Funding competition Business Basics 2 - SME productivity (Proof of Concept)

A share of up to £2 million is available to run proof of concept projects aimed at how to encourage SMEs to adopt productivity boosting technology or management practices.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


Business Basics was announced in the government’s Industrial Strategy to test innovative ways of encouraging small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) to adopt existing productivity-boosting technology and management practices.

This is the second round of the Business Basics Fund. We are funding 2 types of project in this round: trials and proof of concepts.

Proof of concept projects

This competition is for proof of concept projects for ideas that are in early development. They should encourage SMEs to adopt existing technologies and/or management practices that can boost firm level productivity.


Trial projects will test different approaches to encouraging SMEs to adopt existing technologies and/or management practices that can boost firm productivity. These projects will help to generate robust evidence on the most effective approaches, and build an understanding of the short, medium and long-term impacts of these approaches.

To apply for funding to run a trial where the lead applicant is a business you must apply through the business-led trial competition.

To apply for funding for a trial where the lead applicant is not a business you must apply through the non-business led trial competition page.

Funding type


Project size

You can apply for up to £60,000 in grant funding to run a proof of concept project.

Who can apply

State aid

Any organisation claiming funding must be eligible to receive state aid at the time we confirm you will be awarded funding or must explain why this is not applicable. If you are unsure, please take legal advice. For further information please see our general guidance.

If you are carrying out economic activity in the project, you must be eligible to receive “de minimis” funding. Please see the ‘funding’ section for further information.

Your project

You can apply for up to £60,000 in grant funding to run a proof of concept project.

You must carry out your project work in England.

Projects must start by 1 September 2019, end by 31 September 2020 and last up to 12 months. Evaluation of the longer-term impact may continue after the end of the project.

If your project’s total costs or duration fall outside of our eligibility criteria, you must provide justification by email to at least 10 days before the competition closes. We will decide whether to approve your request.

Eligible organisations

To be eligible for funding you must:

  • be a UK based public sector organisation, university or research and technology organisation (RTO), charity, not for profit company or business of any size
  • have a legal entity
  • agree to have your project’s results independently evaluated and published
  • follow the principles outlined in the BEIS Business Support Evaluation Framework
  • work with BEIS and the Innovation Growth Lab based at Nesta to establish ways to improve the evaluation elements of your proposal

Lead applicant

Lead applicants must claim funding. You can work alone, or in collaboration with other organisations.


We welcome projects involving diverse organisations.

To be a funded collaborator you must:

  • be a UK based business, academic organisation, charity, not for profit company, public sector organisation or research and technology organisation (RTO)
  • have a legal entity

Partners with no funding

Projects can include partners that do not receive any funding, for example non-UK businesses. Their costs will count towards the total eligible project costs, but they will not count as collaborators.

Multiple applications

Any organisation can be involved in any number of applications.

Previous projects

Under the terms of Innovate UK funding, you are required to submit an independent accountant’s report (IAR) with your final claim. If you or any organisation in your consortium failed to submit an IAR on a previous Innovate UK-funded project, we will not award funding to you in this or any other competition until we have received the documents.


A share of up to £2 million is available from the Business Basics Fund across the 2 trials and the proof of concept projects.

You can receive funding of 100% of your project costs. For universities, this equates to 80% of full economic costs (FEC).

All activities must be in line with state aid rules. In this competition we will accept applications for grants:

  1. Where the applicant is not acting as an undertaking and therefore the grant is not considered to be state aid. This means you do not intend to engage in economic activity as the result of your proposed project. You will be required to provide a legally binding statement to this effect if we offer you a grant.
  2. Which would be provided under the “de minimis” level of state aid. This is defined as a single undertaking funded less than €200,000 euros over 3 consecutive fiscal years. See pages 20 to 21 of the state aid manual for further guidance. Successful applicants who are claiming de minimis funding will be required to complete a self declaration form confirming their eligibility to receive de minimis funding.

If you choose either the non-state aid option or the de minimis option you will be responsible for ensuring you are and remain eligible to receive funding. If you are later found to be ineligible, you will be liable to full recovery of grant by Innovate UK, potentially with interest charges.

You must clearly specify in your application how your proposal meets state-aid funding rules, including the conditions above. Each project partner must use the option appropriate for them.

We are not authorised to provide advice on state aid and you should seek independent guidance.

Further details will be provided in the briefing webinars.

Your proposal

The Business Basics Fund aims to test innovative ways of encouraging SMEs to adopt existing technologies and business practices that boost productivity.

Your proposal must relate to the actions SMEs can take to become more productive by:

  • adopting tried-and tested technologies, accountancy, CRM or HR software or payment systems
  • adopting modern business practices
  • improving their use of such tried and tested technologies and management practices already active within the business
  • or a combination of the above

Your project must also:

  • demonstrate the potential to be effectively scaled up
  • be innovative
  • meet the time and cost requirements of the competition
  • comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

Data collection and sharing

Project results will be independently evaluated and published. In applying for this competition, you agree to share all data collected as part of the trial with BEIS and any appointed contractor. This is for further research or evaluation purposes. You must act in accordance with the GDPR, and ensure the appropriate data privacy notice is given at the point data is collected.

