Behind the Innovate Northamptonshire grant process with Laura Ruggles

If there’s one thing Growth Hub staff share in common, it’s the fascinating routes they take to become members of our team.

Laura Ruggle’s story is no different.

“I worked at Barclaycard for twelve years in fraud department,” she explains. “I used to plan and manage the fraud call centre, but after being made redundant and spending some time with my youngest child, I decided to look for a new challenge.”

Laura’s time at Barclaycard sparked an interest in the way people setup, manage and grow their businesses.

“I found the complexities of what goes on behind the scenes fascinating. It really inspired me, and that’s how I found the Growth Hub,” says Laura. “It looked different, challenging and I knew it would be completely out of my comfort zone. I love a challenge like that, so I applied and, thankfully, got the job!”

Laura has been at the Growth Hub for twelve months and in that time has already dealt with a vast range of projects.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how deeply I’ve been able to get involved in each project, despite my short time here. Although, I couldn’t have done that without support from the team here, which has been absolutely fantastic.”

As a Grants and Monitoring Executive, Laura’s role is to work under the Innovate Northamptonshire project. This sees her dealing with grant applications and working alongside Aurel Nastase, Growth Hub’s Innovation Adviser.

“Once people have sent us their application forms, it’s my job to review them and make sure they’re complete and concise,” explains Laura. “I also deal with quotes. If businesses want to spend money via an Innovate Northamptonshire grant, we need to see a plan for every item of expenditure.

“People don’t always know what to include in the quotes, and sometimes don’t realise that anything they want to spend money on needs to be evidenced. For example, we’ve had some businesses claiming for electricity for specific project work, but they can’t quote the cost accurately, which means we unfortunately have no choice but to turn it down.”

Thankfully, there’re plenty of expenses that can be included within the quotes. In particular, businesses are encouraged to focus on anything relating to research and development. The more the quotes are steered towards the relevance of the project, the better the chance of receiving funding.

“I always remind our clients that there’s lots they can quote for,” says Laura. “For example – personnel costs, instruments and equipment, and even buildings and land if it relates to the duration of the project (for instance, if an area is to be hired for six months), can all be claimed, along with contractual research and patents, consultancy and operating expenses.”

The Innovate Northamptonshire project offers grants that range from £2,000 to £20,000, and applicants get the chance to pitch their ideas to a panel.

“It’s a bit like Dragon’s Den – although not quite as scary!” explains Laura. “Following the panel, a decision on the grant funding is made and usually delivered to the applicant within a few days.”

There are a number of points that grant applicants should consider when writing their application.  “Applications that are clear and straight to the point are easier to be assessed,” she explains. “Although I have good business knowledge, I often won’t have experience in the applicant’s field, therefore clarity is vital – particularly if the project is very technical.

“The application helps here, because it’s split into different sections which helps us extract the information we need. For example, there’s a section that asks what the demand for the project is and what kind of impact the grant would have on both their business and its customers. Often, people have found a gap in the market, but we still need them to be clear on what the issue is and how they’re going to address it.”

Funding prototypes is a common example, as Laura explains. “If a business is looking to develop a prototype, we need to know the research they’ve undertaken so far to demonstrate a need, and what the next steps are. Sometimes, they’ll need to fund external expertise for the prototype, and we’d therefore need to know what value that expert would bring to the project and the impact they’d have on the objectives of the business.

“My advice for businesses that are on the fence about grant funding of this kind is to give us a call and pitch their idea. We’re really friendly, and will only offer honest, independent advice on whether or not the idea will fall under the banner of innovation, or under any other projects available at the moment.”

An open call for Innovate Northamptonshire grants is currently underway, and finishes on July 16th at 12pm. If you have two years of trading and an investment ready project, click here to find out more and apply!

Innovate Northamptonshire is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by Northamptonshire Growth Hub – a partnership between The University of Northampton and Northamptonshire County Council, providing comprehensive and unbiased support for your new or growing business.