Funding competition Innovate UK Smart Grants: October 2022

UK registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £25 million for game-changing and commercially viable R&D innovation that can significantly impact the UK economy. This funding is from Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation.

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Competition sections

Description

Smart is Innovate UK’s responsive grant funding programme. It has focused eligibility criteria and scope to support SMEs and their partners to develop disruptive innovations with significant potential for rapid economic return to the UK.

Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, is investing up to £25 million in the best game-changing and world-leading ideas, designed for swift, successful commercialisation. Ideas need to be genuinely new and novel, not just disruptive within their sector.

Your proposal must be business focused, with deliverable, realistic, adequately resourced plans to achieve return on investment, growth and market share following project completion.

Questions for this round of Smart reflect the importance of obtaining economic benefits from public funding, and the potential for successful commercialisation, growth and exports.

Applications can come from any area of technology and be applied to any part of the economy, such as, but not exclusively, net zero, the arts, design and media.

In applying to this competition, you are entering into a highly competitive process where your chance of success in securing funding will depend on the number and quality of applications submitted.

This competition closes at 11am UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type

Grant

Project size

Projects of 6 to 18 months must have total project costs of between £100,000 and £500,000 and can be single or collaborative. Projects of 19 to 36 months must have total project costs of between £100,000 and £2 million and must be collaborative.

Who can apply

Your project

If your application does not meet the eligibility criteria for this competition, it will be marked as ineligible and will not be sent for assessment.

Your project must:

  • start by 1 July 2023
  • end by 30 June 2026
  • include at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) as the lead or a collaborative grant claiming partner
  • follow specific rules dependent on its duration
  • carry out all of its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

The end by date is the date by which all funding for this round of the competition must end. Your contracted project end date will not be extended.

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

  • have total project costs between £100,000 and £500,000
  • be single or collaborative

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

  • have total project costs between £100,000 and £2 million
  • be collaborative

You must only include eligible project costs in your application.

Under current restrictions, this competition will not fund any procurement, commercial, business development or supply chain activity with any Russian and Belarusian entity as lead, partner or subcontractor. This includes any goods or services originating from a Russian and Belarusian source.

Lead organisation

To lead a project your organisation must:

If the lead organisation is an RTO it must collaborate with 2 businesses (one SME and one business of any size) and there must be a credible route to market for the output of the project. 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.


Project team

To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must be one of the following UK registered:

  • business of any size
  • academic institution
  • charity
  • not for profit
  • public sector organisation
  • research and technology organisation (RTO)

Each partner organisation must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service by the lead to collaborate on a project. Once accepted, partners will be asked to login or to create an account and enter their own project costs into the Innovation Funding Service.

If collaborative, to be an eligible collaboration, the lead and at least one other organisation must apply for funding when entering their costs into the application.

Subcontractors

Subcontractors are allowed in this competition.

Subcontractors 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. Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK and you must select them through your usual procurement process.

All subcontractor costs must be justified and appropriate to the total project costs. Without meeting these criteria, a subcontractor’s contribution would be ineligible.

Please note that for the purposes of this competition the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are crown dependencies and not classed as part of the UK. Subcontractors located there 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.

Previous applications

You can use a previously submitted 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.

We will not award you funding if you have:

Subsidy control (and State aid where applicable)

This competition provides funding in line with the UK's obligations and commitments to Subsidy Control. Further information about the UK Subsidy Control requirements can be found within the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation agreement and the subsequent guidance from the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Innovate UK is unable to award organisations that are considered to be in financial difficulty. We will conduct financial viability and eligibility tests to confirm this is not the case following the application stage.

EU State aid rules now only apply in limited circumstances. Please see our general guidance to check if these rules apply to your organisation.

Further Information

If you are unsure about your obligations under the UK Subsidy Control regime or the State aid rules, you should take independent legal advice. We are unable to advise on individual eligibility or legal obligations.

You must at all times make sure that the funding awarded to you is compliant with all current Subsidy Control legislation applicable in the United Kingdom.
This aims to regulate any advantage granted by a public sector body which threatens to, or actually distorts competition in the United Kingdom or any other country or countries.

If there are any changes to the above requirements that mean we need to change the terms of this competition, we will tell you as soon as possible.

