The Grants Hub is a unique online subscription service that assists people in locating funding providers across Australia. For the past five years, this West Gippsland–based startup has gone from strength-to-strength. But after a year of solid slog to bring the website to fruition, a dramatic situation almost halted the project just five weeks after its launch. Let our interview with The Grants Hub Founder Jessie Ballantyne inspire you to take a risk as well. —
Please describe the purpose of The Grants Hub?
We help people find grant funding. The Grants Hub is an online grants directory, listing grants from all funding providers across Australia. This includes government, philanthropists, corporates, individuals and lots of small organisations who provide grants.
Discuss your journey to starting The Grants Hub. Did you have previous experience in tech startups?
Definitely no previous experience in tech startups —this is all new to us! After working in local government as a Grants Facilitator, my role was split between applying for grants on behalf of Council to the State and Federal Governments, and helping community groups throughout the municipality find and apply for grants to reduce their dependence on council funding. I realised how hard it was for these groups and organisations to find grants, let alone apply for them, so I decided to provide a solution.
I brainstormed concepts with my brother, who is a Web Designer. We connected with a Web Developer and started building. Many hours were spent surveying people to learn what their grants needs were, brainstorming ideas, drawing up sketches on rolls of paper, pouring over designs and entering hundreds and hundreds of grants into the Grants Directory. After months of hard work, we launched in June 2013.
My husband, Justin, and I sold our house to fund the initial website build. We really did believe in the concept, and part of that means we needed to take risks.
What were the items that posed the most significant hurdles in achieving your release?
Time and limited funds. My daughter was one during the year we built The Grants Hub. I was also pregnant with our son. Justin was working full-time as a Primary School Teacher too, so it was a pretty full-on year.
Being reliant on sub-contractors delayed the launch, so I ended up being 39 weeks pregnant the day The Grants Hub was released—not ideal timing! If I’d had a larger budget to pay a web development firm this wouldn’t have happened, but you need to use what you’ve got.
Why base your business in Gippsland? What are the benefits of being here?
Justin and I grew up here so this is home for us. Personally, I would live in the middle of Melbourne, but Justin loves the country! We live in Drouin, and I appreciate living in Gippsland now more than ever though. The sense of community you find here is great and you’re in a pretty beautiful part of the world. The drawback is the lack of other businesses like ours. I wish I saw more people around the town working from their laptops in cafés. There’s a lack of tech culture in Gippsland, although I feel like this is just starting to change.
How have you selected and developed your supporting team at The Grants Hub? Can you describe your office environment?
It was very intentional to build The Grants Hub as a remote-based business. All we need is a laptop and internet connection and we can work from anywhere. Last year we spent time in Merimbula, NSW, and Canada, and kept working as usual. In 2016, we ran The Grants Hub from a caravan while travelling the east coast of Australia. It’s an unbeatable lifestyle.
We don’t have an office. Although after five years, I finally have a home office space as of this week. Until now, it’s been a mix of working in cafés, libraries, from a desk in my bedroom, the dining room table, anywhere there’s some space really! Working remotely, it’s so important to keep face-to-face contact with people. Stella’s Pantry in Warragul is my all-time favourite locale—they do excellent coffee and have free WiFi—vital information for any startups in the area!
We employed our first team member last year. Until then, everyone was on a sub-contracted arrangement, and Justin and I did everything else (anyone in startups knows you don’t pay yourself much!). Employing a team member was a great process for us. It was an opportunity to cement our values: excellence, flexibility, generosity, fun, honesty, innovation and reliability. We were so lucky to find the perfect Grants Researcher for our team, who is based in Queensland.
We use a heap of apps to communicate with each other. We have team meetings via Skype and chat on Slack throughout the day. You have to share with each other just as you would in a traditional office.
What can be done to encourage more startups in our region?
The provision of shared office space at low cost. Gippsland could thrive as a hub for online business and remote work but we do need the infrastructure, networking opportunities and a better culture of encouraging and supporting startups and online business to make it happen.
What is your proudest moment with The Grants Hub so far?
Winning a few business awards in 2016 was great. It probably sounds strange, but it was the first time that I felt like I knew just a little bit about business.
The fact that The Grants Hub still exists at all after some major challenges were thrown at us a few weeks after it was launched is the thing I’m proudest of though. When The Grants Hub was five weeks old, our newborn son, Tom, ended up in emergency open heart surgery. Here I was, with a brand new business, a two-year-old daughter and a four-week-old baby in major emergency surgery. I sat in the ICU ward at the Royal Children’s Hospital trying to answer emails and keep The Grants Hub afloat. It wasn’t a good time. Miraculously, both our son and The Grants Hub survived that time with the support of many, many people.
Can you please provide some words of advice?
Most people think of all the reasons they can’t do something. I’m the opposite. Take a risk and get on with it. It might be something big or something small. Just do something.
Tips for starting–up something awesome:
01. Use what you have;
02. Do your homework;
03. You can’t always achieve perfection;
04. Find creative solutions;
05. Ask questions;
06. Read lots;
07. Be a lifelong learner;
08. Pay experts when you need to;
09. Think about your values and base your business around them.
You’ve just read about its origins, now visit the website, thegrantshub.com.au, to find the right funding for your project.
Portraits // Lauren Murphy Photography.