EDITOR: | November 2nd, 2015

The Martian: an allegory on government grants and subsidies

| November 02, 2015 | No Comments

martianI walked into the theater to seek entertainment from The Martian; instead I found a remarkable allegory on how companies and individuals can get grants from governments. I loved the Martian for many reasons but one above all: the travail of Matt Damon is as laborious as securing government and subsidies.

Dr. Natasha Sharpe is CEO of Bridging Finance. In her presentation at the Technology Metal Summit in Toronto, that modern business plans need to show how government funding is in place to support business growth. The implication of her insightful presentation into the finance world is that companies are expected to secure government funding as a part of their growth strategy.

But securing grants and subsidies, be it for mining, tech or any other field is hard. It is as good as being left for dead on Mars to grow potatoes on astronaut guano on a desertic rock with a poisonous atmosphere.

A common misconception is that grant seeking is to walk into a high-ranking bureaucrat’s office and say “Hey I want some money because it’s good for the country.” And then when the pleasant bureaucrats say, “Yes, we can help you. Send us your business plan,” most CEOs think they have it licked. They report to shareholders that a grant is imminent.

Once I heard a CEO report to me that a very enthusiastic politician had said to him, “Where have you been all my life. I want to support your project,” I knew instantly that it was a theoretical impossibility.

To think that a politician would commit to dole out on a first meeting is as good as expecting Matt Damon to jump into space from the surface of Mars on the power of his legs alone. This movie would be an utter flop. For those who have not seen the movie I mean the planet Mars, not Cadbury’s candy bar.

Most politicians and the bureaucrats who actually run things tend to smother grant seekers with kindness. It’s reminiscent of hypothermia: a slow and blissful death. Very few grants or subsidies ever get granted to those who seek the help of politicians and even high-ranking bureaucrats. Perhaps this would have worked in the old Libyan regime but government accountability is foremost in everyone’s mind. In short, governments won’t give money away like it’s candy on Halloween night.

The approach with the best chances of success is to apply to the right program that is meant for you through the right channel. It is a fact of life that politicians do not even know the programs that support businesses. If this were Matt Damon he would find a way to get his ass to a rocket ship to lift off.

Governments implement a plurality of programs to help various types of businesses. Find them and find the bureaucrats that manage them, not the high ranking weenie with an obscure understanding of the programs but the actual people that screen your applications and who’s ass are on the line.

Then you have to be prepared to go to space in a convertible, to allude again to The Martian. I’ve seen many CEO slap their hands on the table and try to bully granting agencies into shame or submissions. You need to understand what it needs to reach escape velocity. In The Martian, that meant trying to figure out the gravitational pull of the planet on a rocket that was too underpowered to reach outer space without tinkering with its mass. For grant seeking it means understanding what the grant programs are meant to do and tailoring one’s application to the demands of the program.

Every grant program has its own set of rule that you need to figure out. But these are so complicated that you need to work that elusive interface between technology, granting rules and psychology. And you must love the scrutiny of tight-lipped auditors whose job is to make sure that monies are spent to meet the program requirements. In fact, getting the grant is only the first part of it. Many grantees struggle to meet the terms of their contribution agreements. In The Martian, it means matching the velocity of a convertible to that of a spacecraft.

Securing grants and subsidies is not for the faint hearted. It makes hitch hiking from Mars child’s play.

Dr. Luc Duchesne


Dr. Luc C. Duchesne is a Speaker and Author with a PhD in Biochemistry. With three decades of scientific and business experience, he has published ... <Read more about Dr. Luc Duchesne>

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