Gregory Kravtsov on grants management

Please tell more about your experience in grant management?

For the first time, I started working with grants as a separate financial instrument in 2009, when I was actively involved in public activities in a youth public organization in Kyiv. At that time, I was working in the field of business consulting as an analyst, and for me the prospects of using such a tool as grants for the development of entrepreneurship and the social sphere seemed quite interesting. However, at that time the grant “market” mainly consisted of programs aimed at implementing social projects and supporting reforms.

A few years later, the process of Ukraine’s integration with the EU and increased support from the USA, Canada, Japan, and international organizations created opportunities for the development of grant programs as well as business support.

I wrote and won my first own grant project in 2015. Since that time (more than 8 years), I worked and developed myself as an expert in grantwriting and work with international programs. Worked with grants of various types – for support of social projects, support of operating businesses, support of start-ups and innovations, support of cultural projects and the sphere of creative industries. Worked with programs of more than 40 different funds: UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, USAID, Council of Europe, European Commission programs, National Endowment for Democracy, US Embassy to Ukraine programs, International Renaissance Foundation, IREX, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Western NIS Enterprise Fund, Ukrainian Startup Fund, Qatar Fund For Development and many others.

During my career, I worked with grants from 10,000 up to 1.1 million dollars. Won more than 60 grant projects, for a total amount of more than 6 million US dollars. The largest grant won was in the amount of 1.1 million US dollars.

“Grant” specifics in simple words?

A grant is a financial instrument, irrevocable financial assistance for the implementation of a certain agreed project. Depending on the direction, the project it can be social, cultural, commercial/business. The main difference between a grant and other financial instruments, such as a loan or an investment, is that you do not return the funds you receive and do not give away a share of your business. The main condition is to be the best in the grant competition, and after winning the grant, to spend funds strictly according to the budget that you submitted to the grant competition.

What are the main peculiarities behind working with grant programmes?

Each grant competition has its own specifics, but there are several basic general rules. First, it is a competition. Accordingly, your offer must be better than that of the competition. It is necessary to demonstrate a certain uniqueness, show your strengths – your product, project or idea. Secondly, it is important to understand the specifics of the fund, the program and the specific competition in which you are participating. Each of them has its own limitations and priorities. Understanding them is the key to success. Or you will simply be screened out at the stage of technical selection and simply waste your time. Third, the results of your project are important. If it’s a business grant, what do you plan to achieve? Enter new markets? Expand existing production? Create an innovative product that is easy to scale on a global level? What specific numerical indicators will be achieved? Funds that provide financing are interested in getting the maximum result for a reasonable amount of financing. Accordingly, projects that have a larger scale of influence have more chances. But, as with any rule, there are exceptions. To sum it up, you need to have a strong foundation, I call it the “triangle of confidence”. You should be sure to understand the specifics of the fund you are applying for funding. You must be sure of your project/product that it is better than competitors and analogues. And you must be confident in your ability to correctly convey all this to the fund through the bureaucratic procedure of preparing a package of documents for a grant competition – and the larger the amount of funding you apply for, the more effort you will have to make. For really large sums, you cannot do without the involvement of an expert.

It is important to remember the time. Grant money is usually not fast. The average period of obtaining a grant from the submission of documents to the transfer of funds is 4-5 months. Sometimes longer. For example, one of the largest grants for one company for Ukrainian enterprises amounted to 1.2 million euros, but in order to receive it, they applied for the competition three times and spent 1.5 years of time.

What was grant market before war, what has changed, what opportunities do you see? What organisations are more/less active?

