R&D grants can provide an essential source of match funding for your innovative project. These projects seek to resolve a technical uncertainty by undertaking risky or innovative research and development. R&D grants are often awarded to projects considered too risky for private sector investment. Proposed R&D projects and costs must also be realistic, with a clear commercial opportunity, and have the aim of creating new or exploiting significant growth within the market.
UK companies and organisations can apply for a number of UK-based government grants and European grant funding. The main source of UK R&D grant funding is from Innovate UK, the government’s innovation agency. Innovate UK runs funding competitions which can help businesses, groups and even charities develop their innovative ideas and make them successful. Innovate UK funding competitions provide funding between £25,000 and £10 million and typically fund technical or market feasibility studies, proof of concept projects, and the development of prototypes.
European grant funding for UK companies includes Horizon 2020, with nearly €80 billion of grant funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) and EUREKA Eurostars, for innovative SMEs wanting to take part in collaborative research with partners across Europe and associates countries.
How many innovative UK companies are winning R&D grants?
For the competition year 2015-2016, there were over 2,700 active projects that won an Innovate UK competition, with over £670 million in grant funding offered. These projects involved over 3,100 companies and organisations.
For 2016-2017, Innovate UK changed the way that they work, introduced a new grant funding competition structure, and had a total of £561 million to invest in innovation. Along with an open programme that is not sector-based, the funding competitions now cover the following industry sectors:
- Emerging and enabling technologies – technologies and capabilities that will lead to the new products, processes, and services of tomorrow.
- Infrastructure systems – a focus on agriculture and food, healthcare, energy, and chemicals and materials.
- Health and life sciences – covering the major global market opportunities in optimising transport and energy systems and integrating those with other systems, such as health and the digital economy.
- Manufacturing and materials – the development, validation, and application of cross-cutting manufacturing and materials technology and processes.
As this was the first year of the new strategy, it was not a surprise that the numbers of projects and participants were reduced from the previous year. During the 2016-2017 financial year, there were over 1,000 active projects that succeeded at the assessment stage of an Innovate UK competition, with over £290 million in grant funding offered. These projects involved over 1,400 companies and organisations.
There is limited information available about the success rate of applicants for Innovate UK competitions, although more may be released in the future. For the first round of the open programme in 2016-2017, the success rate was 18%, although it is expected that this rate will drop in the future, as Innovate UK funding competitions are incredibly competitive and more companies will likely apply in the future.
What are the stages of an R&D grant application?
Each grant funding competition will have its own rules and requirements, but generally, you can apply for grant funding if you want to:
- Test whether your idea will work, through a feasibility study.
- Create a new product, process, or service, or improve an existing one, through research and development.
- Work on collaborative projects with other businesses or research organisations.
You’ll need the right combination of people to cover the grant application’s key aspects: the technology, market knowledge, commercialisation plan, and financial details. Preparation of a grant application can take over 300 hours of work, so it’s best to make sure you have everything in place before you start the application process.
Once you’ve made your application, it will be evaluated by the grant funding organisation. This process varies by competition, with some competitions subject to a ‘portfolio’ approach to ensure that funds are allocated across all the strategic areas in the competition scope. Successful applications must usually meet a quality threshold.
It will generally take up to 3 months (although it can be longer) after you make your submission to be notified of the funding decision.
What types of digital innovation projects qualify for R&D grants?
Your R&D grant funding application is more likely to succeed if it:
- Shows how the project results in a real innovation and doesn’t replicate products currently on the market.
- Provides a convincing company description which explains why you are more likely to succeed than a competitor.
- Includes a clear and thorough description of the business opportunity, not just a description of the project.
- Demonstrates a clear understanding of the target market, including commercialisation and competitor information.
- Has global opportunities or is a social enterprise that draw on unique strengths from the UK.
How to ensure your company’s next project is eligible
Applying for an R&D grant application requires a substantial investment of time and resources. You should match your planned or existing project to the right competition – don’t try to come up with a project that fits the requirements of the competition, as you’ll be wasting both your time and the time of the grant organisation. You should only apply for R&D grant funding if you’re prepared to pay the costs of the entire project, as grant funding is extremely competitive and the grant money is usually paid in arrears.
All successful R&D projects start with a good idea, and projects that win R&D grant funding are no exception. You should develop your project, and your company, as if there weren’t any grant schemes available, and if you win a grant funding competition, it will be a nice bonus.
Lauren Olson, Myriad Associates
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