Funding competition Defra Farming Innovation Investor Partnership

UK registered SMEs can apply for a share of up to £5 million to develop innovative farming solutions. This must align with private investment from selected investor partners.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections

Description

Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will work with The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to invest up to £5 million in innovation projects.

This funding is linked to Defra's Farming Innovation Programme which is a partnership with UKRI's Transforming Food Production Challenge and delivered by Innovate UK.

The aim of this competition is to:

  • develop ambitious late-stage innovative solutions, technologies, systems or approaches that will make significant steps towards improving productivity, increasing sustainability and resilience, and helping the agriculture sector move towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050
  • support late-stage experimental development projects being close to market and ultimately adoption by farmers

Your proposal must be able to demonstrate how the project will benefit farmers, growers or foresters in England.

To be offered grant funding your project must:

  • be assessed as eligible for grant funding
  • have secured aligned investment with a lead investor from the pool

You can view the areas of expertise and investment preferences for the investors here.

You can apply for this competition before you speak to an investor but initiating dialogue with investors is encouraged.

In addition to investment, the lead investors in the pool can provide you with commercial acumen in, for example:

  • leadership
  • market access
  • skills
  • resources

Successful UK registered SME’s will receive:

  • grant funding from Innovate UK
  • aligned investment funding with one of the programme’s pool of investors acting as the lead investor

Your proposal must be able to demonstrate how the project will benefit farmers, growers or foresters in England.

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

Investor Partnerships

Project size

Your project’s total costs must be between £750,000 and £3 million.

Who can apply

Your project

If you are successful, any awards given to primary agricultural producers are subject to the green box exemption under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture.

Please see further guidance on green box subsidies here WTO guidance for support in agriculture. Applicants receiving this type of support must ensure that there is minimal to no distortion of trade and comply with the requirements of Annex 2 of the Agriculture Agreement.

Your project must:

  • have total costs between £750,000 and £3 million
  • start by 1 April 2024
  • last 18 months
  • carry out all of its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • be able to demonstrate how it will benefit farmers, growers or foresters in England

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:

More information on the different types of organisation can be found in our Funding rules.

Subcontractors

Subcontractors are allowed in this competition.

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

You can use subcontractors from overseas but must make the case in your application as to why you could not use suppliers from the UK.

You must provide a detailed rationale, evidence of the potential UK contractors you approached and the reasons why they were unable to work with you. We will not accept a cheaper cost as a sufficient reason to use an overseas subcontractor.

All subcontractor costs must be justified and appropriate to the total project costs.

Number of applications

A business can only lead on one application in this competition.

Use of animals in research and innovation

Innovate UK expects and supports the provision and safeguarding of welfare standards for animals used in research and innovation, according to best practice and up to date guidance.

Applicants must ensure that all of the proposed work within projects, both in the UK and internationally, will comply with the UKRI guidance on the use of animals in research and innovation.

Any projects selected for funding which involve animals will be asked to provide additional information on welfare and ethical considerations and compliance with any relevant legislation as part of the project start-up process. This information will be reviewed before an award is made.

Previous applications

You can use a previously submitted application to apply for this competition.

We will not award you funding if you have:

Subsidy control (and State aid where applicable)

This competition provides funding in line with the Subsidy Control Act 2022. Further information about the Subsidy requirements can be found within the Subsidy Control Act 2022 (legislation.gov.uk).

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 Subsidy Control Act 2022 or the State aid rules, you should take independent legal advice. We are unable to advise on individual eligibility or legal obligations.

You must always 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.

Funding

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has allocated up to £5 million, working in partnership with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Transforming Food Production Challenge, to fund innovation projects in this competition. This competition is delivered by Innovate UK and 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 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

For more information on company sizes, please refer to the company accounts guidance.

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.

Aligned private investment

You must agree the private investment through a lead investor and reach heads of terms by 17 January 2024.

The aligned private investment:

  • must provide you with suitable capital at least twice the amount of the grant requested to complete your project and support company growth and scale ambitions
  • can be directed for use in your company, whereas the grant is to support the project only
  • can be used to fund additional costs typically ineligible for support by Innovate UK
  • must be provided under commercial terms negotiated with the lead investor and not Innovate UK

The investment can be in the form of either direct equity investment or a convertible loan. It must come from a lead investor, from the pool of investors associated with this programme. The lead investor may decide to syndicate with other investors from within or outside of the pool.