Funding

Up to £25 million has been allocated to fund innovation projects in this competition. Funding will be in the form of a grant.

If your organisation’s work on the project is commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically but for the purpose of this project will be undertaking commercial or economic activity.

For feasibility studies and industrial research projects, you could get funding for your 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 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

For more information on company sizes, please refer to the company accounts guidance. This is a change from the EU definition unless you are applying under State aid.

If you are applying for an award funded under State aid Regulations, the definitions are set out in the European Commission Recommendation of 6 May 2003.

Research participation

The research organisations 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.

Of that 30% you could get funding for your eligible project costs of up to:

  • 80% of full economic costs (FEC) if you are a Je-S registered institution such as an academic
  • 100% of your project costs if you are an RTO, charity, not for profit organisation, public sector organisation or research organisation

Your proposal

The Innovate UK Smart grant funds a cross-sector portfolio of the best game-changing and world-leading projects. It offers funding where other opportunities are not available or appropriate, and where timing is key to ensure swift and successful commercialisation post-project completion.

To be in scope your proposal must demonstrate:

  • a game-changing, innovative and disruptive idea that will lead to new products, processes or services
  • an idea that is significantly ahead of others in the field, set for rapid commercialisation
  • clear potential to positively impact the UK’s position, productivity and competitiveness within the global economy
  • a clear, evidence based business plan to deliver significant economic impact, return on investment (ROI) and growth through commercialisation, as soon as possible after project completion
  • why Smart funding is the right potential funding for your project, and the journey you have already been on to reach the point of application
  • a team with the necessary skills and expertise to deliver the project successfully and on time, and to achieve rapid commercialisation
  • awareness of all the main risks the project will face with realistic management, mitigation and impact minimisation plans for each risk
  • sound, practical financial plans and timelines that represent good value for money, including the funding of post-project activities

Specific themes

Your project must focus on:

  • taking customer and user needs into account to deliver more desirable and useful solutions
  • identifying who is ready to buy your innovation
  • being developed, planned and resourced beyond the end of the Innovate UK funded project, taking into account the focus of any project partners and their existing commitments
  • fitting with and complementing your ongoing business planning and development, product offerings and organisational structure to maximise chances of success

Research categories

We will fund feasibility projects, industrial research projects and experimental development projects, as defined in the guidance on categories of research.

Projects we will not fund

We are not funding projects:

  • that do not meet the competition eligibility or scope
  • where the technology is available or used in another sector
  • that do not address the size, potential and access to market for their innovation
  • that do not evidence the potential for their idea to lead to significant return on investment (ROI), positive economic impact, growth and scale-up of the business
  • that do not provide clear and realistic plans to commercialise their innovation as soon as possible post-project completion
  • where other Innovate UK funding support is available and more appropriate

We will not fund commercialisation activities such as marketing and sales.

We cannot fund projects that are:

  • dependent on export performance – for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it exports a certain quantity of bread to another country
  • dependent on domestic inputs usage – for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it uses 50% UK flour in their product

27 October 2022
Competition opens
3 November 2022
Online briefing event: watch the recording
18 January 2023 11:00am
Competition closes
24 March 2023
Applicants notified

Before you start

You must read the guidance on applying for a competition on the Innovation Funding Service before you start.

Before submitting, it is the lead applicant’s responsibility to make sure:

  • that all the information provided in the application is correct
  • your proposal meets the eligibility and scope criteria
  • all sections of the application are marked as complete
  • if collaborative, that all partners have completed all assigned sections and accepted the terms and conditions (T&Cs)

You can reopen your application once submitted, up until the competition deadline. You must resubmit the application before the competition deadline.

What we ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

  1. Project details.
  2. Application questions.
  3. Finances.

Accessibility and inclusion

Innovate UK is committed to making applications accessible to everyone.

We can provide help for applicants who face barriers when making an application. This might be as a result of a disability, neurodiversity or anything else that makes it difficult to use our services. We can also give help and make other reasonable adjustments within the contracted duration of your project if your application is successful.

If you think you need more support, it is important that you contact our Customer Support Service as early as possible during your application process. You should aim to contact us no later than 15 working days before the competition closing date.

You can email support@iuk.ukri.org or call 0300 321 4357.

Our phone lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

1. Project details

This section provides background for your application and is not scored.

