Published on November 1, 2023, 8:48 am
Grants play a vital role in the functioning of many organizations. However, obtaining them often becomes a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. Writing a grant proposal requires significant hours, the assistance of a specialized grant writer, and can cost thousands of dollars. These factors narrow down the pool of potential applicants.
Sean Carroll, former Chief of Staff and COO of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), understands the challenges surrounding grant writing intimately. During his tenure at USAID, which is responsible for distributing civilian foreign aid and developmental assistance, Carroll oversaw the distribution of billions of dollars in grants.
Having recognized the need for improvement in this area, Carroll has come up with a solution – using AI to assist with grant proposals. Alongside Mustafa Hasnain, founder of creative services agency Creative Frontiers, Syed Murtaza, an ex-corporate banker, and Gilberto Lopez, a Harvard academic, Carroll founded Grant Assistant. This platform offers AI-powered tools designed specifically to help grant writers strategize their approach, identify target beneficiaries, and extract relevant information from relevant documents.
Carroll emphasizes that Grant Assistant is not meant to replace professional grant writers but rather support them in their work. Unlike other document creation tools that start from a blank page, Grant Assistant takes users through a questionnaire similar to what a project consultant might ask. This information then informs an AI-generated draft of the grant proposal. Additionally, Grant Assistant’s “suggestion engine” highlights content from uploaded documents to enrich proposals with references.
While Carroll didn’t disclose precisely which generative AI model powers Grant Assistant’s grant writing capabilities, he did mention that it is a fine-tuned model trained on USAID writing style guides and policy documents. The tool aims to train users in writing complex proposals for funders like USAID, the European Union, state-level agencies, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and more.
One concern that arises when using generative AI is the issue of hallucination – whereby the AI generates false or misleading information confidently. This could be problematic in grant proposal writing, where factual accuracy and evidence-based claims are crucial. Carroll argues that Grant Assistant’s suggestion engine, which incorporates research, data points, and citations from uploaded documents, serves as a reasonable check on the platform’s proposal-drafting model. However, it still places the responsibility on users to compare recommendations from the suggestion engine with the content generated by the AI.
Grant Assistant is a young startup comprising a team of eight people. It is primarily self-financed but has secured a $200,000 equity round and a $50,000 grant from Atlantic Philanthropies. As time goes on, it is expected that Grant Assistant will continue to develop more reliable methods to combat hallucinations and their potential impact.
For now, customer acquisition seems to be the company’s primary focus. Although Grant Assistant is not generating revenue yet, it has secured non-binding agreements with government contractors in the international development sector. The hope is that these agreements will eventually turn into contracts and provide ammunition against competitors like Fundwriter.ai and Grantable.
Carroll believes that Grant Assistant stands out among other organizations in the grant writing space due to its robust integrated tools, intuitive AI capabilities, and user-friendly interface. The aim of Grant Assistant is to significantly reduce the time and cost associated with creating grant proposals so that large mission-driven organizations can allocate saved resources towards crucial program delivery while smaller organizations can better compete with their innovative ideas.