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to:

  • develop ambitious late-stage innovative solutions, technologies, systems or approaches that will make significant steps towards improving productivity, increasing sustainability and resilience, and helping the agriculture sector move towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050
  • support late-stage experimental development projects being close to market and ultimately adoption by farmers

Your proposal must:

  • demonstrate your ambition to finalise a late-stage innovation
  • show your potential to grow and scale your business through successful negotiation of investment from a lead investor associated with the competition
  • provide a coherent project plan which integrates into your business strategy

Your solutions must significantly improve farm focused:

  • productivity
  • sustainability and the environmental impact
  • progression towards net zero emissions
  • resilience

Your project must be able to demonstrate how the project will benefit farmers, growers or foresters in England.

Portfolio approach
We want to fund a variety of projects across markets and review investments for additionality and risk. We call this a portfolio approach. We will show preference to applications and investments that demonstrate greater additionality and reduced risk alongside those with a higher ratio of investment to grant.

Specific themes

Your project must address a significant industry challenge or opportunity in at least one of the industry subsectors below:

  • livestock
  • plants
  • novel food production systems
  • bioeconomy and agroforestry

Research categories

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

Projects we will not fund

We are not funding projects that:

  • are not carried out by single SMEs
  • are collaborative research and development (R&D) projects
  • are not part of a company’s growth plan
  • are unable to prove there is potential for return on investment and growth
  • do not benefit farmers, growers or foresters in England
  • are equine specific
  • involve wild caught fisheries
  • involve aquaculture for fish production or human consumption
  • involve cellular or acellular production systems, fermentation systems for bacteria, yeast or fungi for human consumption
  • are for the production of crops or plants for medicinal or pharmaceutical use

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

24 July 2023
Competition opens
25 July 2023
Online briefing event: watch the recording
30 August 2023 11:00am
Competition closes
6 October 2023
Notification of projects above Innovate UK threshold
17 January 2024
Deadline to reach heads of terms with lead investor
9 February 2024
Applicants notified
9 February 2024
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

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

Projects will be notified of their scoring following Innovate UK assessment and potential opportunity to receive grant funding. This will be conditional on reaching heads of terms with an eligible investor partner and the availability of Innovate UK funding.

What we ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

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

Accessibility and inclusion

We welcome and encourage applications from people of all backgrounds and are committed to making our application process accessible to everyone. This includes providing support, in the form of reasonable adjustments, for people who have a disability or a long-term condition and face barriers applying to us. Watch the video on how we are making our application process more accessible and inclusive for everyone.

You must contact us as early as possible in the application process. We recommend contacting us at least 15 working days before the competition closing date to ensure we can provide you with the most suitable support possible.

You can contact us by emailing support@iuk.ukri.org or calling 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.

Project summary

Describe your project briefly and be clear about what makes it innovative. We use this section to assign the right experts to assess your application.

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.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Scope

Describe how your project fits the scope of the competition. If your project is not in scope it will not be sent for assessment. We will tell you the reason why.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

2. Application questions

The assessors will score all your answers apart from question 1 and 2. You will receive feedback for each scored question. Find out more about how our assessors assess and how we select applications for funding.

You must answer all questions. Your answer to each question can be up to 400 words long. 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

We are collecting this information to understand the geographical location of all participants of a project.

Question 2. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (not scored)

How have you incorporated equality, diversity and inclusion into your project delivery and project outcomes?

Describe any challenges or opportunities relating to equality, diversity and inclusion arising from your project and the methods and approaches used to address them:

  • during project delivery
  • for governance
  • for the project team and advisory boards
  • for stakeholder and end-user engagement
  • for design thinking

Note: Questions relating to equality, diversity and inclusion will not form part of the funding decision but will be used to inform the development of EDI activities for the competition cohort.

Question 3. Need or challenge

What is the business need, technological challenge, or market opportunity behind your innovation?

