The CEO and the Sphinx
Those who seek government grants follow evolutionary trends for survival of the fittest
New research in evolutionary theory suggests that those who collaborate among each other stand a better chance of surviving than their non-collaborating peers; a concept that is painfully obvious in business during hard times. A corollary is that those businesses that seek government grants, a collaborative effort, can fare better. But collaborating with government agencies can be counter intuitive. There is a cultural divide the size of the Grand Canyon between governments and businesses that prevent entrepreneurs from getting the money they need. So they give up.
This is a tale of two cultures, two clans of people with two different languages and sets of values, but with the same objectives. Governments are about process. Business is about results.
A common assumption in the business world is that those who bully government bureaucrats succeed in getting what they want. My own encounter with the Sphinx told me otherwise.
I became a government scientist in the early 1990s, at a time when research funding was as scarce as hen’s teeth. Motivated by excesses of testosterone and the will to change the world with crackerjack science, I butted my head against walls until the Sphinx shattered my confidence and showed me the way.
The Sphinx appeared in the form of Scott Levasseur, a crusty contract officer with a venous potato nose and the voice of a two-pack-a-day chain smoker. His potbelly told me he’d had one too many good lunches at the local tavern. His office was redolent of stale sweat. Neither did he know how to spell deodorant.
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In our food chain, Scott Levasseur giveth grant money if you could answer the riddles. “All of you guys with PhDs,” he said to me. “You think you’re going to change the world. But I don’t care. I have rules to follow.”
“The rules are simple,” I replied. “You give me money, I do my work. What’s so complicated about this?”
“Not so fast. There are written rules and there are unwritten rules… you need to know them both.”
I was puzzled. Scratched my head. “What would you do in my shoes?” I asked in a rare moment of clarity.
Levasseur took a deep breath and exhaled, then proceeded to change forever the way I see government funding. He explained there are two basic principles to follow.
Know the rules. Governments spent a great deal of time trying to help businesses to create employment and support economic growth. Sometimes they give money to support research. Sometimes they give money to create employment in specific underemployed groups. But governments always want to look good. They never want to be associated with failure. Therefore, funding programs are always supported by narrow language that has been created in the dark recess of poorly lit government cubicles by very clever people with MBAs. Every program has specific granting rules and its specific reporting rules.
Know the program. The question that everyone forgets to ask is whether a specific program is an entitlement program or not. An entitlement program is one that guarantees funding based on established rights or by legislation. These are the low-hanging fruits because if the applicant fits the regulated requirements, the government must support the grant request. In contrast, non-entitlement programs are less appealing… the government may not decide to grant funding for reasons of its own, even if the program satisfies all requirements.
It takes a phenomenal amount of finesse to navigate through government programs. In future, articles we will dissect the methodologies for addressing them.
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>