top of page
  • Writer's pictureDaniel Forrest

Innovate UK Smart Grants January 2021

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

Competition opens: Thursday 21 January 2021

Competition closes: Wednesday 26 May 2021 11:00 am

Opportunity for UK registered organisations to apply for a share of up to £25 million from Innovate UK to deliver game-changing and commercially viable R&D innovation that can significantly impact the UK economy.

Project Size: £25,000 - £2 million

Project Length: 6 - 36 months

Award: Share of up to £25 million

Programme: Innovate UK



Smart is Innovate UK’s ‘Open grant funding’ programme. Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, is investing up to £25 million in the best game-changing and commercially viable innovative or disruptive ideas. All proposals must be business focused.

Applications can come from any area of technology and be applied to any part of the economy, such as, but not exclusively:

  • the arts, design and media

  • creative industries

  • science or engineering

Whilst Innovate UK welcome projects that overlap with the grand challenge areas this is not a requirement, as Innovate UK are also keen to support projects in other areas. To monitor the impact of our work to promote equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) Innovate UK need to collect relevant data and evidence. For this competition this means:

  • all applicants are required to complete the EDI survey

  • applicants are prompted to consider EDI as part of the application process

EDI considerations are highly encouraged where appropriate in the proposal. Applications will continue to be assessed on their innovation merit, where innovation is defined as the potential for commercially successful exploitation of ideas. In applying to this competition, you are entering into a competitive process. This competition closes at 11am UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type Grant

Project size Projects of 6 - 18 months must have total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £500,000 and can be single or collaborative. Projects of 19 - 36 months must have total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £2 million and must be collaborative.



Your project Your project must:

  • include at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) as the lead or a collaborative grant claiming partner

  • start by 1 November 2021

  • end by 30 November 2024

  • follow specific rules dependent on it’s duration

If your project’s duration is 6 to 18 months:

  • it must have total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £500,000

  • it can be single or collaborative

If your project’s duration is 19 to 36 months, it must:

  • have total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £2 million

  • be collaborative

If you want to submit a collaborative project from 19 months to 36 months duration with total eligible project costs of up to £3 million as a permitted exception, you must email You must provide full justification at least 10 working days before the competition closes. Innovate UK will decide whether to approve your request. Unless you have already received our authorisation, any application submitted that does not meet the criteria will be marked as ineligible and will not be sent for assessment.

Lead organisation To lead a project you must:

  • be a UK registered business of any size or a research and technology organisation (RTO)

  • be an SME if you want to work alone

  • include at least one SME if you are a large business or RTO and wish to collaborate with other UK registered businesses, research organisations, academic organisations, public sector organisations or charities

  • carry out all your project activity in the UK

  • intend to commercially exploit the project results from or in the UK

Academic institutions cannot lead or work alone. Find out which definition your organisation falls into. Single applicants must claim funding. If the project is collaborative, the lead and at least one other UK registered organisation must claim funding and enter costs as part of the application.

Project team To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business, academic organisation, charity, public sector organisation or a research and technology organisation (RTO)

  • carry out its project work in the UK

  • intend to commercially exploit the project results from or in the UK

  • be invited to take part by the lead applicant

Each partner organisation must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service (IFS) by the lead to collaborate on a project. Once accepted, partners must enter their own project costs into IFS. Your project can include partners that do not receive any of this competition’s funding. Their costs will count towards the total eligible project costs, but they will not count as collaborators.

Subcontractors Subcontractors are allowed in this competition and must be selected through a participant’s normal procurement process. Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK, must be based in the UK for the duration of the project and their portion of the project work must be carried out in the UK. Innovate UK expect subcontractor costs to be justified and appropriate to the total eligible project costs. Without meeting these criteria, subcontractor’s contribution would be deemed ineligible.

Number of applications Businesses or RTOs can only lead on one application. Any subsequent applications submitted with the same lead will not be forwarded for assessment. All partners can collaborate on any number of applications. Research and technology organisations (RTOs) If you are an RTO then the following rules apply:

  1. To lead you must have 2 or more business collaborators (one SME, and one other business of any size).

  2. There must be a credible route to market for the output of the project, and since the purpose of RTOs is to speed up the progress of those using their services, this is expected to be through the partners, rather than through the RTO itself.