Explain:

  • the main motivation for the project
  • the business problem, need, technological challenge or market opportunity identified
  • how your project will support the development of ambitious late-stage innovative solutions to technologies, systems or approaches that will make significant steps towards improving productivity, increasing sustainability and resilience, and help the agriculture sector move towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050
  • how your project outputs links to farmers, growers, agri-businesses, and other potential end users and demonstrate the likely benefit or application of the project outcomes in the English farming sector
  • the wider economic, social, environmental, cultural or political challenges which are influential in creating the opportunity
  • how the grant and aligned private investment will enable you to grow and scale beyond the project

Question 4. Approach and innovation

What approach will you take and where will the focus of the innovation be?

Explain:

  • how you will respond to the need, challenge or opportunity identified
  • whether the innovation will focus on existing technologies in new areas, the development of new technologies for existing areas or a totally disruptive approach
  • the freedom you have to operate
  • how this project fits with your current product, service lines or offerings
  • how it will make you more competitive
  • the nature of the outputs you expect from the project (for example, report, demonstrator, know-how, new process, product or service design) and how these will help you to target the need, challenge or opportunity identified

You can submit one appendix to support your answer. It 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.

Question 5. Team and resources

Who is in the project team and what are their roles?

Explain:

  • the roles, skills and experience of all members of the project team that are relevant to the approach you will be taking
  • 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 carry out the project
  • any roles you will need to recruit for

You can submit one appendix with a short summary of the main people working on your project to support your answer. It must be a PDF, up to 4 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 6. Market awareness

What does the market you are targeting look like?

Describe:

  • the target markets for the project outcomes and any other potential markets (domestic, international or both)
  • the size of the target markets for the project outcomes, backed up by references where available
  • the structure and dynamics of the target markets, including customer segmentation, together with predicted growth rates within clear timeframes
  • the target markets’ main supply or value chains and business models, and any barriers to entry that exist
  • the current UK position in targeting these markets
  • the size and main features of any other markets not already listed

Question 7. Outcomes and route to market

How are you going to grow your business and increase long term productivity as a result of the project?

Explain:

  • your current position in the markets and supply or value chains outlined, and whether you will be extending or establishing your market position
  • your target customers or end users, and the value to them, for example, why they would use or buy your product
  • your route to market
  • how you are going to profit from the innovation, including increased revenues or cost reduction
  • how the innovation will affect your productivity and growth, in both the short and the long term
  • how you will protect and exploit the outputs of the project, for example through know-how, patenting, designs or changes to your business model
  • your strategy for targeting the other markets you have identified during or after the project

Question 8. Competitors and barriers

Who else is operating in this space and what barriers may limit your ability to exploit your project output?

Explain:

  • the process you have completed to evaluate the work of competitors including those near market, or in development
  • who your main competitors are and how does your proposal build on, or differentiate from their offerings
  • where applicable, what regulatory, cultural or other barriers exist both in the UK and internationally and how you will overcome them to fully exploit this opportunity

Question 9. Wider impacts

What impact might this project have outside the project team?

Describe and, where possible, measure the economic benefits from the project such as productivity increases and import substitution, to:

  • external parties
  • customers
  • others in the supply chain
  • broader industry
  • the UK economy

Describe and, where possible, measure:

  • any expected impact on government priorities
  • any expected environmental impacts, either positive or negative
  • any expected regional impacts of the project

Describe any expected social impacts, either positive or negative on, for example:

  • quality of life
  • social inclusion or exclusion
  • jobs, such as safeguarding, creating, changing or displacing them
  • education
  • public empowerment
  • health and safety
  • regulations
  • diversity

Question 10. Project management

How will you manage your project effectively?

Explain:

  • the main work packages of your project and the total cost of each one
  • your approach to project management, identifying any major tools and mechanisms you will use to get a successful and innovative project outcome
  • the management reporting lines
  • your project plan in enough detail to identify any links or dependencies between work packages or milestones

You must submit a project plan or Gantt chart as an appendix to support your answer. 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.

Question 11. Risks

What are the main risks for this project?