Specific themes

You may want to consider approaches that:

  • address information failures and improve awareness of relevant technologies and management practice
  • build firms’ confidence of how technology and management can be applied in their business
  • facilitate advice and adoption through trusted advisors, supply chains, informal peer-to-peer networks
  • explore the how the absence or presence of complementary practices and systems in a firm affect adoption
  • compare whether lower cost and more scalable interventions can deliver similar benefits to more intensive support
  • explore specific issues which face firms with specific characteristics, for example family run firms

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund projects that:

  • focus mainly on developing new technology or software
  • do not focus on increasing the adoption of technology or management practices
  • do not address the target audience of mid to low productivity SMEs
  • do not generate robust evidence or have a measurable outcome
  • do not align with the objectives of the Business Basics Fund

28 January 2019
Competition opens
14 February 2019
Applicant briefing recording.
28 February 2019
Live scope and networking session.
5 March 2019
Evaluation masterclass webinar recording.
7 March 2019
Applicant briefing webinar recording
17 April 2019 12:00pm
Competition closes
25 June 2019 1:00pm
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 make contributions
  • other organisations to collaborate with you

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

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

1. Project details

Explain your project. This section is not scored but is used to determine if your project fits with the scope of the competition. If it does not, it will be immediately rejected.

Application team

Invite colleagues to contribute to your application and other organisations to collaborate on your project.

Application details

The lead applicant must complete this section. Give your project’s title, start date, duration and say if the application is a resubmission.

Project summary

In up to 800 words, describe your organisation, your partners and project. You must clearly state:

  • each organisation involved, in delivering the project, including the lead applicant, funded and non-funded partners, giving:

  1. Organisation name.
  2. Type of organisation (for example business, LEP, trade association, representative body or charity).
  3. A brief summary of their role in the project.
  4. Websites.
  • the types of technology and/or management practices you will be focusing on increasing the adoption of
  • the methods or approaches to improving adoption you will be comparing
  • the size, sector and geographical local of the firms that you are targeting
  • the total number of SMEs to be sampled and why
  • a description of how your project is innovative
  • a high-level description of the evaluation, including how you will measure the impact of your different approaches and how they relate to productivity

Public description

Describe your project in 400 words or less 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.


In under 400 words, describe how your project fits the scope of the competition. If it is not in scope, it will be immediately rejected and not be sent for assessment. We will give you feedback on why.

2. Application questions

Independent assessors will score your answers to these questions. You will receive feedback from them for each question.

Do not include any URLs in your answers. Your answer to each question can be up to 600 words long.

Question 1. Barriers and opportunities

What barriers and/or opportunities will you address for technology and/or business practice adoption in SMEs?

Describe or explain:

  • which barriers your project will focus on, such as knowledge, awareness, capability, skills or implementation
  • why you have chosen this focus area and how it is relevant
  • what evidence there is to justify your focus areas? Include any supporting information, which can draw on other research, or your own information, which must be clearly sourced or evidenced
  • whether you will be focusing on the adoption of existing technology (for example accountancy software or cloud-based computing), management practices (such as key performance indicators or employee engagement) or a combination of these. Outline the evidence of the link between your chosen focus and productivity
  • which stage of the technology or management practice adoption process the project is tackling; for example, increasing awareness, changing attitudes, increasing ability to introduce change, adopting and/or implementing
  • who your target audience of SMEs is, including sector, size and geographical location
  • why this target audience is relevant and how it will be affected if the barrier is removed

Question 2. Solution and approach

What is your idea for addressing these barriers and/or taking these opportunities, and why do you think it will be successful?


  • what approaches or solutions you are proposing to overcome the barriers or take the opportunities you have set out in question 1
  • what your reasons are for this approach
  • what existing evidence supports your approach and why it will work
  • what work you have done to develop and test your idea and what further work is needed to develop your approach or approaches
  • how this aligns with your existing strategy and activity, and whether it represents a new programme, or an addition or change to an existing one
  • how your proposal represents innovation in this area
  • how it will add to the overall evidence base of what works in improving SME productivity

Question 3. Impact evaluation

How will you evaluate the impact of your proof of concept idea or ideas and determine whether it was successful?


  • your research questions and rationale for the project, such as any existing research, logic model or theory of change
  • what techniques you will use to generate and capture evidence in your project and at what stage in the project this will be done, such as desk research, stakeholder engagement, qualitative feedback, prototyping or small scale testing
  • what scale of engagement and testing you intend to carry out, such as number of interviews or focus groups, number of survey respondents or SME participants
  • the success criteria for your proposal, and how will you determine that these have been met
  • the deliverables you will produce (such as a final evaluation report or protocol for future trial and data), and how the findings could be used to develop a full trial

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF up to 2 pages long to support your answer. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 4. Scaling up your proof of concept

Set out how the proof of concept could be scaled up in the future e.g. to a larger scale trial, commercial roll out?


