County and City Enterprise Boards (CEBs) exist to provide support to new and existing small businesses in the commercial sphere, and it’s important to know how to go about getting this help when it’s needed.
There are three types of financial support offered by CEBs: Priming Grants, Business Expansion Grants, and Feasibility Grants. Priming Grants are for businesses that are still in their start-up period and can only be granted within the first 18 months of a business setting up. Established businesses (over 18 months in action) can apply for a Business Expansion Grant; however, if you have previously availed of a Priming Grant you’ll have to wait another 18 months to apply.
The maximum amount payable for these grants is 50% of the investment up to €150,000. That said, grants over €80,000 are considered exceptional and generally only apply in the case of projects that clearly demonstrate potential to grow beyond micro-enterprise level and/or export internationally. Subject to the 50% limit, a maximum grant of €15,000 per full-time job created shall apply in respect of any employment support granted.
The third form of financial support, Feasibility Grants, is there to assist with market research to examine the sustainability of a product or service. This covers consultancy requirements, hiring of expertise from third level colleges, private specialists, design, patent costs and prototype development. In the Southern and Eastern regions, the maximum amount payable for a Feasibility Grant is 50% of the investment, up to €20,000, while for those in the Border, Midlands and West regions this rises to 60%.
CEBs are in a great position to help small businesses, due to their knowledge of enterprise in the catchment area and their understanding of local needs. The businesses they support are considered ‘micro-enterprises’ so, to qualify, your business must have no more than ten employees. CEBs receive many applications for funding but their priority is to support viable businesses that could create sustainable employment and have potential for expansion.
There are, of course, other criteria to be met, but a meeting with a CEB Business Advisor, where you can discuss your proposal in detail, should clear up the particulars. If this goes well, you will be asked to complete an application form and provide supplementary documentation to support your application. Enterprise Board staff are available to assist you with this, and the Business Advisor will review your application once it is complete to make sure nothing is amiss.
Your application will then be appraised by an Evaluation Committee comprising members of the business community, financial institutions and local authority. These committees usually meet every six weeks, so be prepared to wait for feedback.
Following this, a written recommendation from the Committee will be considered by the Board at their next meeting. At this point it may still be deemed necessary to defer a decision pending receipt of additional information, so it’s best to provide as much as you can with your original application.
When the Board has made a decision, you will hear from the CEO in writing. This will, hopefully, be a formal offer of grant aid along with the relevant terms and conditions.
There are certain projects that CEBs cannot grant funding to. For example, they won’t consider a proposal that could lead to job displacement or result in unfair competition, nor will they provide financial assistance that duplicates support available from an existing programme or agency. If it is believed that a project could be implemented without financial assistance from the CEB, then the application will not be approved.
An ideal project for CEB funding is one that is commercial and capable of attaining economic viability without ongoing support. Be sure that you can demonstrate a definite market and evidence of adequate finance to fund the project in the long-term. You must show that you have the necessary management and technical capacity to implement your proposal and that the project can sustain or – even better – create employment. Essentially, your project must be seen to have value, and be of economic benefit to the locality.
As well as financial support, CEBs can also provide small businesses with information, advice, training, mentoring and technical assistance. To find your local CEB, visit www.enterpriseboards.ie.
DCA Accountants and Business Advisors