Note: YES! grant has been discontinued. I have no idea who’s running the replacement scheme, so quite a bit of information here no longer works.
Received this email on my application to the YES! Startups grant on the 4th July just hours after my 2nd round interview with the grant administrator and the director. After the initial euphoria that everything is gonna turn out perfect comes, surprisingly, the feeling of “oh shit, this is it”.
I’ve officially run out of excuses to be stagnant. At the back of my mind, I knew I possess the “I have no money” card that I can pull out when I’m not feeling on top of the world.
Unfortunately with the grant, now I’ll either buck up or quit the game. What’s more, I convinced my mum to put in the money that was to be matched. I’ll be damned if I don’t buck up.
Like Spiderman said, with great power comes great responsibility. Ok fine, I didn’t get that much from the grant but it is much easier to make good monetary decision when I don’t have much of savings as opposed to spending money that doesn’t belong to me. I find myself deliberating more when making monetary decisions. “This spending $X on this item gonna bring back more value to the company”, “maybe I should find out if this is value for money because I’m dealing with money that don’t belong to me” are pretty much the things going through my head when I needed to spend. Sighs. But this is a good problem, I guess. Anyway, I’m really relived that my finances can officially be separated from the company’s finances.
Mentioned in passing
Oh, I was also mentioned in passing on 13th July issue of Digital Life in The Straits Times on getting the grant. Although it’s only 2 sentences of awesomeness, I consider myself lucky for this tiny bit of coverage because if you read through the entire article, my presence actually don’t make sense. I was introduced near the end of the article, the points of hiring, developing etc are already mentioned above, and I’ve only received the approval for a week. The other interviewees had the grant for at least a couple of months. But anyway, it’s still pretty good publicity. Brought about 10 visits to my blog, 19 visits and a potential fan for Learnemy.
The grant allows founders to get a monthly allowance of up to SGD800 if the founders want to do so. Initially before I applied for the grant, I wanted to be gung-ho and forfeit 6 months of allowance because I (am too fat to fit into beautiful UK6-8 clothes so I ) spend very little in a month. But in the end I decided against it and take all that I’m entitled to because money flowing into the company from my savings is easier than other way round. I’ll always be here to bail Learnemy out, but it’s definitely not justifiable for Learnemy to bail me out even if it’s very bad happening to me or my family.
For people who are going for this grant, I submitted my application form on the 13 April 2011 and the email to schedule came 2 weeks later. After the first interview, the email for the 2nd interview came 8 weeks later. The final approval came 4 hours after the 2nd interview, so I guess it’s almost certain that the grant application will get approved once a candidate manage to get into the 2nd interview.
Going through this process, I get to see how this government grant application is a different ball game. A game with rules that could piss a founder off. I don’t think that the grant administrators are stupid, I tried stalking my interviewers online and they have good academic credentials. I respect what they do and beyond a doubt, they are people who have seen many startups win and lose big.
But there is some structural flaw in having grant administrators distribute precious resources to startups.
Angels and VCs do their homework before they dispense money and they have a stake in ensuring that a startup idea is not totally stupid and has a good chance of survival. This homework-before-making-a-decision process is unfortunately missing in the grant administrators. It means that you have to really simplify the explanation of your startup while making sure that you don’t appear as thought you don’t know your stuff. I simplified my presentation so much that I was using ‘Innovation #1’, ‘Competitive advantage #1’ as titles on my slides, making my deck a total of 30+ slides (and I’m deeply ashamed of it), just to make sure they understood why Learnemy totally meets the grant criteria.
I suspect that different grants have different standards despite having the same amount of money granted. A couple of fellow SGFI’ers whom I thought would have no problems getting the iJAM grant got rejected, so I guess it sucks to be old*.
*The YES! Startups grant is only applicable to people below 26yo.
UPDATE: First tranche of money is deposited on 1st September.
Elisha Tan is the Founder of TechLadies. TechLadies is a community for women in Asia to connect, learn, and advance as programmers in the tech industry. Elisha is also the Developer Programs Regional Lead for Asia Pacific at Facebook.