Application team

Decide which organisations will work with you on your project and invite people from those organisations to help complete the application.

Application details

Give your project’s title, start date and duration.

Research category

Select the type of research you will undertake.

Scope and project summary

Describe your project briefly and be clear about what makes it innovative and how it fits with the scope of the competition. This section will set the scene for assessors.

If your project is not in scope it will not be eligible for funding.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Public description

Describe your project in detail and in a way that you are happy to see published. Do not include any commercially sensitive information. If we award your project funding, we will publish this description. This could happen before you start your project.

We will also use this section to assign the right experts to assess your application.

Your answer can be up to 300 words long.

2. Application questions

The assessors will score all your answers apart from question 1. You will receive feedback for each scored question. Find out more about how our assessors assess.

You must answer all questions. Do not include any website addresses (URLs) in your answers.

Question 1. Applicant location (not scored)

You must state the name and full registered address of your organisation, any partners and subcontractors working on your project.

We are collecting this information to understand the geographical location of all applicants.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Question 2. Your idea and innovation

What is your idea and innovation, and why is it game-changing?

Explain in your answer:

  • the specific innovation you propose to develop and how this is clearly different from alternative solutions that are already available
  • the specific need or challenge you propose to address and who would benefit from it immediately and longer term
  • whether the innovation will focus on the development of new solutions for existing areas, or a totally disruptive approach or idea
  • any work you have already done to respond to this need, for example if the project focuses on developing an existing capability or building a new one
  • any challenges or opportunities relating to equality, diversity and inclusion arising from your project
  • how your proposed innovation is distinct and strong enough to be successfully exploited in or from the UK and with the potential over time to achieve significant market share

Your answer can be up to 600 words long.

You must submit an appendix to support the motivation for your project. It can include diagrams or charts to showcase the technical merit of your innovation and highlight how it is world-leading. It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Assessors will be looking for proposals involving a game-changing or disruptive innovation where the innovation need is clearly defined and is different to, or ahead of, alternative solutions. It is not enough to build incrementally on the state of the art; the idea must also have the potential to create new markets or disrupt existing ones in an ambitious way.

A fully developed proposal needs to go beyond presenting a new, novel or commercially viable idea, and should demonstrate a structured and evidenced understanding of the sector and the opportunity identified.

Question 3. Justification for funding

Why is your innovation and proposal suitable for Smart funding, and why do you need public funding to help you succeed?

Smart grants are a highly competitive competition, where only the very best game-changing and disruptive ideas, which score highly, will be successful in securing funding.

Explain in your answer:

  • the journey you have followed to ensure you are ready for Smart grant funding, including any training, support and mentoring you have undertaken
  • any other routes of investment, including alternatives from the public and private sectors, that you have already explored, why they are unsuitable, or why your application was turned down
  • why you consider Smart funding to be the right route for your project, organisation and consortium (where applicable)
  • what will happen to your project if you are not successful in securing Smart funding
  • any other activities your organisation or consortium would pursue if you are not investing resources in this project
  • what clear advantages would public funding offer your project that other routes would not; for example, enabling partnerships, leveraging wider investment, reducing risk and accelerating routes to market. This list is not exhaustive
  • why public funding is justified as a means to fund this project

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Assessors will be looking for applicants who have researched the match between their needs and grant readiness against the scope of the competition before applying for Smart funding. They will also assess the impact that Smart funding will have in terms of what would happen to the project if it did not secure grant support: would it still be able to go ahead albeit with adjustments; would it not be able to go ahead at all. For projects where benefits will accrue to others outside the project, they will look at the unique advantages Smart public funding will bring in de-risking the costs for the applicants.

Question 4. The potential market

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?

Explain in your answer:

  • the size and current structure of the specific markets you are targeting, including international, domestic, or both, supported by current market data
  • the structure and dynamics of the target markets and how your innovation will change or impact these, including customer segmentation, competitors, trends affecting market growth, and predicted growth rates within clear timeframes
  • who is ready to commit to buying your innovation, and how you will ensure significant return on investment (ROI), including evidence from any end user or market research that you have already carried out
  • your agreed plan for exploitation, your proposed route to market and commercialisation, including your business models and any partnerships you have formed or will be looking to form to secure market share
  • the export potential for your project outputs
  • any barriers to entry and how you will overcome these
  • your freedom to operate and your project outcome’s potential for significant but realistic returns

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Assessors will be looking for proposals where the target market and customer base have clearly been researched and defined, and a strong understanding of the potential markets has been presented and evidenced. Route to market and commercialisation plans must demonstrate business skills and planning, the potential for early revenue generation, de-risking the path to significant ROI, and how commercial viability will be achieved. All plans must be realistic, appropriate, and practical for the identified market, including any barriers that exist and provide achievable solutions to show how these will be overcome.