Describe:

  • the main risks and uncertainties of the project, including the technical, commercial, managerial and environmental risks
  • how you will mitigate these risks
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, such as resources, expertise, and data sets
  • any output likely to be subject to regulatory requirements, certification, ethical issues and so on, and how you will manage this

You must submit a risk register as an appendix to support your answer. 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.

Question 12. Costs and value for money

How much will the project cost and how does it represent value for money for the team and the taxpayer?

In terms of your project goals, explain:

  • your total project costs
  • the grant you are requesting
  • how you will finance their contributions to your project
  • how this project represents value for money for you and the taxpayer
  • how it compares to what you would spend your money on otherwise
  • any subcontractor costs and why they are critical to your project

Question 13. Added value and investment requirement

What impact would the public funding and secured investment have on the businesses involved?

Explain:

  • whether the project could go ahead in any form without public funding and if so, the difference the public funding would make, such as a faster route to market or reduced risk
  • why you are not able to fund the project from your own resources and why you are seeking private sector aligned investment, and what would happen if the application is unsuccessful
  • how the project would change the nature of R&D activity and subsequent ability to grow and scale
  • your activities to enhance your investor readiness
  • any existing or past investment in your business
  • any discussions underway with investors, including for this round or for future funding

You must submit a one-page investment profile as an appendix to support your answer. This must describe your investment requirements and supporting information including all of the following and any additional relevant information:

  • funding received
  • ask or use of funds
  • team
  • traction
  • problem and solution
  • market
  • business or revenue model
  • financial projections
  • contact details

This profile will be shared with all the investors associated with this Investor Partnership competition. Please do not include any confidential information.

If you need help to prepare a one-page investment summary, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) or follow their guide.

It must be a PDF and must be 1 A4 page long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

3. Finances

Each organisation in your project must complete their own project costs, organisation details and funding details in the application.

For full details on what costs you can claim see our project costs guidance. You can also view our Application Finances video.

Background and further information

Lead investor pool

Innovate UK has carefully selected lead investors that:

  • have established agri-tech, food-tech, social, impact and clean growth knowledge
  • have demonstrated they have the necessary capability, capacity, investment appetite and interest in novel, resource efficient, low-emission food production systems
  • have demonstrated good financial standing
  • are from the UK and overseas

Defra’s partnership with UKRI

This funding is from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Farming Innovation Programme, and is being delivered in partnership with Innovate UK’s Transforming Food Production (TFP) Challenge.

The Farming Innovation Programme will fund ambitious research and development projects to overcome barriers and create a more productive and sustainable sector.

Projects will benefit England’s farmers, growers, foresters and other businesses to conduct R&D to help boost productivity, enhance sustainable practices, improve environmental outcomes and reduce carbon emissions in England’s agricultural and horticultural sectors.

The programme provides a key means to deliver against the government’s goals. The goals are set out in the Agricultural Transition Plan, 25 Year Environment Plan, Environmental Improvement Plan and Net Zero targets. It aims to develop a renewed agricultural sector, producing healthy food for consumption at home and abroad, where farms can be profitable and economically sustainable without subsidy. This gives farming the opportunity to contribute significantly to environmental goals, including addressing climate change.

Data sharing

This competition is jointly operated by Innovate UK, and The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) (each an “agency”).

Any relevant information submitted and produced during the application process concerning your application can be shared by one agency with the other, for its individual storage, processing and use.

This means that any information given to or generated by Innovate UK in respect of your application may be passed on to Defra and vice versa. This would include, but is not restricted to:

  • the information stated on the application, including the personal details of all applicants
  • scoring and feedback on the application
  • information received during the management and administration of the grant, such as Monitoring Officer reports and Independent Accountant Reports

Innovate UK and Defra are directly accountable to you for their holding and processing of your information, including any personal data and confidential information. Data is held in accordance with their own policies. Accordingly, Innovate UK, and Defra 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 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 with this application, you will 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.

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
  • an exploitation plan

In order for us to process your claims, you must make sure you have a valid UK bank account. It is possible that it can take several weeks for a new account to be created. We would recommend starting this process as early as possible to avoid any delays to you project start date.

The bank details you give to us must 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 following notification.

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 or your project has not been selected under the portfolio approach if this is applied for this competition.

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