EDITOR: | August 7th, 2013 | 5 Comments

The CEO and the Sphinx

| August 07, 2013 | 5 Comments

Those who seek government grants follow evolutionary trends for survival of the fittest

SphinxNew 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.

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 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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  • Tracy Weslosky

    It is with great pleasure that we publish the Honorable Dr. Luc Duchesne today. Luc, how you make the process towards securing grants interesting…never mind positioning businesses and governments working together as a win-win is something that may have never been done before….smile.

    August 7, 2013 - 10:35 AM

  • Sue Glover

    Luc, this blows me away! What a great article. Only you could make this sound intriguing! Okay so I simply must take this opportunity to encourage everyone to read Dr. Luc Duchesne’s novel The Moose Hotel. Here is the link-http://www.amazon.com/The-Moose-Motel-ebook/dp/B00DL15ZVE. Additionally, Dr. Duschesne was interviewed recently by Tracy Weslosky. Click here for the link: http://investorintel.wpengine.com/politics-intel/dr-duchesne-explores-the-art-of-revenge-in-the-moose-motel/.
    Looking forward to having my copy of the book signed when you are in Toronto next!

    August 7, 2013 - 11:44 AM

  • RWBevan

    I really enjoyed this article. The advice on government funding was interesting, but I was more impressed with your writing, Dr. Duchesne – very engaging! I am an English major and I love to see writing like this when I read about business. You definitely demonstrate that it doesn’t have to be dry and boring. I also saw your interview with Weslosky regarding your novel. Would you mind posting a quick blurb describing what it is about?

    Thank you.

    August 7, 2013 - 5:42 PM

  • Allan Branch

    As a business person and a sometimes academic and a less often public servant, I have feet in all camps, and have been particularly successful at being awarded government business grants over the years. So I agree entirely that, “Governments spent a great deal of time trying to help businesses to create employment and support economic growth.” In fact I believe they bend over backwards to give money to young, needy, promising businesses. I also agree that the government position is, “You think you’re going to change the world. But I don’t care. I have rules to follow.” The key rules are that the government money is not to change the world, (there are other systems to support that), the government money is to change today, hence the emphasis on employment mostly, and employment indirectly through such things as economic growth second. Changing the world? Not in there.

    My approach is very straight forward, I make it so that the grantee finds it impossible to say no. I visualize that person, with no knowledge or understanding of the realm I am applying for, sitting at a desk with a set of 10 boxes to check and if all get checked, I get “checked”. To accomplish that I do exactly as Dr Duchesne has said and understand the rules. Simple things like apply for the purposes of the grant, not your pet research project. Apply for the amount offered, not more (because you think your project is more worthy). Tell the government how many jobs your project will create, both directly and indirectly, now, and then once successful. Prove it. Show how the risk of your project is low; by showing this is a careful, piecemeal, doable project (not gonna change the world). Then show the government how they will look good from being your sponsor. This last is about publicity and photo shoots, but mostly about how no one will suffer if your project fails. And never use negative words like “fails”, “worst case”, “if”. Use instead “succeeds”, “likely case”, and “once”.

    There is a down side to getting a grant, and that is the paper work required as an administrative overhead. Remember that the money is coming from a bureaucracy, which is almost literally a synonym for “office work”. So build that into you plans and accept it as a way of reporting that will ensure success next time to apply for public funds.

    A final rule of thumb? Call or visit the person responsible for the grant, ask blatantly what you have to do to be a successful applicant, and write detailed notes as you get the answer, then ensure all of those are in your application. You become a check list person too.



    August 11, 2013 - 5:58 PM

  • Asher Berube

    Other Countries have used government funded subsidies to get a strategic advantage in world markets. China for example has used government subsidies to cut cost with their solar panel industry which gave it a huge advantage. The benefit of taking advantage of eligible grants and subsidies is quite clear in an increasingly competitive global market.

    August 12, 2013 - 1:16 PM

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