Funding competition Design foundations round 1 2018

UK businesses can apply for a share of £1 million for early-stage, human-centred research and design projects to influence future R&D activity.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £1 million to fund early-stage, human-centred research and design projects.

The aim of this competition is to help businesses that want to explore opportunities to innovate based on customer, user and stakeholder needs and behaviours.

It is relevant to businesses wanting to generate new ideas for more useful and desirable products, services or business models. It is also appropriate for businesses that want to test their existing, undeveloped ideas with people, before committing to further research and development (R&D) investment.

Early-stage research and design projects can help businesses decide where to focus their innovation efforts. They can help to communicate ideas and provide evidence of market demand to support a:

  • business case
  • investor proposition or
  • application for R&D funding

Projects must work directly with customers or users to understand their needs and behaviours. These factors ultimately determine market demand and adoption so, by addressing them early, businesses can de-risk their R&D process.

Projects must use proven human-centred research and design processes, such as:

Funding type


Project size

Your project’s total costs can be between £10,000 and £40,000, including the requested grant value and the applicant’s contribution. Projects must start by 1 January 2019, end by 31 March 2019 and last no more than 3 months.

Who can apply

To be eligible to lead a project you must:

  • be a UK-registered business or RTO (non-profit research and technology organisations including catapults)
  • carry out your project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results in or from the UK

Businesses can work alone or in collaboration with project partners. If an RTO is leading the application, they must have at least one business collaborator.

Collaborative project partners can include:

  • businesses
  • universities (higher education institutions)
  • non-profit research and technology organisations (RTOs) including catapults
  • public sector research establishments (PSRE)
  • research council institutes
  • public sector organisations or charities undertaking research activity

The lead organisation must claim funding through this competition. If the project is collaborative, at least one other organisation in the consortium must also claim funding.

Any one business or RTO may lead on one application and partner in a further 2 applications. If a business or RTO is not leading on an application, it can be a collaborator in any number of applications.

Organisations other than businesses or RTOs cannot lead on an application but can collaborate on any number of applications.

Projects may include partners that don’t receive any funding (for example, non-UK businesses). Their costs will count towards the total project costs but they will not count as collaborators.

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole company and were awarded funding by Innovate UK or UK Research and Innovation, but did not make a substantial effort to exploit that award, we will award no more funding to you, in this or any other competition. You will not be able to contest our decision. We will:

  • assess your efforts in the previous competition against your exploitation plan for that project
  • review the monitoring officers’ reports and any other relevant sources for evidence
  • document our decision, which will be made by 3 team members
  • communicate our decision to you in writing

A UK business must be eligible to receive state aid. If you are unsure please take legal advice. For further information please see our general guidance.


We have allocated up to £1 million to fund innovation projects in this competition.

You can apply for a grant to cover:

  • up to 70% of your total project costs if you are a small or micro business
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 50% if you are a large business

If you are sub-contracting:

  • sub-contracting costs must not be more than 70% of the total project costs
  • sub-contractors can be businesses, universities, RTOs, PSREs, research council institutes, public sector organisations or charities.
  • you can work with multiple sub-contractors on a single project
  • all sub-contractors must be named on the application form, and each must have a unique and clearly defined role within the project

All the research organisations on your project combined cannot claim more than 50% of total eligible project costs. This is in any capacity, whether they are contributing as collaborators or subcontractors. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum will be shared between them.

If your project’s total costs or duration fall outside of our eligibility criteria, email us at least 10 days before the competition closes.

Your proposal

Your project must aim to generate new ideas or to user-test and improve existing ones. You must use proven, human-centred research and design processes. You can include activities or work packages to:

  • understand human motivations and behaviour through observation, interviews, role-play, workshops and so on
  • identify high-value innovation opportunities and define what makes a desirable, fit for purpose solution
  • create ideas for new or significantly improved products or services
  • test and improve ideas by using fast, low-cost visuals, prototypes or simulations
  • clearly communicate ideas ready for further investment and R&D activity
  • document your findings to support further investment pitches or funding applications

Your project can explore innovations relating to physical or digital products, services or business models.

You are encouraged to respond to new discoveries made during customer research and user testing. This might include abandoning or re-thinking your original ideas and changing the focus of planned R&D activity.

To ensure great results, your project team should include experienced design professionals. These can be within the lead business, project partners or sub-contractors.

We are looking to fund a portfolio of projects, across a variety of technologies and markets. We will limit the number of funded projects led by RTOs to no more than 25% of the overall portfolio.

Project types

In this competition we will fund feasibility studies. Please see the general guidance for further detail on this research category.