The grant market before the war was clearly divided into 3 main segments. The first is grant programs, because they were assigned directly to state structures. Among them are both the central apparatus – ministries and departments, and local communities. Usually, their direction is to support reforms or infrastructure projects. A special place in grants of this type was occupied by programs for the restoration of Donbass – a region that was affected by military operations in 2014-2015, and on the borders of which there were low-intensity military clashes with Russia. Significant funds were directed by international funds to the reconstruction of social infrastructure – hospitals, schools, administrative buildings, restoration of energy and water supply. I think it will be similar, only on a much larger scale, after the end of this war. Currently, such grants are also provided, but on a smaller scale and mainly for assistance in regions affected by military operations, but where the danger has become less. Thus, UNDP, the European Union, Nefco — the Nordic Green Bank, allocated tens of millions of dollars for the reconstruction of housing in the war-ravaged regions of Kyiv region, primarily in the infamous Bucha.

The second type is grants for the public sector. They had a rather broad direction from educational projects to providing assistance to vulnerable sections of the population. They were provided mainly to various public organizations. Currently, these programs are directed mainly to the provision of psychological and humanitarian assistance.

The third type is grants for business development. Business of various formats – industrial production, agricultural sector, startups and innovations. Before the war, mostly innovative start-ups with good market prospects and the export-oriented segment of the agricultural sector were usually supported. Now they also help “ordinary” businesses, to restore and adapt to new conditions and to save jobs.

The main feature, compared to the pre-war period, is the increase in the volume and number of grants. Those organizations that worked in Ukraine earlier are increasing the amount of grant funding. In addition, many new ones are arriving that previously did not provide grant support in Ukraine. Currently, Ukrainian enterprises have a unique opportunity to scale and reach a new level of development thanks to the grant resource. The question is whether they will be able to use it.

What should be considered by when applying for grants? How to choose organisation?

The main thing is to understand the priorities of the organization providing the grant and that your project or business corresponds to them. For example, there are specialized grants for eco-friendly productions. If your project does not have such a component, there is no point in applying for the competition. Each of the competitions has its own requirements.

When choosing a contest to enter, make sure that:

  • You clearly understand the conditions and priorities of the competition and your offer fully meets them;
  • You have a unique advantage over competitors;
  • The grant amount offered corresponds to your request;
  • You agree to wait the necessary time to receive the grant – usually the terms of providing funds are prescribed in the conditions of participation;
  • Your team has the necessary proven experience in the project you are submitting. For example, if you applied for a competition of innovative startups in IT, and before that you were only engaged in farming, you will have to find a way to prove your competence in the implementation of your project.

The choice of the organisation where to apply for the competition is quite simple. You monitor currently available grant programs and their deadlines. Choose those that are suitable for the direction of your business / project. It is desirable that these organisations have previously provided grants in Ukraine, then you can be sure that there will be no delays in receiving funds due to the grant provider’s ignorance of local specifics. The easiest way is to contact an expert. He will analyse the specifics of your business, your goals in the grant, compliance of the project and budget with the documentation and rules required by the fund and will help choose a competition where there is a real chance of winning. Of course, you can do it yourself, but experience comes with time.

Сan private business receive grants today in Ukraine?

Yes of course. One of the types of grant programs is business support. There are several options for business grant programs:

  • Innovation support – start-ups and inventions in the IT, energy, medical and biotechnology sectors. Grants are provided from 10 thousand to 2.5 million dollars – depending on the type of competition. The average size of the grant is about 50 thousand dollars. Allowable expenses include product development or improvement, marketing and consulting services for entering new markets, team salaries, relocation expenses from war-affected regions, and others.
  • Support of small and medium-sized businesses in wartime conditions. Grants range from $10,000 to $100,000, with an average of $30,000. The purpose is to help the business restore or expand production, purchase equipment, find new customers, and so on.
  • Support of the agricultural sector. Traditionally, the funds have been providing separate grants for farmers and producers of various types of agricultural products for many years.
  • Grants for social entrepreneurs. A new trend in the programs of the European Union and a number of international organisations. Business support that also performs a social function.
  • Specialised grants for different groups. These are grants that are provided under certain restrictions – for example, grants for youth enterprises, women’s enterprises, assistance to veterans and IDPs in opening a business.

This is just a general description. A few days will not be enough to fully describe the picture of existing business opportunities in the grant sector.