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Innovation

How to write a winning grant application

Millions of pounds of grant funding is devoted to the development of new products and services created by businesses each year. But how can you access the innovation funding to help your business? And what do you do if you’ve applied to several funds without success?


Frequently referred to as a ‘dark art’, grant writing can be a time-consuming and seemingly fruitless activity. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The following tips can help before, during and after applying for grant funding.

  • Research several funding bodies and the grants they manage. Each funding body will have different rules around applying and using the funding they offer. Make sure you review the eligibility criteria and, if you’re unsure, reach out to the funding body for clarifications or more information in advance of applying.
  • Know your idea and your timeline, and be clear about the outputs. Whilst this may seem obvious, having a clear narrative to describe your project and outputs is critical – so the assessors understand your idea, why it’s important, what you intend to produce, and when they should expect to see results. Without this basic information, the funders won’t know what they’re expected to fund, why or what they’ll get out of it.
  • Allocate sufficient time to the application. It’s easy to look at an application with 10 questions limited to 400 words each and think it can be completed in a few hours or a few days, but that is rarely the case. Spending quality time planning what will be included in each question’s response, researching supporting information and ensuring it reads well is essential. Assessors will likely see thousands of applications and will see through a poorly prepared submission.
  • Seek advice and listen. There are several organisations that can act as a sounding board, review applications and provide support during the application process. Use available resources to sense-check your idea and your application, and listen to the feedback. If the idea or proposed outputs are unclear to those you speak to, then it’s likely that more work is needed in advance of applying to really sell the product and benefits.
  • Never tell me the odds. Grant applications are incredibly competitive, but that shouldn’t be a reason for not applying. Organisations like Innovate UK fund an exceptionally wide range of projects and yours could be one of them. However, your chances will be better if your idea meets the criteria, is well-researched and your application is of high quality.
  • Don’t be put off by failure. You spent hours drafting the application, you sought second, third and fourth opinions, you were confident in your proposition, but your application wasn’t successful. Is it time to throw in the grant application towel? No! It’s not an exact science and sometimes you won’t win, but the feedback you receive is very valuable and can help in future applications. Take time to review it and critically look at each element of your application, and then consider re-applying or looking elsewhere for something more fitting for your product. Don’t see the result and walk away from the work you’ve already put in and can still benefit from.

Resources are available that offer more tips and tricks for applying for funding, including these provided by Innovate UK:

Support can also be found by reaching out to local, regional and national organisation such as the Catapult Network, the Knowledge Transfer Network and your local Business Growth Hub.

Grants open now

Smart Grant: Innovate UK’s Smart Grant is aimed at businesses with a ground-breaking and/or game-changing idea or product. Applications must be business focused and be commercially viable, but can come from any sector and can be applied to any part of the economy. Projects can range from 6-36 months, with up to £2m available (depending on project length). The closing date is 26 May, and more information can be found here.

European Space Agency Business Applications’ Call for Proposals: Businesses from any sector can apply at any time for this fund. Up to 50% zero-equity funding is available for businesses looking to undertake activities that result in a new commercial service, which utilises one or more space asset (i.e. satellite navigation, satellite telecommunications or earth observation). Applications can be submitted by businesses from any participating National Delegation (which includes the United Kingdom). More information can be found here.

SBRI: Improving Hip Fracture Outcomes Using Data, Phase 1: The Scottish Government (via Health Innovation South East Scotland) is inviting applications from organisations aiming to improve outcomes for hip fracture patients by developing a system using routinely collected health data and data-analytics techniques. This programme is a procurement contract, with two rounds. For this round, businesses can apply for up to £15,000 (inclusive of VAT) to conduct a feasibility study for up to three months. Following this, businesses who were successful in the first round will be invited to apply for the second round which offers additional funding to develop a prototype and conduct field testing. The closing date for applications is 31 March and more information can be found here.

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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