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund:

  • projects that are not early-stage, such as the creation of final design specifications for production
  • projects that validate or develop only the technical feasibility of ideas rather than their desirability and usefulness to customers

13 August 2018
Competition opens
14 August 2018
London briefing event.
16 August 2018
Manchester briefing event.
21 August 2018
Watch the briefing recording.
19 September 2018 12:00pm
Competition closes
2 November 2018 2:29pm
Applicants notified

Before you start

Please read the general guidance for applicants. It will help your chances of submitting a quality application.

When you start an application you will be prompted to create an account as the lead applicant or sign in as a representative of your organisation. You will need an account to track the progress of your application.

As the lead applicant you will be responsible for:

  • collecting the information for your application
  • representing your organisation in leading the project if your application is successful

You will be able to invite:

  • colleagues to contribute to the application
  • other organisations to collaborate in the project if your application is successful

Collaborating organisations can be other businesses, research organisations, public sector organisations or charities.

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

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

1. Application details

Explain your project. This section is not scored, but we will use it to decide whether the project fits with the scope of the competition. If it does not, it will be immediately rejected.

Application details

The lead applicant must complete this section. Give your project’s title, start date and duration. List any organisations you have named as collaborators.

Project summary

Describe your project briefly, and be clear about what makes it innovative. We use this section to assign 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. Please 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.


Describe how your project fits the scope of the competition. If your project is not in scope it will be immediately rejected and will not be sent for assessment. We will give you feedback on why. Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

2. Application questions

Your answers to these questions will be scored by the assessors. You will receive feedback from the assessors for each question.

Your answer to each question can be up to 400 words long. Do not include any URLs in your answers unless we have explicitly requested a link to a video.

Question 1: Project motivation and objectives

What problem, challenge or opportunity do you plan to explore through this project, and why is human-centred design the most appropriate methodology?

What high-level objectives do you expect to achieve through this project?

You should describe or explain:

  • the context and motivation for the project
  • the main aims and objectives of the project
  • who will benefit directly from the project outcomes, and how
  • any relevant wider economic, social, environmental, cultural or political challenges which you are aware of or wish to explore further through this project

Question 2: Project activities and outputs

How will you conduct the project to achieve the aims set out in question 1? You should outline a concise, step-by-step project plan, broken down into individual phases of work. For each phase, explain:

  • what will be done
  • who will do it
  • what the outputs will be
  • how those outputs will help towards fulfilling the overall project objectives

Refer to any specific design processes or tools you plan to use.

You can submit one appendix as a PDF to support your answer. It can be up to 2 A4 pages and no larger than 1MB. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 3: Team and resources

Who will carry out the work and how will you access appropriate design capability?

Give details of:

  • the roles, skills and relevant experience of the project team
  • the specific experience, expertise and capabilities of the team with regard to early-stage, human-centred design
  • any resources, equipment and facilities required for the project and how you will access them
  • any important external parties, including sub-contractors, who you will need to work with to execute the project successfully
  • any gaps in the team that will need to be filled

You can submit one appendix as a PDF. It can be up to 2 A4 pages and no larger than 1MB. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 4: Risks

What are the main risks for this project?

Describe or explain:

  • the main risks and uncertainties of the project, including the technical, commercial, managerial and environmental risks
  • how these risks will be mitigated
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, such as resources, expertise, data sets
  • the steps you will take to make sure that new discoveries and ideas will be recognised, supported and have lasting impact within your business

Question 5: Additionality

Describe the impact that an injection of public funding would have on this project.

Describe or explain:

  • if this 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, more partners or reduced risk
  • the likely impact of the project on the businesses of the partners involved
  • why you are not able to wholly fund the project from your own resources or other forms of private-sector funding, and what would happen if the application is unsuccessful
  • how this project would change the nature of R&D activity the partners would undertake, and the related spend

Question 6: 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?

Describe or explain:

  • the total project cost and the grant being requested in terms of the project goals
  • how the partners will finance their contributions to the project
  • how this project represents value for money for you and the taxpayer and how it compares to what you would spend your money on otherwise?
  • the balance of costs and grant across the project partners
  • any sub-contractor costs and why they are critical to the project

3. Finances

The finances section asks each organisation in your project to complete their own project costs, organisational details and funding details. Academics will need to complete and upload a Je-S form. For full details on what costs you can claim please see our project costs guidance.

Background and further information

You can discover more about design, including how to find a designer at the Knowledge Transfer Network. You can also join the Design Foundations LinkedIn group.

You can learn more about Innovate UK’s commitment to supporting great design in our Design in Innovation Strategy, 2015–2019.

If you need more information, contact the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 or email us at

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