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Reflections on our first round of the Incubator Fund: Creating a strong proposal

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young person on stage singing into a mic, black and white photo, what IF? written in bottom right corner
Photo from the Teesside musical inclusion partnership

Whilst we were thrilled with the positive reaction to our first round of the Incubator Fund, the high number of applications we received made the decision-making a difficult job!

By the time we sat down to make final decisions, the applications we received had been assessed by our in-house team and our panel of 18-25 year old advisors.

As we made decisions, we noticed some common themes emerging from the proposals that we said yes to. From those we declined, we also saw some common areas for improvement.

What made a good application?

The offer for 18-25s

The Incubator Fund criteria was outlined in the applicant guidance notes for the fund. A core part of this was to offer a programme that included a creative project or brief, career development support and holistic support (considering wellbeing and access needs).

Applicants who did not include a clear creative project or brief for 18-25s to lead on were unlikely to be funded. The strongest proposals offered young people roles that provided meaningful experiences where people had the autonomy to make decisions and lead. They were also substantial in terms of number of hours offered, preferably topped up with the applicant’s own funds - “I would have to work another job at the same time as doing this” was one of the statements made by our advisor panel as they made their assessment of applications.

Successful applications were more likely to have a comprehensive support offer for 18-25 year olds, considering their:

  • Professional needs (e.g. mentoring, networking)
  • Access needs (e.g. travel, equipment, access for Disabled young people)
  • Wellbeing needs (e.g. mental health, 1:1 support).

Good applications clearly demonstrated how they would put in place a range of activities to support the career development of 18-25 year olds. We could see clearly how their plans would help open up access to sustainable careers in music for people aged 18-25, in line with the aims of the fund.

Some unsuccessful applications seemed more focussed on their own business development needs rather than the development of the 18-25s. These applications could be improved by taking a more collaborative approach giving more time and space to value and support young people’s ideas to create greater two-way benefit.

The programme overview

Applicants gave us a programme overview in the form of a presentation deck, Word document or video. The strongest ones provided this in an interesting, clear and accessible format. They were presented in a way that had both style AND substance. Some decks or videos looked beautiful but didn’t say much. Conversely, some of the written overviews provided a lot of text but didn’t generate much excitement.

The programme overview, assessed by our advisor team, acts as a shop-window to the business and the programme. The best examples had designed the programme overview for the intended audience (i.e. young people). They gave a real sense of the business’s identity and culture alongside the detail of the opportunity.

Recruiting people who are underrepresented in the music industries

Strong proposals all had clear strategies for reaching, recruiting and supporting young people underrepresented in the music industries. For example:

  • By working in partnership (e.g. with local youth organisations) to reach underrepresented groups beyond their own networks in the recruitment process.
  • By making the application process accessible – allowing applications in multiple formats (written and video) and not requiring qualifications or vast levels of experience.

An active role in the music industries

We were keen to support applicants who could demonstrate an active and impactful role in the music industries (as an organisation and/or as individual staff members), so that participants would benefit directly from their industry insight, networks and influence.

Meeting the budget criteria

The Incubator Fund was not designed as a wage replacement scheme. It had some very specific budget criteria. These included a requirement for 50% of the money to go direct to 18-25s, a maximum allowance of £3,000 towards salaries per young person, and payment at the Real Living Wage or higher.

  • Many unsuccessful applicants submitted budgets that did not meet the budget criteria.
  • Businesses requesting high staff costs to deliver conventional internship schemes or to simply commission freelancers were unlikely to be funded.
  • We did not prioritise applicants with the potential to pay for the proposed project themselves. Whilst COVID had reduced the revenue of many organisations, in general we tended to support smaller organisations that were not subsidiaries of larger corporations.

Businesses who could clearly demonstrate how they were adding value to their project (either through match funding or ‘in kind support’) were more likely to be prioritised.

Submitting the right supporting information

We asked for some financial documentation to be uploaded with the application. This included the most recent set of annual accounts or management accounts, an organisational budget and a recent bank statement.

A significant proportion of unsuccessful applications did not submit the required financial documentation, meaning we could not carry out a full assessment.

When we make funding decisions we’re keen to award grants to organisations that can demonstrate some financial viability beyond the life of the programme and good supporting financial information can help to demonstrate this.

What next for the Incubator Fund?

We’re reflecting on what we’ve learned from round one, and updating the fund application process and guidance notes accordingly. Round two will be open for business in December 2020.

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Incubator Fund FAQs

Youth Music's new Incubator Fund offers grants to music businesses who want to support the career development of 18-25s. Find answers to the frequently asked questions here.