GRANTS of up to £2,000 to help young people from disadvantaged backgrounds start their own business are available through Dorset Community Foundation’s South West Enterprise Fund.
The foundation has partnered with businessman Nick Robinson and Giles Smallwood to launch the fund, which offers young entrepreneurs aged 18 to 30 the grants to help with buying stock or equipment or pay business-related rent or bills. Applicants, who must live in Dorset and either be about to start a business within six months or have been trading for less than two years, have to present a business plan and answer questions about their ambitions at an interview.
Mr Robinson approached the community foundation with the idea after he realised that although there is a lot of support and advice for young people trying to launch their first venture, there is virtually nowhere to get the cash injection they often need.
“We’ve both set up businesses and I set up a business when I was almost 30 and had saved up to prepare for that,” he said. “That gave us the confidence to start the business and enabled us to buy the kit we needed. We are not looking to support the next genius healthcare app, we just want to support young people who are setting up straight forward businesses or to help them buy a piece of equipment.”
The founders, who met while working in finance, say they have been impressed by the breadth and variety of the applications received so far. “It’s really inspiring to see all of the different businesses being proposed and hearing their plans is a really fun part of the process,” said Mr Robinson.
The fund has already supported a number of businesses, including artist Lucy Burns who received a grant to boost her sustainable ceramics business.
The 24-year-old sells kitchen and homeware with a sustainable theme, which she sells at Bridport Market every Saturday. “I like to promote ceramic sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics, such as coffee cups and keep bowls with silicone lids and loose leaf tea strainers,” she said.
She set up her tiny studio, called The Pot Place, at Uplyme near Lyme Regis a year ago. Her first year of trading was encouraging but the rising price of raw materials put a cloud over the venture.
She heard about the Dorset Community Foundation grants from a friend an applied. “The application process for me was really easy and it was quite good to reflect on what I’ve done over the last few years,” she said. “There’s a lot of questions about the financial side that have been really useful and writing down a plan for how I’d spend the money really made me think differently about improving the business.”
After submitting her business plan and having an interview with Mr Robinson and Mr Smallwood she was delighted to hear she had been awarded the £1,500.
“It is really nice that someone has shown belief in me,” she said. “I was actually wondering about stopping selling pottery for a while and getting a full time job because it was so hard to be able to afford the raw materials.
“I started to wonder if I was good enough but having the meeting with Nick and Giles and hearing them say they love my ideas was really nice and refreshing. It definitely gave me a big boost.”
She is using the grant to buy a new stock of silicone lids and raw materials and is investing in a new website so I she sell online. She has also started selling her wares at festivals.
“Having the grant definitely gave me breathing space and some belief that I am doing the right thing and that I’m good at it,” she says. “I want to travel some more to get some new inspiration but I really love what I am doing and I am so grateful for the help and belief I’ve had shown in me.”
Dorset Community Foundation director Grant Robson said the fund demonstrates the foundation’s ability to come up with a grant programme that matches a donor’s goals. “Nick had a very specific ambition and we were able to help him translate that into something that is really paying dividends. There have been some lovely stories that show Dorset has a wealth of business talent just waiting for the right nudge and injection of belief.
“We’re very proud that Nick and Giles have entrusted us with this fund.”
The South West Enterprise Fund is open for applications. Find out more about eligibility and how to apply here.