Applying for grants in Singapore, can be a royal pain in the (excuse my French) ass.
And sometimes you do wonder if it’s still really worth it to get the thousands of dollars from the government, in exchange for the help they provide you.
But only for a select few.
But before you start applying for those grants, here are some principles you need to take note of.
Don’t expect to get rich on grants
Grants are meant to support your business, not to start or kickstart your business.
Over the past 3 years, we’ve been searching for suitable grants to apply for, but have learnt 2 things.
- The Singaporean government is not giving grants to make businesses rich.
- The Singaporean government sees their role as making a competitive business environment, rather than sustaining lousy businesses.
This much was said during a recent closed door Budget conversation with Ministers of State.
Bottom line is, fix your business, before trying to survive on grants.
Be an entrepreneur, not a grant-trepreneur
With the large amount of grants available in Singapore, there have been the rise of people who simply chase grants.
Don’t be one of them.
You’ve created this SME out of your blood, sweat and tears. You could easily have done something else.
But still you’ve done this, because you want to add to someone’s life. Not because you want to take grants to sustain your business.
I know this is painful.
We’ve been there. In the first month of business, I was desperately trying to search for grants, without realising that the grants weren’t going to cover up for the appalling business model I had.
What worked better was building a better business.
With grants supporting your growth.
These are the grants that we love (and have personally used).
Go for charity or social enterprise grants
If your business is doing some form of good, it might help for you to go for grants from the likes of Majurity Trust, or Temasek Foundation, or other philanthropic organisations.These also tend to be less competitive, and easier to get. I say it’s easier because grants from the likes of Majurity Trust have been quick to disburse (within a month), after the initial application.
It might give you a way to make giving back to society more sustainable.
You might call us a cheat, but we’ve also used these grants to cover the costs of testing our products (for good) in the market.
For example, last year, we trialed an emotional resource for young adults, and used a grant to cover the costs of running it in schools.
No, we aren’t that money-faced.
But we really wanted to do good, and we wanted to sustain our doing-good with grants.
Principles for choosing a grant
Often it’s hard to figure if a grant will really help your business.
Because you don’t want to go through months of email pingpong, only to realise that the solution didn’t help.
From our experience of getting:
- Productivity Solutions Grant which gave us a yearly Zoom subscription, and a Lenovo E15 Laptop,
- The Career Trial Grant under Workforce Singapore (WSG)
- The Start Digital Grant under Infocomm and Media Development Authority (IMDA)
- Majurity Trust SG Strong Grant (a philanthropic organisation in Singapore), which gave us $5130 to pilot the use of an emotional resource for children in Singapore
But those are only the grants we’ve gotten.
We’ve also tried for:
- DBS Social Enterprise Grant
- RAISE (the social enterprise incubator in Singapore) Grant
- OSCAR Fund (under Temasek Foundation, a philanthropic organisation under Temasek, a sovereign wealth fund)
Those were sadly, rejected.
The grant should not be an overkill
You’re at a stage of your business where you’re growing. Whilst you do want subsidies, you also don’t want to have to pay too much initially.
We’ve gone for grants that we’ve ended up not using very well, such as Xero, which sounded fancy, but which we later realised would really end up just being a white elephant.
It was just much faster for us to use the normal Microsoft Word to invoice people, as we still preferred them paying into our bank accounts, over them paying online, which incurred a 3.5% fee and a $0.50 charge per transaction.
The grant should ideally be the provider paying first (no money out of your pocket first)
Cash flow is always important. We’ve realised that certain grants are based on a reimbursement basis, where you have to pay first, and then be reimbursed later. One example is the Productivity Solutions Grant.
Honestly, when you’re small, you don’t have the $1000 to even pay first.
Cashflow is really important at that stage.
That’s why we’ve preferred grants like the WSG Career Trial, where we don’t have to put in upfront money to pay, and then be paid back.
Instead, WSG pays the person directly.
WSG Career Trial grant – to get early stage employees at $1200/month, for 2 months
|Amount you can get||$1200 for each hire|
|The most difficult and painful part(s)||Posting every month, because you can only leave up the job post for one month|
|Normal processing time||1 month|
|How difficult is it to get?||Quite easy to get|
|Where to apply||Career Trial, on WSG|
This is our top recommendation for early-stage businesses who are looking to hire, but yet don’t have the sales to commit to a long term hire.
Hiring is expensive. You’re expecting to pay north of $10k per year, when you aren’t even sure if you can earn that amount.
The most ironic thing is realising that you might be paying more for your new hire, than what you actually pay yourself.
Start Digital Grant – to get 6 months off for subscriptions to Xero, Google Workspace
If you have a business banking account with one of the 3 local banks, UOB, DBS, and OCBC, you can get this grant quite easily.
Simply type in ‘Start Digital’ followed by your bank’s name to see how to apply.
For us, we applied with DBS.
- 6 months of Google Workspace for free, for a team of 5 (worth $8 monthly subscription fee x 6 months x 5 members, which is $240)
- Xero subscription for 6 months for free ($35 starter plan for 6 months which is about $210)
Since COVID-19, the PSG has changed massively.
In 2020, I could get
- Zoom yearly subscription
- A laptop
But today if you look at the grants, they are largely around:
Once again, it depends on what type of business you do, but after 2 hours going through the entire list, they haven’t been very suitable for my business.
It’s not that they aren’t useful, but my business is at a point where it’s too small to probably meaningfully make use of these.
Secondly, it’s also because things that would yield an immediate Return on Investment, such as sales and marketing solutions, tend to need more upfront work learning how to use them before you actually grow your business.
Let’s take for example Xero.
Xero is one of the most popular accounting softwares for small businesses, but it also means that if you’re not accounting trained, you won’t know how to make the best use of it.
It might mean that doing things through Microsoft Word is much faster at an earlier stage where you don’t have more than 10 invoices to send per month.
Is it worth the time to go for grants?
Well, my honest advice is to build your business, before building your grant getting abilities.
Whilst one can say that grants are ‘free’ money, it can also make you overly reliant on the government to earn money.
Having seen quite a few startup founders, I’ve seen how they have often started off taking the SG Startup Founder Grant, which gives an initial $60k for a year, and then proceeded to spend on some (pretty ridiculous) things.
Build a better business first.
Grants can always come later.