Hub innovation specialists Andrew North and Clare Cornes provide the latest advice for finding and applying for funding that could support your business’s recovery.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had impacts on all businesses, whether negative or positive, leaving many to find new sources of income or funding to support their day-to-day activities. Whilst this is essential in the current lockdown situation, additional thought could be given to future product development and service delivery, and whether new products and services could be used to support the recovery from COVID-19.
In an effort to support ongoing innovation in British businesses, significant quantities of funding have been set aside by the UK government for businesses to apply for. Below, we summarise routes to finding and applying for funding, and key things to keep in mind along the way:
Finding innovation funding
The government has set a goal for research and innovation in the Industrial Strategy, aiming for the UK to raise R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP by 2027 and supporting its ambition to become one of the most innovative countries in the world.
Typically, large innovation grants are dispersed through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), an organisation that includes the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England. Through UKRI, funding for open and specific projects are advertised and applications can be submitted.
Innovate UK, which sits within UKRI, provides funding that will help drive the UK economy, particularly in the areas of science and technology. Most Innovate UK calls are aimed at businesses, including small and medium enterprises, and are meant to help progress innovations through Technology Readiness Levels, allowing new products to enter the market quicker.
Find the latest live and upcoming funding calls from Innovate UK here: Apply for innovation funding.
Calls are updated on a regular basis and typically stay open for around 10-12 weeks, but sometimes longer. Always check each individual call for the key dates and timings.
COVID-19 related funding
During this time, additional funding is being diverted to support efforts that will reduce the health impact of COVID-19 and support economic recovery. These calls are open for shorter periods and have rapid turnaround and notification timescales, to allow projects to get started quickly.
Additional information on future funding relating to COVID-19 can be found here: Billion pound support package for innovative firms hit by coronavirus.
DASA, the MoD’s Defence and Security Accelerator, seeks to fund exploitable innovation to support UK defence and security quickly and effectively, and support UK prosperity.
DASA is currently seeking any idea or novel approach that could boost the Ministry of Defence’s capabilities through its Open Call for Innovation, as well as in support of the national effort against Coronavirus through its COVID-19 fast track call.
Applying for innovation funding
When applying for innovation funding, the following should be considered in advance of preparing an application:
Does my project meet the funding scope?
Funding applications take time and commitment. However, if the assessors feel the application does not meet the scope, the rest of the application will not be reviewed. A range of calls are available for applications at any one time, including open calls for any innovation, such as the Smart Grant programme. Choosing the right call is essential to ensure time and resources are well spent on an application.
Is my innovation at the stage that is required for this funding?
Innovate UK funds projects ranging from feasibility studies to collaborative R&D to large demonstrator projects, but each fund will be specific about what it can be put towards. If applications are outside the stage of development specified in the funding call, they will not be reviewed.
Does the call require match funding?
Some calls required match funding, usually at different percentage levels depending on business size. If a call requires match funding, Innovate UK typically requires cash match funding, and this cannot be substituted with staff time or resources.
Is the call aimed at individual companies or a consortium?
If the call encourages consortium applications, consider the value of working with other organisations to progress the product or service development (including universities and public sector organisations). If gaps in capability exist, a partner organisation could provide expertise and de-risk the project.
Is there support available to help with the preparation of an application?
Innovate UK has a customer helpline staffed with advisors who can answer most questions. In exceptional circumstances they may ask that an email be sent so it can be directed at another team or if there’s a technical error. Additionally, GC Business Growth Hub’s Innovation Team can provide support with application ideation, reviews and comments. For more information on what support you can access, please complete this innovation enquiry form.
Top Tips for writing your application
- Be in scope: Ensure the funding call is a good fit for you. Never try to tweak your business/project to fit the call.
- Sit in the evaluators seat: Think of the evaluator as though they are an investor. Ask yourself - would you invest?
- Have a strong pitch: Problem, Solution, Competitive Advantage. Be clear and concise.
- Know your limits: Don’t be afraid to partner to fill in the expertise gaps.
- Strategy is key: Have a clear business plan and commercialisation strategy.
