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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Forrest

How to apply to Innovate UK Smart Grants

The Innovate UK SMART grant is the UK government and Innovate UK’s primary grant for innovative business. Awarding £125 million every year, the Innovate UK SMART grant is an open call to innovation for any UK business, in any industry. However, the application process can seem challenging, daunting, and confusing. Which to be honest, it is. In this post, we will look to demystify the process, from start to finish, of making an Innovate UK application.

1 - Check you are Eligible

The first requirement is that both the company and the project fit within the eligibility criteria of the competition for the SMART Grant, see the diagram below to identify if you are eligible.

Find out if you are eligible for the Innovate UK SMART Grant
Innovate UK eligibility flow diagram

The next task is to ensure you fit the scope of the project. Innovate UK wants to see that the project is technologically innovative, it should be “value for money” and have the potential to have a positive ROI for the government. Essentially this means the government want to see high growth potential which will create jobs within the UK, thus being a good investment for the government.

Innovate UK looks to fund projects between Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 3-7, which are typically too risky for traditional investors.

2 - Does it make sense for your business?

You will want to look at the dates the project needs to occur, which can be seen here. Do the dates line up with your roadmap? Will undertaking this project mean you have to slow it down to receive the funding? Are the areas where funding is allowed to be spent where you intend it to be spent? For example, if you planned to spend the money with foreign subcontractors, this won’t be eligible for an Innovate UK grant. If these things don’t line up with your current plan, can it be adjusted to suit the fund?

3 - Starting the Application

Starting an application is easy, all you have to do is find the grant on the innovate UK website, click “Start new application” and create an account if you haven’t already.

4 - Filling in the Application

The application itself is broken down into 3 main sections: a) Project details; b) application questions; and c) finances. It would be useful to write all these down whilst keeping the scoring system in mind.

a) Project Details

This section starts by confirming the lead applicant and any collaborators and then giving the project a title as well as start and end dates. In this section, there are other bureaucratic elements the lead applicant should check and confirm. The main part of this section is the project summary, the public description, and the scope. All can be up to 400 words long.

The project summary will be used to assign relevant assessors, so it should show the core innovation to help Innovate UK match your application with assessors who will understand the potential innovation. The public description will clearly be public and hence should not contain information you wouldn’t want to be publicised. In the scope section, you should briefly outline how your project fits the scope of the competition.

b) Application Questions (The real meat of the application)

This section is what will be scored by the assessor to determine whether your score is high enough to win the grant or not. There are 11 questions, each question allows up to 400 words and up to 10 A4 pages in appendices. We highly suggest that you utilize every word you have available.

The questions (Questions 2-11 are all scored out of 10)

  1. Application location - Not scored, just for Innovate UK data.

  2. Need or challenge - In this section, you should show the core technical challenges and show the market need and whether there will be any wider benefits.

  3. Approach and innovation -The aim of your answer here should be to show the innovation, what will the USP be and how does that advance current technologies that already exist?

  4. Team and resources – Demonstrate why your company is in a great position to carry out this innovation and show any weaknesses you will improve potentially with the funding you win e.g., hiring more staff.

  5. Market awareness - Show Innovate UK what the market currently looks like and how big the opportunity is. Innovate UK wants to support innovations that have high growth potential.

  6. Outcomes and route to market - If the last section was about showing the opportunity, this question is all about how you will seize the opportunity.

  7. Wider Impacts - Innovate UK has a list, seen here at number 7 'wider impacts', of different potential areas of impact and you should show how your project will have a positive impact on those, where relevant.

  8. Project Management - Submit a project plan or Gantt chart outlining how you will effectively, competently, and efficiently manage the project.

  9. Risks - Here, getting the balance is hard. Innovate UK want to see risk, for if the risk is mitigated, they will suggest you go straight to private funding, but they don’t want to see too much risk, for if the project is too risky, Innovate UK will deem it unlikely that any output will happen. Therefore, you must demonstrate a reasonable, but not overwhelming risk.

  10. Added value – Ask yourself these questions: What value does the grant add? What is the impact on the business? Why use a grant as opposed to other funding sources

  11. Costs and value for money – Ask yourself this: How much will the project cost and how does it represent value for money for the team and the taxpayer?

5 - Submission and Results

Once the application is completed you must make sure it has been fully submitted before the deadline. There is typically a 2-3 month wait until applicants are notified of a successful application.

If you won - In the exciting event that the Innovate UK application was successful, all that is left to do is ensure you have the 30% match. You also need to check that the project still makes sense for the business and accept the offer. However, be aware that declining an offer can have negative consequences for working with Innovate UK in future.

If you lost - No worries the success rates for the SMART award can be as little as 10%, look at the scores and feedback, try to improve your application and then you can resubmit in the next round. Remember that you can only resubmit the same project once.

If applying for an Innovate UK grant appeals to you, you may wish to consider getting help from Inovasi, as we provide expert help to identify, prepare and submit applications for grants. Visit our website for more details.


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