  • how the proof of concept will help achieve scaling up your idea
  • what are your expectations for how to scale up your proof of concept e.g. larger number of SMEs, more regions, other sectors
  • how the evidence you create from the proof of concept will contribute to scaling up your idea, by yourself or others
  • how will you decide whether the project can and should be scaled
  • what could be the challenges to upscaling your proposal beyond the proof of concept

Question 5. Project delivery

How will you deliver your project successfully?

Describe or explain:

  • who you will need to work with to deliver the project, including partners and stakeholders
  • the process and timelines for recruiting the target group of SMEs to the study

Set out your project plan, including:

  • the details of any vital external parties, including sub-contractors, you will need to work with to successfully carry out the project
  • the roles, skills and experience of all members of the project team that are relevant to the project, including the evaluation
  • if your project is collaborative, the current relationships between project partners and how these will change as a result of the project
  • any gaps in the team that will need to be filled
  • delivery timelines and milestones

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF and up to 2 pages long to support your answer. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 6. Risks

What are the main risks to the project and how will you manage or mitigate these? Please set out:

  • the main risks to the successful implementation of the proposal including the technical, commercial, managerial risks,
  • any legal or ethical considerations that need to be managed, such as GDPR
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, such as resources, expertise, datasets
  • challenges on evaluation for example, challenges to establishing causality and to the validity and reliability of the results or survey response rates and baseline data collection.
  • how these risks will be mitigated

We recommend you set this out in a risk register. You can submit a single appendix as a PDF up to 2 pages long to support your answer. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 7. Value for money

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

Describe or explain:

  • the total project cost and the grant being requested in terms of the project goals
  • the grant split and financial contribution from each of the project members, if relevant
  • any sub-contractor costs and why they are critical to the project
  • the need for any marketing costs, which must be properly justified
  • the basis for the costs and an explanation of how the costs were determined such as previous trials or day rates
  • your estimate of the level of benefit for each individual SME, such as the nominal value or cost of support received (2 days of training)
  • whether the SMEs will be expected to provide some form of contribution
  • how this project represents value for money for the taxpayer and how it compares to what you would spend your money on otherwise
  • if this project could go ahead in any form without public funding and, if so, the difference the public funding would make, such as faster to market, more partners and reduced risk

Question 8. State Aid

Explain how the proposal will comply with state aid rules (see the funding section of the competition brief). This question is not scored, but if your answer is not satisfactory then your project may be ineligible for funding.

For each grant-claiming organisation involved in the delivery of your project (listed in your answer to question 5), briefly explain how they will comply with state aid funding rules.

Where it is intended that SMEs will take part in experiments and are therefore likely to receive advantage as an end beneficiary of the grant, the SME can only receive state aid up to the limit of their de minimis allowance. Explain the processes you intend to put in place to ensure compliance with de minimis rules in your project.

3. Finances

Each organisation in your project must 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

Background to Business Basics

The government’s Industrial Strategy set out our aim to create an economy that boosts productivity and earning power throughout the UK.

The objective of the Business Basics Programme is to identify and test the most effective, scalable interventions which encourage SMEs to adopt existing technology and management practices that drive productivity improvements.

The main element of the programme is the Business Basics Fund, which will include a series of open competitions.

The programme is funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The fund is administered by Innovate UK on behalf of BEIS.

Objectives of the Business Basics Fund

Raise the productivity of small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) by:

  • identifying and testing the most effective, scalable interventions which encourage SMEs to adopt productivity boosting existing technology and modern business practices
  • testing which interventions have the most impact on SME productivity

Drive innovation by:

  • sourcing new ideas from traditional and non-traditional sources
  • taking a dynamic, experimental approach in order to learn and develop as the project develops
  • supporting new initiatives and leave a legacy of quality data and evaluation to inform future research

Enable better investment decisions at a local and national level by:

  • providing a new, robust evidence base for those interventions which are the most effective in raising productivity
  • taking an inclusive approach such as by involving SMEs from different areas and different sectors, and focusing on the transferability and scalability of interventions

Further sources of guidance and information

For background and guidance, including details of projects funded under the first round, see the programme page on GOV.UK.


Dates for events

To find the dates and sign up for webinars and events please see the ‘Dates’ tab.


We will be running two webinars to help you understand the scope of Business Basics, hear more about evaluation and learn how to apply.

Live event

We are running a live networking session where you can learn more about the scope of Business Basics, meet potential partners and ask the BEIS team questions.


If you need help finding a potential partner, please contact by 5:00pm 11 March 2019. As part of the networking event there will be the opportunity to learn more about the scope of Business Basics and find potential project partners including evaluation partners.


The Business Support Evaluation Framework sets out the quality standards that are expected for impact evaluations of BEIS-funded business support programmes. The framework will also enable comparison of the effectiveness of different policies and programmes. It is designed to assist policymakers, evaluators and delivery bodies in generating robust evidence of what works, so BEIS can make better informed decisions of current and future policies.

There will be an evaluation masterclass webinar, please see ‘Dates’ tab.

Extra help

If you need more information about submitting your application on the system, email us at or call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357.

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