- Lay down the groundwork: Always use data and concrete evidence rather than self-claimed statements.
- Tell stories: The evaluator will be reading many applications. Tell them a compelling clear story.
- A picture tells a thousand words: Use imagery, graphics and diagrams to help imagine your project.
- Break new ground: Push the boundaries and be disruptive. Funders are looking for game changing products and services.
- Go global: Demonstrate scale-up, growth opportunity at an international level.
- Make an IMPACT: What impact will the project make to your business, partners and in the marketplace. This may be qualitative and quantitative i.e. turnover, job creation, market size, IP management, sales, ROI, profitability, society…
- Understand your IP: It’s essential to recognise what you own and how to you manage your intellectual property assets in order to unlock investment. Did you know the Hub’s Innovation advisers can help demystify your IP? IP is critical part of business planning to support high growth.
- Consider the wider world: The British government seeks to strengthen UK science and business innovation. Tackling the biggest challenges that global society and industry face today. Understand the background to the funding challenges by taking time to understand the key strategic issues on the Innovate UK website.
- Meet the deadlines: Some calls require pre-registration and timings vary between calls. Always know you’re your deadlines and miss the deadline rush by submitting early.
- A fresh pair of eyes: Contact your Innovation Adviser early to seek support for your project and allow time to review your application. How can we help?
Managing a funded project
Funding bodies have strict monitoring methods for projects and each business involved will be required to report at set intervals. As an example, Innovate UK assigns to each project a Project Monitoring Officer who will review the project each quarter and approve expenditure claims. When applying for a project, consider:
- The time and resources required to adequately manage a project, particularly if you’re responsible for managing a consortium. Having capable project management in place will lower the risk of project issues arising.
- Innovate UK pay claims three months in arrears, once claims have been approved by the Project Monitoring Officer, which might have implications on business cash flow as R&D expenditure is required up front.
- Exploitation of project outputs is essential. Failure to exploit project outputs may impact your ability to secure funding from the same funding body in future, so consider methods in which you’ll able to exploit project outputs during the application process.
Clare Cornes, Innovation Development Manager (University of Salford)
Clare joined the Business Growth Hub as the Innovation Development Manager for the University of Salford in July 2019. Within this position, Clare uses her passion for new technologies and innovation to support SMEs in working with the University.
Prior to this role, Clare has led an autonomous vehicle development and trials programme for a British automotive manufacturer; managed multiple UK and European funded projects that utilised new technologies to improve local challenges; written national and international position papers analysing new innovations in relation to health and sustainable transport initiatives; and inputted into regional transport strategies to ensure new technologies are considered when designing schemes to solve city region challenges.
Alongside professional roles, Clare is also undertaking a PhD in her spare time, researching the barriers and challenges associated with implementing a sustainable Mobility as a Service (MaaS) system in Greater Manchester, including the policy and regulatory considerations. The research includes understanding what MaaS means in practical terms for transport planners, policy makers, related businesses and users. Through this experience, Clare has developed a skill for translating technical developments into socio-economic impacts and is keen to support SMEs developing innovative products and services as part of their business growth.
Andrew North, Senior Business Advisor – Eco-Innovation Specialist
Andrew’s current role as Senior Eco-Innovation Adviser at the GC Business Growth Hub sees him supporting a wide variety of business activity across the field of innovation. Helping businesses to grow, disrupt and add value to world with novel products and services.
Trained as a product designer, Andrew has spent the last 19 years working professionally in design research and innovation. His experience spans managing a portfolio of clients and projects across all disciplines within industry and academia. Encouraging multi-disciplinary collaboration wherever appropriate and applying a strategic user-centred design approach to tackle business challenges.
As a firm believer in the school of ‘Design Thinking’, Andrew prides himself on supporting the development of new products and service offerings that address real-world needs. He thrives on pushing the boundaries and challenging assumptions of how things should be done, using design as a key tool for success.
Andrew provides support through the full design process from concept to commercialisation. Always with a focus on the full life cycle of a product and having a positive effect on the environment and society we live in.
Andrews goal is to help develop the culture of innovation in organisations, and creatively maximise business growth potential.