Question 5. Impact and benefits

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

Explain in your answer:

  • the nature of the outputs you expect from your project, for example, reports, demonstrator, know-how, new process, product or service design, and how these will help you to target the need, challenge or opportunity identified
  • how your project fits with your current product, service lines or offerings and how you are going to profit from the innovation, including increased revenues or cost reduction
  • how your innovation will affect your share of the market, productivity and growth, in both the short and the long term
  • the timescale needed to realise these benefits
  • how your innovation will impact on the creation, safeguarding or displacing of jobs, both within your consortium and the wider sector
  • how you will protect and exploit the outputs of the project, for example through know-how, patenting, designs, or changes to your business model
  • the sustained, long term expected impacts on the UK economy, society, and the environment, to your customers, supply chains and the broader sector
  • any expected regional impacts
  • any negative impacts that you have identified, and how you will mitigate against these
  • how you have considered equality, diversity and inclusion in the development and design of your innovation, for example unintended exclusion of minority groups

Your answer can be up to 600 words long.

Assessors will be looking for proposals that deliver and evidence considerable positive impact for the organisations involved and for the wider economy. Impact should be considered at every level, from job security or creation and safer working environments or practices, to developing skills, capacity, increasing market share. Societal, environmental and regional benefits should also be demonstrated and measured, for example benefits to quality of life, public empowerment and waste avoidance.

Question 6. Delivering your project

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?

Explain in your answer:

  • the roles, skills, expertise and experience, including in project and risk management, of all team members, which are relevant to ensuring successful delivery of the project
  • the diversity of the project team that is relevant to your approach, observing confidentiality of protected characteristics
  • your capability to deliver in the required timeframe, given your existing business activities or constraints, and considering no extensions or delays to the project duration are possible for Smart funded projects
  • any roles you will need to recruit for, and how you will promote equality, diversity and inclusion
  • the resources, equipment and facilities needed for the project and how you will access them
  • the details of any vital external parties, including subcontractors, who you will need to work with to successfully complete the project and why these tasks cannot be carried out by project partners
  • if your project is collaborative, the current relationships between project partners and how these will change as a result of the project
  • your approach to project management, identifying any major tools and mechanisms you will use to secure a successful project outcome
  • how your project team will deliver outcomes and impact beyond the life of the project, and how you will ensure swift, successful commercialisation following project completion

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

You must submit two appendices to support your answer.

You must submit a project plan in sufficient detail to identify any links, dependencies or potential duplication between work packages or milestones.

Your appendix can include diagrams and charts. It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

You must also submit a risk register, indicating the main risks for your project, including, but not limited to, technical, commercial, managerial, environmental and, if appropriate, risks associated with COVID-19.

You must include any identified interdependencies between these risks, the likely impact and your mitigation strategy. You should pay particular attention to how you will mitigate project delivery risks with your immediate and extended teams, for example your supply chain or end users.

It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Assessors will be looking for strong and capable project teams, who have clearly shown and evidenced their capacity to deliver the project and outcomes. This must include skills in managing complex R&D projects, financial and risk management and technical skills relating to the nature of the innovation itself.

Project plans should be realistic and should show how progress will be tracked and managed. A comprehensive risk register should give confidence that the project team have the necessary tools and mitigation strategies in place to successfully overcome challenges that may be encountered.

If applicable, relationships between consortium members, and how this will lead to the successful delivery of work packages, should be defined. Post-project strategies for commercialisation should be adequately resourced and should take into account existing business commitments and plans.

