What is an Innovate UK Smart Grant?

Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the non-departmental public body responsible for research and innovation funding in the UK.

Smart Grant is one of the flagship programmes run by IUK and distributes £25M of funding four times per year for commercially-focussed R&D innovations in the UK:

  • It supports world-leading ideas and game-changing innovations
  • It favours larger disruptions that are not isolated to a specific sector
  • The project must be business-focussed with a realistic strategy to achieve return on investment and growth in the market.

How is a Smart Grant different to Competition funding?

Competition funding provides grants focussed on specific UK government priorities. If your project matches the competition scope, you could apply for Competition funding instead of a Smart Grant.

Smart Grants are an “open grant funding” programme, meaning they have a broader scope than competition funding.

How much can I apply for?

Non-collaborative Smart Grant projects must have a duration of 6 to 18 months and a total project budget of up to £500k. Innovate UK funds 70% of the project costs (up to £350k) and expects the applicant to fund the remaining 30%. Applicants must demonstrate that they have access to these funds before signing the grant agreement. Since payments are made in arrears, successful applicants are expected to demonstrate around a fifth of the total amount applied for in an account or over several accounts before starting (e.g. bank balances of personal/business accounts – this can include a loan you immediately pay back).

For collaborative projects, the total project cost can extend to £2M and last up to 36 months. Innovate UK will allocate grant funding to each project partner to a total of up to 70% of the project costs.

Who can apply for a Smart Grant?

Any UK-registered micro, small, or medium-sized enterprise (SME) is eligible to apply, according to the Companies House definition. In short, the company must meet at least two of the following conditions:

  • An annual turnover of less than £36 million
  • A balance sheet total less than £18 million
  • The average number of employees must be less than 250

The proposed project must be carried out entirely in the UK, and the project results should primarily be exploited from or in the UK. Companies must demonstrate that they are contributing to UK priorities and that they represent good value for money to the UK taxpayer.

Please contact us if you are not sure or want to ask more about the eligibility criteria.

What is the technology readiness level (TRL), and what TRL is required?

Technology readiness level (TRL) measures the state of development of an innovation project, ranging from 0 to 9, with 9 being the highest level of technology, i.e., the most mature one. You can read more about TRL here.

Innovate UK is primarily focused on supporting innovations that are between TRL 3 and TRL 6. It funds feasibility studies, industrial research, and experimental development.

What is the business readiness level (BRL), and what BRL is required?

Business readiness level (BRL, sometimes referred to as market readiness level, MRL) is the state of development of the business. It is measured on a scale of 0-9, with 9 being the most mature. BRL is largely concerned with market traction and customer engagement.Innovate UK accepts applications from very young businesses at BRL 1. However, it is considered a strength to demonstrate some market traction. Strata recommends applicants achieve a BRL between 2 and 4 before applying. You can read more about BRL here.

Should I write my own application, or should I hire a consultant?

This is a difficult question to answer, and there is a lot to consider. Smart Grant proposals are relatively long (typically 15+ pages of plain text plus annexes) and require substantial detail. Companies should consider whether they can dedicate the time and talent to writing a sufficiently detailed proposal, whether they have the skills required, and whether they can afford a consultancy. They should consider the internal opportunity cost (can they afford to dedicate a team to spend 4-8 weeks preparing the application). They should also consider reaching out to a consultancy to assess the quality of their project and whether it is likely to be funded.

If you have any questions about applying with Strata, please contact us for a free consultation.

How much does it cost to submit a Smart Grant application?

It is completely free to submit an application. However, applicants should consider the opportunity cost of preparing a long and detailed application. Working with a consultancy like Strata can save you time and resources and improve your chances of success. Most consultancies, including Strata, charge an “entrance/writing fee”, which is typically quite affordable and includes all writing and application services, and a “success fee”, which is only paid once you receive the funding. Strata negotiates these fees on a case-by-case basis taking your company’s financial situation into consideration. Please contact us for a free consultation and a quote.

When is the deadline for applications, and how long do they take to prepare?

There are typically four Smart Grant cut-offs per year, spaced roughly evenly. You should expect to spend 4-8 weeks gathering information and preparing and refining your application.

How long does it take to receive the funding?

Successful applicants are typically notified approximately two months after the application deadline, and projects should begin within four months of the application deadline.

Smart Grants are paid on a reimbursement basis and can be claimed quarterly in arrears. You will work with a monitoring officer who will ensure you remain compliant with the terms and conditions of the award and who will arrange audits of your claims. Strata can also assist you throughout the process to ensure everything runs smoothly.

Since payments are made in arrears, successful applicants are expected to demonstrate around a fifth of the total amount applied for in an account or over several accounts before starting (e.g. bank balances of personal/business accounts – this can include a loan you immediately pay back).

Can two companies apply together?

Collaborative projects are possible, but they have slightly different eligibility criteria. Please contact us for more information.

