Taken for granted

This Houston tech startup is helping businesses find the funds during COVID-19 crisis and beyond

Houston startup Grant Source, which helps its clients find the right grants to apply for, has seen a surge in business amid the coronavirus shutdown. Getty Images

Since 2015, Grant Source has perfected the art of helping businesses, foundations, and organizations find and secure grant funding — and now their expertise has become vital to COVID-19 response initiatives.

With the devastation caused by the novel coronavirus, America's medical organizations have been scrambling to obtain the funds required to purchase the testing kits, masks, PPE, and other life-saving products needed to help curb the effects of the global pandemic and now, thanks to the mobile and web platform, they're getting the assistance they need to accomplish that goal.

"COVID-19 response is actually our claim to fame right now," says Allen Thornton, founder and CEO of Grant Source. "We have probably done more business in the last few months than we have since we started. Simply because we are helping people find grants with the CARES Act. There's over $500 billion out there, which has created overnight a $40 billion market opportunity for us."

Grant Source has worked extensively with city, county, state, and government agencies to secure grant funding, which is why they have become a game changer for those that need emergency capital to combat COVID-19's challenges.

"Initially, it was scary because we lost some of our clients, but then a bunch of medical clients came to us and asked if we could help them find funding for COVID-19 outreach," Thornton says. "We've found that they have a higher probability of success right now because with COVID-19 outreach, the procurement cycle has gone from six to nine months down to 30 days, which is unheard of."

In addition to telemedicine companies, Grant Source has been helping write grants for clients that range from airports to technology companies in order to help provide them with a path forward in the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Grant Source has created a database and a suite of resources for companies looking for grants. Photo via grantsource.com


Preventing federal funding waste

Outside of the context of a pandemic, the government uses grants as a way to fund ideas and projects that provide public services and stimulate the economy.

Grants are also essential when it comes to supporting critical recovery initiatives and innovative research, but on a fundamental level, very few even know how or where to start when it comes to applying for one and it becomes even more esoteric when it comes to getting funded. That's why so much grant money goes unclaimed, with millions of nonprofits and businesses going underfunded and not maximizing their impact.

"Over $3.2 billion in grant money goes unclaimed every single year," says Thornton. "We have a broken system and we wondered what we could do to change it, so we started Grant Source, our revolutionary grant funding system, to help organizations find and secure money for their mission."

Client-focused services and support

In addition to helping clients find grants, Grant Source assists with the necessary pre-work to apply for a grant.

"We started out as just a database where you could find grants and grant writers," says Thornton. "But in listening to our customers, they wanted us to do everything full service, too. So, I flew all across the country from Minneapolis to Kansas to Los Angeles to Toronto and put all the top grant writing associations on retainer and created what is Grant Source today, which is pretty much mobile for grants."

Thornton says Grant Source has more than 1,500 consultants across the U.S. and Canada, and these professionals each have different specialties — much like a lawyer or a doctor — and relationships in different states.

For a flat fee that ranges from $500 to $5,000 per month, Grant Source will set out to procure its clients grants that range anywhere from $50,000 to $1 million based on their goals. To date, Grant Source has helped businesses and organizations find and secure over $6 million in grant funding.

New clients first sign up for an assessment with Grant Source that establishes what the client's goals are and how the company is set up. Once Grant Source has established a few options for the client, they get started on submitting to the grants. In order to protect its customers from the uncertainty of the process, Grant Source offers investment protection for 12 months.

"We have the investment protection so customers won't be left empty handed," says Thornton. "It's risk free, so if they don't at least get their investment back within the first 12 months, we'll either continue their grant at no cost or we'll give them a credit for the difference."

Founded from a personal need

Treating customers with fairness is important for Grant Source because they started out as a nonprofit seeking grant funding themselves and soon learned that there was a lot that they did not know about the process.

"When I was at UTSA in 2006, the African American graduation population was less than 6 percent, which was unacceptable, so we started a nonprofit," says Thornton. "We made a lot of impact in just a few years. We increased the graduation population from 6 percent to about 38 percent, And, for the 2008 election, we were able to register over 3,200 students."

After graduation, Thornton says he saw an opportunity to expand to other colleges, but lacked funding to do so.

"We saw grants as a huge opportunity and they are, but unfortunately, they're also a huge hassle and it takes a lot of time and energy and effort to even find one that you qualify for," he remembers. "And even when you do, if you don't know how to write the proposal, you're dead in the water."

After the grant process failed, Thornton's money was gone with no communication or valid reason as to why. That frustrated him to the point where he wanted to provide coherent solutions to the problem himself.

"I spent a ton of money on education and researching top grant writing associations," says Thornton. "Most people don't know where to find grants, and there are so many different types of grants and places you can find them. For instance, we're working on a federal proposal with the federal government, there's 26 different agencies that still don't even know how to talk to each other."

Creating a lasting impact

From the outset, Grant Source started creating corporate responsibility programs and impact within a cost center for organizations that were for profit companies. They seek to put them in ideal situations to create the kind of impact that warrants grant funding.

"What we teach our clients is that you can't approach the process with the idea that you will get the grant money and then go out and create come impact," says Thornton. "You have to focus on being able to showcase the impact that you're already creating and then we can go find money for that. If you can articulate the impact of whatever you're doing is creating, we can find the person that cares about that.

In addition providing the software and platform for grant seekers, Grant Source offers a book, courses, seminars, workshops, and conferences that offer the baseline information needed to secure grant funding.

"At the end of the day, Grant Source is a technology platform that helps organizations find money for their mission," says Thornton. "We've streamlined the grant writing process and the grant finding process. At Grant Source, we don't focus on the money, we focus on the impact and then we give people a clear path to make it happen."

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Building Houston

 
 

Auburn University's SwiftSku took first place in this year's virtually held Rice Business Plan Competition, but it was the second place company that went home with over half a million in cash and investment prizes. Photo via rice.edu

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

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