Question 7. Value for money

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

Explain in your answer:

  • what the funding will be spent on and how are costs distributed between consortium partners, if applicable
  • a breakdown of costs aligned with tasks or work packages, and how best value for money has been calculated, for example quotation comparison
  • how you and any project partners will fund their contribution to the project and ensure that this is in place, ready for the latest possible start date stated in the competition’s eligibility criteria
  • any subcontractor costs and how these have been calculated
  • how you will fund and resource any post-project activities to continue your journey towards commercialisation
  • any wider support that you may need to access, for example partnerships, private finance and export advice, and how this is critical to project success

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Assessors will be looking for proposals where costs are commensurate with works being carried out, with evidence of how best value for money has been calculated.

Availability of match funding should be agreed by all consortium partners, where applicable, to ensure that the project is able to proceed if successful in this competition. Assessors will also be looking beyond the project to confirm solid financial planning, which will lead to swift commercialisation.

The project must demonstrate it is fully resourced, financed and has plans in place to maximise chances of success, for example, is funding available, is expertise in commercialisation and growth in house or externally provided.

3. Finances

Each organisation in your project must complete their own project costs, organisation details and funding details in the application. Academic institutions must complete and upload a Je-S form.

For full details on what costs you can claim see costs we fund.

Background and further information

Assessment
Your submitted application will be assessed against these criteria

Data sharing

This competition is operated by Innovate UK.

Innovate UK is directly accountable to you for its holding and processing of your information, including any personal data and confidential information. Data is held in accordance with our own policies. Accordingly, Innovate UK will be data controllers for personal data submitted during the application. Innovate UK’s Privacy Policy is accessible here.

Innovate UK complies with the requirements of GDPR, and is committed to upholding the data protection principles, and protecting your information. The Information Commissioner’s Office also has a useful guide for organisations, which outlines the data protection principles.

Find a project partner

If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Innovate UK KTN.

Support for SMEs from Innovate UK EDGE

If you receive an award, you will be contacted about working with an innovation and growth specialist at Innovate UK EDGE. This service forms part of our funded offer to you.

These specialists focus on growing innovative businesses and ensuring that projects contribute to their growth. Working one-to-one, they can help you to identify your best strategy and harness world-class resources to grow and achieve scale.

We encourage you to engage with Innovate UK EDGE, delivered by a knowledgeable and objective specialist near you.

Next steps

If you are successful in this competition, at least one member of your project team must attend a 1 hour briefing webinar within 10 days of receiving your successful notification.

At the webinar we will provide you with detailed information relating to setting up and starting your project. We will tell you about the briefing in your notification letter.

You will then be asked to set up your project.

You must follow the unique link embedded in your email notification. This takes you to your IFS Set Up portal, the tool that Innovate UK uses to gather necessary information before we can allow your project to begin.

Your project must start by 1 July 2023. We cannot extend the start date and you must be able to meet this deadline.

You will need to provide:

  • the name and contact details of your project manager and project finance lead
  • a redacted copy of your bank details
  • a collaboration agreement, if applicable
  • an exploitation plan

In order to process your claims, we need to make sure that the bank details you give to us relate to a UK high street bank that is regulated by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA). The account must have a BACS clearing facility and be in the same company name as your application.

If you have any doubts that your bank account will not meet Innovate UK's funding criteria, you can use the sort code checker. If you input the sort code and find a tick next to the ‘BACS Direct Credit payments can be sent to this sort code’, this will give you an indication that the bank account you hold is acceptable.

Finance checks

We will carry out checks to make sure you are an established company with access to the funds necessary to complete the project.

You must check your IFS portal regularly and respond to any requests we have sent for additional information to avoid any delays.

Failure to complete project setup may result in your grant offer being withdrawn.

Your Grant offer letter (GOL)

Once you have successfully completed project setup, we will issue your GOL.

The GOL will be made available on your IFS portal. You will need to sign and upload this before you start your project.

Your GOL will show the start date for your project, do not start your project before this date. Any costs incurred before your start date cannot be claimed as part of your grant.

If your application is unsuccessful

If you are unsuccessful with your application this time, you can view feedback from the assessors. This will be available to you on your IFS portal by the 10 February 2023.

Sometimes your application will have scored well, and you will receive positive comments from the assessors. You may be unsuccessful as your average score was not above the funding threshold.

Contact us

If you need more information about how to apply or you want to submit your application in Welsh, email support@iuk.ukri.org or call 0300 321 4357.

Our phone lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

Need help with this service? Contact us