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Innovation funding support for R&D

Innovation Development Manager at the Hub, Clare Cornes, gives the lowdown on the various types of funding available to Greater Manchester SMEs from Innovate UK for R&D.

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See also: £5,000 Innovation Vouchers for Greater Manchester SMEs

Innovate UK funds different types of projects to support a wide range of sectors. Grant funding typically focuses on a specific part of the development cycle of a new product, process, or service. However, there can often be confusion about which category a project should be positioned in, along with confusion about the funding rules for each category.

Innovate UK supports the following research and development (R&D) categories:

• fundamental research

• feasibility studies

• industrial research

• experimental development

The sections below summarise some of the different funds available for each R&D category.

Fundamental research

Fundamental research focuses on generating new knowledge, potentially without any direct practical application or usage. Funding for these projects typically goes to research organisations.

Not all categories have funds available at all times, so it’s always worth checking the website regularly and subscribing to the Innovate UK newsletter for updates:

Feasibility studies

Feasibility studies are an assessment of a project’s potential, to support decision-making for development. Feasibility studies usually come before a larger, development project. UK businesses looking to transform supply chains using digital technologies can apply for between £250,000 and £500,000 funding towards feasibility studies. More information can be found here:

For businesses developing energy solutions for use/access in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and/or South East Asia, Innovate UK is offering a share of up to £20m for feasibility studies between £50,000 and £300,000. Projects can last up to 12 months and must include a UK registered administrative lead and at least one SME from anywhere in the world. More information can be found here:

Industrial research

Industrial research usually means the development of new knowledge or skills via a process of critical investigation. Product, process, or service development that will be informed the investigation can be included in this category.

If products, processes, or services relating digital innovation in UK manufacturing supply chains are more developed than the feasibility stage noted above, Innovate UK is funding industrial research projects to support the next stage of development. Project costs can be between £1m and £3m and more information can be found here:

Innovate UK frequently supports collaboration between organisations as part of funding criteria. For businesses with established links (or those looking to establish links) with organisations in Japan, Innovate UK is funding a portfolio of projects that support general innovation. Projects must include collaborative R&D, incorporate a game-changing and/or disruptive idea and can be between £100,000 and £1m in value. More information can be found here:

Experimental development

Experimental development involves using existing knowledge (including scientific, technical, and business) to develop new or improved products, processes, or services. The core objective is to make further improvements, but does not include changes made to existing products, processes or services that could be described as ‘routine’ or ‘periodic’, even if those changes could be defined as improvements. Experimental development projects are typically closer to market, and as such are combined with lower funding rates (as low as 25% for a large business and 45% for a micro or small business).

For businesses in the agri-tech sector with products at this stage, you can apply for a share of up to £2.5m to increase the pace of innovation in the development of agricultural and food systems in Africa. Projects can be between £150,000 and £800,000, and more information can be found here:

Things to consider when applying for innovation funding

When applying for grant funding, the responsibility for choosing the right category lies with the applicant, so ensure you are aware of the expectations for outputs for each category. Applications in the wrong category are unlikely to be funded, as the proposed outputs will not meet funding expectations.

Each fund will have different grant restrictions, which will influence what you will be able to receive. Whilst there are some exceptions to the rule, the majority of grant funding provided through Innovate UK expects some level of match funding, and contributions must be money (not in-kind). When applying for a grant, ensure you are confident you can meet any financial commitments in advance of applying, as issues during a project may impact your ability to win grants through Innovate UK in future.

When applying for grant funding that includes collaborations with international partners, organisations exist to support efforts to develop relationships. International trade advisors can provide support, and can be found through GC International Trade.


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Clare Cornes

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.

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