Playing the grants game: experts tell about money for the asking.

Author:Kilcup, Jodi
Position:Sources of funding for small businesses

Anyone who has applied for a loan knows it's not easy to ask for money -- even when the amount will be repaid, along with accrued interest. The rigors of that soul-bearing process may explain why many grant administrators have trouble drumming up applicants. How many hoops, one wonders, will I have to squeeze through to get someone to give me thousands of dollars?

"It's unbelievable," says Mike Sims, Director of Business Development for the non-profit Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District, Inc. (EDD). "There are millions and millions of dollars people never ask for. They don't realize money isn't that hard to get if you know how to ask for it. First," he explains, "you've got to have a good premise, a sound need. And second, you have to know where to go to get the money."

Grant writers agree that there are three arenas to explore for grant opportunities. Currently, federal agencies and private foundations offer the most potential. In state government programs, the third arena, many grant budgets have been pared to the bone. Like most recession-hit states, Alaska can no longer match the largesse of past years' grant programs. Even so, the state continues to offer important business assistance through regional economic development centers. What follows is a brief tour of grant sources and effective grant writing techniques recommended by professional fundraisers and economic development experts.

The Prime Sources

Federal grants. For listings of current federal grant opportunities, Sims refers frequently to the annual Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance, and the federal newspaper, Commerce Daily.

Diedre L. Bailey, Director of Grants and Sponsored Research for Alaska Pacific University, and owner of Resource Associates, a business specializing in grant writing seminars and consulting, combs through each day's issue of the Federal Register, looking for appropriate grant opportunities. An exhaustive record of the federal government's day-to-day business, the Register also lists every grant opportunity in the federal domain, from the Department of Commerce to the National Science Foundation.

Subscribers to the Federal Register can opt either for second-class delivery ($340 a year) or first-class delivery ($1,000 a year), Bailey notes. For some grant writers, an investment in speed may be worthwhile, considering the time it takes to deliver second-class mail to Alaska. "The difference may mean gaining a couple more weeks to prepare your proposal," she says.

Both Sims and Bailey mention the untapped potential for Alaskan entrepreneurs offered by the federal Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) grants. As an example, Bailey recalls how a Kodiak enterprise won a $50,000 SBIR grant from the Department of Agriculture to test a shipping container designed to keep scallops alive while en route to their markets. "Hundreds of these federal grants go begging for...

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