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How we made our Incubator Fund Round 2 decisions

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black and white photo of young person on stage pointing a microphone into the air
Photo from Pedestrian. Credit Dean Leivers

Written by Carol Reid, Programme Director at Youth Music

One of the hardest jobs of being a funder is saying no. In the latest Incubator Fund round, we turned down more than twice the number of grant applications that we approved.

Were you one of the people that put your heart and soul into the application, only to find out it was declined? Perhaps you are thinking of making an application in the next round? If so, then this blog and our previous article on creating a strong proposal will help you work out whether to apply and how to increase your chance of success.

Things that helped to sway our decisions

1. Projects that were a good match with the Incubator Fund criteria

A really simple way to give yourself the best chance of success if to ensure you follow the fund criteria, which is outlined in the applicant guidance notes. A bit like applying for a job, we use these criteria to assess applications and identify which ones are the best fit for the fund.

The criteria were designed in consultation with 18-25s and industry employers. They’re quite specific, based on the things you told us were required. There are some core strands that we expect all Incubator Fund programmes to offer:

  • A creative project
  • Career development support
  • Holistic support for wellbeing and access needs

These aren’t either/or options. They’re all mandatory elements, meaning that we should see each element in your programme overview and your budget.

If you were looking to run a course or training programme without the real life employment experience then we were unlikely to say yes to your application. This type of work would likely be a better fit for our Fund A grants.

The creative project is so 18-25s “can plan and execute a real project, developing project management skills and building up a track record and portfolio for future employment”. The best proposals gave the 18-25s real autonomy to plan and execute, rather than working to a fixed idea with little creative control.

The fund is not designed as a wage subsidy or internship scheme. If we thought an applicant could run their programme using Kickstart funds then we were unlikely to prioritise it (Kickstart is a Government grants scheme to support employers to create jobs for young people).

Also, if people weren’t being paid the real living wage of equivalent for work they were doing then we were also likely to say no.

2. Organisations that were a good match with the fund

We’re particularly interested in supporting micro-businesses and small-scale enterprises through the Incubator Fund. Whilst profit-making companies are eligible to apply, we won’t award funding to organisations that we think could or should be paying for these kinds of initiatives themselves.

We see that budgets are stretched to the max right now and arguably all types of organisation need the cash. However, in line with the fund’s objectives, we focussed our investment this round on newer and small-scale enterprises (including sole traders) and we funded very few organisations with large turnovers (£500k or more). This was because we see that smaller businesses have less funds or access to capital to be able to pay for this themselves. Where we have invested in profit-making organisations we expect this work to become embedded in their future business plans and not reliant on further Youth Music funding.

Moreover, in making our decisions we also thought about the 18-25s we want this fund to support, people from backgrounds who are underrepresented in the industries. Over 80% of grants awarded went to diverse-led organisations. “You can’t be what you can’t see” is a topic that came up with our 18-25 year old fund advisors, leading to a healthy investment this round in organisations with diverse staff teams.

Balancing the portfolio

As with all our funding decisions, we always try and spread the funding equitably across the country. In this round this meant there was higher investment in Scotland and the Midlands, both of which received comparatively low investment in Round One. In Round Three we would welcome more applications from the East Midlands and the East of England as both regions have been underrepresented in previous funding rounds.

Incubator Fund Round 3

The next round of Incubator Fund is due to open in late July. If you’re not sure whether to apply or re-apply then do get in touch to book in a chat. You can reach us by email at

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