Can I apply as a consortium with a university, charity, or large organisation?

Yes. However, there are certain rules and restrictions. Most crucially, the lead applicant must fulfil the eligibility criteria of a lone applicant, i.e. a UK-registered SME. It is also worth noting that not-for-profit organisations can receive higher reimbursement rates than companies but cannot be the lead applicant. Larger companies are usually subject to lower reimbursement rates.

Can I resubmit a rejected proposal?

Yes, proposals can be resubmitted only once. If you make material changes to your proposal, it can be submitted as a brand-new application.

What is the assessment process?

Applications are marked by a minimum of three independent assessors who are bound by confidentiality agreements. Assessors are chosen based on their expertise and considering any potential conflicts of interest. Each assessor submits a score sheet with comments, which forms the application feedback. The assessment is moderated, and any outlying scores are remarked by a new assessor.

Once all the applications are scored, the highest ranking applications are selected for funding, subject to a minimum quality threshold.

What are the evaluation criteria?

The assessors use a scoring matrix considering several key criteria:

  1. Approach and innovation
    Innovation should be at the heart of your proposal. You should be delivering step changes to multiple sectors by developing something completely novel.
  2. Value proposition
    Make sure it is clear to your assessors how your technology is improving on the existing state-of-the-art with evidence-backed arguments written in understandable language.
  3. Business case
    The assessor is looking to understand the need for your innovation, the customer demand, and the potential business opportunity. It is essential you demonstrate both market awareness and some level of customer engagement.
  4. Project management
    The assessor will be looking to understand the technical and business approaches you are using to commercialise the innovation. In particular, they want to ensure you can guarantee the project will run smoothly with the highest chance of success.
  5. Risks
    Risk is not a bad thing for Smart, but the risks need to be well described and mitigated. These are covered in a maximum two-page appendix attached to your application.
  6. Added value and clear need for support
    Here you must demonstrate why public money should be used for your project. Why can you not finance it with your current funds or through commercial investment?

Assessors will score each section of your proposal according to their individual interpretation of the project and its relation to the above criteria. 

What is the success rate of Innovate UK Smart Grants?

Smart Grants are highly competitive, with success rates of 5-10%. The application form is vague, and several “hidden” criteria need to be covered in a successful application. There are guidelines available on the Innovate UK website, but many applicants miss some key points if they are new to Innovate UK. Studies have shown that applying with a consultancy can significantly increase your chances of success.

What feedback can we expect for the applications?

Companies receive detailed feedback on their applications, including many comments from the assessors. If you are unsuccessful, the feedback is extremely helpful in preparing a resubmission.

What does the Smart Grant application look like?

The main component of the Smart Grant proposal is a series of plain text questions on the Innovate UK portal. The questions are left intentionally vague, with plenty of space for discussion. However, assessors are assessing key criteria, and it is essential that you cover several specific points in each question. There are guidelines on the Innovate UK website for each question and you should work through them carefully.

You must also submit a two-page work packages appendix and a two-page risk register appendix with your application and complete the online budgeting form on the Innovate UK portal.

The plain text questions are:

  1. Scope and project summary (400 words)
    How does your project align with the scope of this competition?
  1. Your idea and innovation (600 words)
    What is your idea and innovation, and why is it game-changing?
  1. Justification for funding (400 words)
    Why is your innovation and proposal suitable for Smart funding, and why do you need public funding to help you succeed?
  1. The potential market (400 words)
    What is your target market, and what is your strategy for securing the market opportunity you have identified, including your route to market and commercialisation of project outputs?
  1. Impact and benefits (600 words)

What will be the impact of receiving the grant, both for your business and outside your organisation?

  1. Delivering your project (400 words)

Who is in the project team, why do you have the right skills and experience to succeed, and how will you successfully deliver your project?

  1. Value for money (400 words)

How will you spend your grant funding, and how does this represent good value for money for the taxpayer?

Are there any “hidden” questions?

Yes. There are many specific points that you must cover in your application that are not necessarily obvious from the questions. Pay attention to all the resources available on the Innovate UK website to guide applicants and consider asking a consultancy like Strata to review your application. Assessors are also looking for a level of detail that may surprise some applicants. 

For example, in question 4, “the potential market”, it is essential that you size the market accurately and include your bottom-up calculations. In question 5, “impact and benefits”, it is advantageous to mention how your solution can impact users from a variety of demographics and socioeconomic backgrounds and mention how the impact will be measured and quantified.

How much detail should be included in the work packages and risk register?

Assessors will study the appendices in detail, and your project officer will monitor them closely during your project (if you are funded). It is essential to include details of milestones and deliverables so that Innovate UK can keep track of your project. The risk register is an opportunity for you to demonstrate you are 100% to complete the project and commercialise your innovation. You should aim to include technical and business risks that demonstrate your understanding and that you have suitable mitigations in place.

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