A theme keeps emerging in our studies of incentive and financing programs for small businesses: We need better applications. 

Jargon-filled applications that ask for unnecessary information are the first barrier to entry for many new and small businesses trying to access programs intended to help them. In response, organizations are simplifying program intake forms and making it easier for businesses to submit applications. Takeaways on this topic include:

  • Our analysis of state incentive and finance programs found eligibility rules and application processes were often so complex that they seemed designed to deter participation. Narrow program eligibility rules and onerous application requirements diminish the pool of participants. Economic development organizations can review guidelines and procedures to make sure they do not inadvertently exclude portions of the target audience. – Incentives for Entrepreneurial Firms, August 2021
  • There is a critical need to streamline and simplify program processes, especially the initial application and reporting requirements. Keep it simple, communicate requirements clearly, and design the process so it can be completed on a mobile device. – Kauffman Foundation Entrepreneurship Issue Forum, July 2022
  • Federal, state, and local relief and recovery programs adapted to provide technical support and assistance to businesses that were shut out of early rounds of assistance, make owners aware of funding options, provide forms and assistance in multiple languages, and help them complete applications. Theses efforts helped make programs more inclusive and equitable. – COVID-19 and Entrepreneurial Firms, June 2022
  • One-stop portals and online hubs that provide a single point of entry for business transactions with state government are an effective way to help new and small businesses. As Governors and other state leaders work to simplify regulatory processes, states are developing a new generation of one-stop portals for new business formation. These portals create effective interfaces that make it easier to complete the process, offer clearer guidance, and simplify the applicant’s workflow. – One-Stop Portals Help Businesses Navigate State Regulations, June 2022
  • A review of issues that prevent innovators from underrepresented groups or underserved communities from participating in innovation ecosystems flagged “difficulty preparing applications for Federal support to develop and market innovations” as one way federal programmatic barriers limit participation. Streamlining grant applications to include only truly essential requirements and providing greater pre-application assistance to first-time applicants are suggested. – Summary and Analysis of Request for Information to Make Access to the Innovation Ecosystem More Inclusive and Equitable, September 2022

Reconfiguring applications is a simple, low-cost way of improving incentive and financing programs for new and small businesses.