  3. If you are a project partner, you can participate as either a research organisation, and receive 100% grant, or as a business entity, and be reimbursed a percentage of your eligible costs, depending upon your size and the nature of the work.

  4. If participating as a business, you must show that the match funding you are providing comes from entirely private sector sources, across all projects you are involved in. You must also be able to show how you will exploit the results of the project to grow the wider sector.

Previous applications You can use a previously submitted unsuccessful application to apply for this competition. You can make a maximum of 2 submissions to Innovate UK with any given proposal. If Innovate UK judges that your proposal is not materially different from your previous proposal, it will be counted towards this maximum. If your application goes through to assessment and is deemed unsuccessful, you can reapply with the same proposal once more, taking into account the feedback received from the assessors. Innovate UK will not award you funding if you have:

  • failed to exploit a previously funded project

  • an overdue independent accountant’s report

  • failed to comply with grant terms and conditions

Subsidy control This competition provides funding in line with the UK's obligations and commitments to Subsidy Control. It is your responsibility to make sure your organisation is eligible to receive this funding. Innovate UK is unable to award grant funding to organisations that are considered to be in financial difficulty. Innovate UK will request evidence to confirm this is not the case following the application stage. Upon confirmation by Innovate UK of your award, any UK registered organisations claiming funding must be eligible to receive the award. Further information about the UK Subsidy Control requirements can be found within the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation agreement and the subsequent BEIS guidance. If you are unsure about the regulations and your obligations, please take legal advice. You must ensure at all times that the funding awarded to you is compliant with any legislation applicable in the United Kingdom on or after 1 January 2021. This aims to regulate any advantage granted by a public sector body which threatens to or actually distorts competition in the United Kingdom and/or any other country or countries. If there are any changes within the above requirements that would necessitate changing the terms of this competition, Innovate UK will inform you as soon as possible.

Eligibility overview Here is a diagram showing a summary of eligibility. This is a new way of showing you eligibility. Eligibility Tree SMART JAN21 v1.pdf (opens in a new window)

Funding Innovate UK have allocated up to £25 million to fund innovation projects in this competition. If your organisation’s work on the project is mostly commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically. For feasibility studies and industrial research projects, your organisation could get funding for eligible project costs of:

  • up to 70% if you are a micro or small organisation

  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized organisation

  • up to 50% if you are a large organisation

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get funding for your organisations eligible project costs of:

  • up to 45% if you are a micro or small organisation

  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized organisation

  • up to 25% if you are a large organisation

The research organisations in your consortium undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation undertaking non-economic activity, this maximum is shared between them.



Your proposal must demonstrate:

  • a clear game-changing, innovative, disruptive, and ambitious idea leading to new products, processes or services

  • an idea that is significantly ahead of others in the field, set for rapid commercialisation

  • a strong and deliverable business plan that addresses (and documents) market potential and needs

  • a clear, evidence based plan to deliver significant economic impact, return on investment (ROI) and growth through commercialisation, as soon as possible after project completion

  • a team, business arrangement or working structure with the necessary skills and experience to run and complete the project successfully and on time

  • awareness of all the main risks the project will face (including contractor or equipment failure, recruitment delays, etc) with realistic management, mitigation and impact minimisation plans for each risk

  • clear, considerable potential to significantly impact either or both, the UK economy and productivity in a positive way

  • sound, practical financial plans and timelines that represent good value for money, which will always be a consideration in Innovate UK funding decisions

Specific themes Innovate UK strongly encourage applications to demonstrate realistic, significant potential for global markets. Proposals from innovation-based businesses with significant ambition and potential for growth or scale-up are welcomed by Innovate UK. Where possible, projects should take customer and user needs into account to deliver more desirable and useful solutions.

Research categories Innovate UK will fund innovative research and development (R&D) projects across a variety of technologies, markets and research categories, including:

Projects Innovate UK will not fund Innovate UK will not fund proposals that do not:

  • meet the competition eligibility or scope

  • address the size, potential and access to market for the innovation

  • evidence the potential for their idea or concept to lead to significant return on investment (ROI), positive economic impact, growth and scale-up of the business

Innovate UK will not fund commercialisation activities.


bottom of page