotta put in the time and effort and energy, or you gotta have the capital to go out and build those. I am happy personally to be a resource there. I know they’ve started to some awesome stuff in that space as well. So reach out get connected to folks who can help you start to get connected.
And and then, also I, one thing I do want to bring up that Sarah mentioned as well, is that there are those like there’s industry events in government in particular, they’re a hugely benefited. I know that like many of us, anyone who’s spent a lot of time in tech or any other space, it’s probably gotten quite a bit jaded on like industry trade shows.
But this is one space where they are massively effective because you have all of these decision makers and folks that you need to network with in one space. And it can be hugely beneficial. So something to look at, especially as like live events, come back that can be a real benefit to you.
All right. Back into the questions here. Have you found the shotgun spray and pray method of applying to grants is helpful or the super method is more effective, super focused, all the way. Get a good funnel dial in exactly. What’s going to convert and then go forth and conquer because if you do it the other way, you’re just going to find that you lose a lot.
And you don’t get a lot of benefit out of it. Definitely get super focused. Understand the value proposition and lean into those opportunities because frequently it’s not just following the rules, finding the right opportunity. But that last thing that I alluded to, which is build the relationship.
If they know that you’re a high quality person, high quality company that you’re providing them value early, they’re going to be very interested.
A great question from Dustin, any references, the pros and cons of other transaction OT, consortia. I do not have a really great understanding of exactly how these are better or worse than grant funding. And Sarah, I don’t know if you do either, but Dustin, if I, if Sarah does it and I don’t, I’m happy to find one of our experts and we’ll get some content out, but Sarah, any thoughts?
I will have to follow up on that one.
All right. Dustin, we will we will do some digging. We’ll ask our expert marketplace about this and we’ll get some content out to you. Just kinda running down the OT consortia setup. And hopefully we’ll get that out very soon.
I see a question that says, how does that work from. Tori banks, maybe Tori, you could just drop into the QA and put some additional context. Cause I assume you were asking that while we were talking about something specific. So if you could just drop in there Torian put that additional context.
Jed, I am new to grants funding. What could be a starting point to search grants, which are competitive and less competitive. From my standpoint, of course open grants. It’s a great place to start. Obviously that is also my company. There’s lots of other others. There’s other places you can go look.
Google has really great grants.gov is great. Beta site. I’m not going to say great, like honestly better. The same is really awful, but it’s another place you can go look for. Grant funding. They, the government does a, they do their best at making sure all these opportunities are available to you.
And open grants is free by the way, for you to just generally go in and start searching for grants. So highly suggested we’ve made it accessible for a reason. And that is because this information should be accessible to you anyways. And in some cases the government has dropped the ball.
But in other cases, they’ve done a really great shop. There’s a lot of places to. Google is the place to start. I don’t know, Sarah, if you have some thoughts on other resources, but that’s those are my suggestions.
Yeah, no we’re actually really exciting, excited to be partnering with your companies to Dell so that our startups can utilize that to find the grants, because I think, going to the main government sites and trying to search it is just really difficult.
Yeah we’re excited to hopefully have more of our startups sign up for free and utilize your product.
Awesome. Yeah. I’ll just add here that to answer the competitive question. Once again, this is one of those things that it varies. It depends on what’s competitive and what’s less competitive, and it can also vary year to year, depending on kind of what people are looking at and how successful or unsuccessful a program was.
The best way to answer this question for, from my standpoint is to say a great place to start with looking for grants is open grants. You want to also start by defining your value proposition, understanding what people are looking for in the space. And then to get an answer about what’s competitive and not compare.
Reach out. Like anytime you get a grant, like opportunity in front of you, there’ll be some contact information, reach out to those people and ask them how many applications they get and how many awards they plan on awarding. And then you’ll know. But unfortunately there’s no oh, all of these are competitive and all of these are not competitive.
There’s some like general ones I can say. For example, SBR for through the NSF is very competitive because everyone knows. DOD SBI are also very competitive because everyone talks about it all the time. USDA is, are not very competitive. Someone knows they have one, so there you go. To go through all of the programs would take hours and hours.
So the best way is to reach out and get that understanding.
Question about as a grant writer, how do you find companies that want grant writing for government funding? One way to do that is to create a profile on open grants and then say that you want to work with companies that want government funding, and then they will reach out to you. That’s one way to do it.
I there’s a lot of other ways to find leads and opportunities to work marketplaces and such. That’s all, I’ll just leave it at that.
Can you talk about con contracting, contacting people in procurement connections? Let me take a stab at, I think what you’re asking about is how do you start to understand what the procurement process is for any given government? And Sarah, I’d love to hear your y’all’s thoughts on how you approach this.
Cause you do some really innovative things here. But generally speaking these people have titles like procurement officer or head of procurement and they’re listed on a public, on a public dataset. And you just dig up there and phone.
Yeah, I would say unfortunately, fortunately if one government, one government each Procura breast is unique.
There are procurement officials, like SNL said that you can reach out to you to gain more insight. And then, if you’re working with a particular government agency on a project they can eliminate that for you as well. And, different governments have different thresholds for what needs to go through procurement.
A lot of times we do at-cost pilot programs or first-year contracts that fall within a discretionary budget so that we don’t even have to go through that procurement process. And so asking what that is, might be helpful as well.
Yeah. Great insights. I love that. Yeah. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of other kind of streamlined ways to do this shy of hiring consultants to do it for you.
I listened to a grant writing service that wanted to champion, our tech, for $48K promised at least 50 K in funding for that timeframe. Sounded like mainly the AFTWERKS program and SBIR, this sounded like a high figure and it’s basically a wash.
That sounds very high. Also little bit suspect because they were going to spend so much time. Anyways, that sounds like a bad deal. And I would not have worked with them, but yeah, typically for SPR, we see anyone, we see people charging anywhere. Eight to 25 K to go after a hundred to 250 K in funding. So that, that seems like a, that seems like a really high number.
I’ll just leave it at that. We got two minutes left, so I’ll try to go through as fast as possible here. Do you have experience of preference for DFI entities working in climate funding in Africa, the CDFC USA and power Africa in that space? We don’t have experience, but our consultants do so definitely reach out on the open grants platform and talk to them folks, just search for USAID and you’ll find in our talent marketplace and you’ll find those folks.
Pivot is a great grant search database. Yes, it has been. It’s awesome. Used by lots of universities. If you have a relationship with a university. Definitely look at pivot. It does tend to focus on research and I’m like, it’s a great university product. But yeah, it’s a, it is a great grid search database.
We love pivot. And do you guys write up paperwork or proposals needed for these grants that we can hire experts in our marketplace, who are these consultants that breast referenced really do that. So yes we do. I’m going to go ahead and just close us out here. Sarah. Thank you so much for joining and for spending time with with me today.
Really appreciate it. Do you want to share any kind of last thoughts on sibs start and what y’all are working on with everybody?
Yeah, sure. If you are a tech company that has a good solution for state local governments, we are actually launching our application for our next cohort program in about a month or so.
And you can find that on our website, I’d love to learn. More about what your company is doing and see if we can support your work through that programs as bled in this timely thing. And again, really love the work that open grants is doing and we’re excited to be partnering with them.
Definitely encourage all of the startups in our program to to take advantage of the free data that’s on their platform. So thanks for having me. This was really fun and I learned a lot.
Awesome. I hope this was useful for everybody. This recording will be available. And then we would love, check out OpenGrants, checkout CivStart, feel free to reach out to us.
And we’ll be sending along some resources and other information that’s follow up today’s event. So thank you all for coming and we will see all around.