Funding competition Business Basics 2 - SME productivity (business led trials)

A share of up to £2 million is available for trials to build evidence on 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.


Trial projects will test different approaches to encouraging SMEs to adopt existing technologies and/or management practices that can boost firm level 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.

This competition is for trial projects where the lead applicant is a business. Other organisations such as public sector or not-for-profit can participate as collaborators but cannot lead.

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

Proof of concept projects

If you are an organisation whose idea is at an earlier stage of development, you should apply to deliver a proof of concept.

Funding type


Project size

You can apply for up to £400,000 in grant funding to run a trial.

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.

This competition provides state aid funding under article 25 of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). It is your responsibility to make sure that your organisation is eligible to receive state aid.

Your project

You can apply for up to £400,000 in grant funding to run a trial.

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.

To run a trial you must have an evaluation plan in place and, ideally, an evaluation partner.

Lead applicant

Lead applicants can work alone, or in collaboration with other organisations.

To lead a project or work alone you must:

  • be a UK based business of any size
  • claim funding


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 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.

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 business
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 50% if you are a large business

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 business
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 25% if you are a large business

Research organisations, charities, not for profit companies and public sector organisations can receive funding of 100% of their eligible project costs providing they do not intend to engage in economic activity as a result of the proposed project. For universities, this equates to 80% of full economic costs (FEC).

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 be a trial which will effectively demonstrate the causal link between the approaches you are testing and the desired outcomes. We expect trials to use a control (comparison group) and preferably one of the following:

  • methods which randomise into treatment and control groups (achieving 5 on the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale)
  • credible methods exploiting quasi-randomness (achieving 4 on the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale)

If your proposal is successful you will need to complete and register a trial protocol before the trial starts.

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)

If you are successful in receiving funding you must:

  • 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 plan and carry out an evaluation that will produce convincing evidence of the causal impact of your project
  • complete and register a trial protocol before the trial starts

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

Research categories

We will fund feasibility projects, industrial research projects and experimental development projects. Please see the general guidance to help you decide which category your project fits in.

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 or 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
24 May 2019
Invite to interview.
5 June 2019
Interview panel.
19 June 2019 4:51pm
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


If your written application is successful you will be invited to attend an interview, where you will give a presentation.

Before the interview, by the deadline stated in the invitation email, you:

  • must send your interview presentation slides
  • must provide the names of attendees
  • can give a written response to assessor feedback

Presentation slides

Your interview presentation must:

  • use Microsoft PowerPoint
  • be no longer than 10 minutes
  • have no more than 10 slides
  • not include any video or embedded web links

Please include:

  • a short description of the project
  • information on what it is being tested
  • details of your evaluation plan and outputs
  • an explanation of how your evaluation will provide a robust result

You will not be able to make any changes to the presentation after this date.

List of attendees

Up to 4 people from your project can attend the interview panel. Agree with your consortium who will attend, ideally one person from each organisation. Make sure they will be available on the published interview date. We are unable to reschedule slots once allocated.

Written response to assessor feedback

This is optional and provides an opportunity to answer any assessor concerns. It can:

  • be up to 2 A4 pages in a single PDF or Word document
  • include charts or diagrams


After your presentation there will be 20 minutes for questions. You will be expected to answer based on your application form and the assessor feedback from the written stage.

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 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 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 and duration. Is the application a resubmission?

Research category

Select the type of research you will undertake.

Project summary

In up to 800 words, describe your organisation, your partners and your 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 up to 400 words 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 up to 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 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 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. Approach to impact evaluation

How will you approach the evaluation of your trial and why have you chosen this approach?

Your approach should follow the principles outlined in the BEIS Business Support Evaluation Framework.

We encourage a ’mixed method’ approach. This is where qualitative evidence is used to improve the understanding of the context and causality alongside the quantitative approaches.


  • the primary outcome that you are trying to change and can measure
  • the primary focus of your evaluation and your research questions, for example: if offering 30 hours of free business coaching and a grant to SMEs leads to greater uptake of technology by those SMEs, compared to providing a grant only
  • the methodology you are using to prove the impact of the interventions you are testing (such as randomised controlled trial or quasi-experimental), and why that approach is appropriate
  • how the chosen design will enable you to answer your research question. For example, sample size or power calculations to show what scale of impacts you will be able to detect, and the assumptions that underpin this
  • the number and type of SMEs, including your control group that will be recruited into your trial and reasons for any important inclusions or exclusions
  • any secondary questions about impact that your evaluation will investigate and how these are to be assessed
  • any wider evaluation you have planned to understand including:

  1. The mechanisms behind the impacts you are seeking to measure.
  2. The success of the delivery process and ideas for future improvements.
  3. External benefits such as spill-over benefits to customers, others in the supply chain, broader industry and the UK economy.

If your proposal is successful you will need to complete and register a trial protocol before the trial starts.

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

Question 4. Evaluation and data plan

Set out how you will implement your evaluation activities, and what evidence will be generated to understand the impact of your project. Your evaluation should aim to measure any improvement to business performance or productivity that results from the adoption of new technologies and/or management practices.

You must:

  • set out a clear ‘logic model’, ‘theory of change’ or ‘customer journey map.’ This must indicate how and where the data will be collected from and any short-term outputs and longer-term outcomes that will be measured
  • set out a timeline showing what evidence you will produce and when, that covers short-term outcomes and longer-term impacts
  • identify the deliverables you will produce such as the trial protocol, final evaluation report, presentations and data sets
  • identify the sources and the types of data that will be collected and describe the data collection methods, such as use of qualitative and/or qualitative surveys, interviews etc.
  • confirm that you will obtain the necessary permissions to use participants’ data for research
  • set out your plan to collect unique business identification numbers so the data can be matched with administrative data sources (HMRC for example) for longer-term economic analysis to be carried out by BEIS and/or partners following the completion of the trial. This should aim to include one or more of:

  1. Companies House Registration Number
  2. VAT Number
  3. PAYE Number
  4. Unique Tax Reference Number

  • if collecting unique business identifiers is not practical for your proposal please state why and give an outline of the ethical considerations and procedures where these are applicable
  • provide an outline of your plan for cost benefit or cost effectiveness analysis

You can submit an appendix as a PDF of up to 4 pages long to support your answer. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 5. Scalability and potential benefits

Set out what you believe the wider economic value of your proposal could be beyond the proposed trial and how this could be achieved. For example:

  • what are your expectations for how to scale up your approach beyond the proposed trial such as at a regional level, national, across multiple sectors etc.
  • if you have already conducted a proof of concept or feasibility study what learning you have applied to this trial
  • what could be the challenges to upscaling your proposal beyond this trial?
  • what do you see as the wider value to the findings from your trial for example, could the approach be applied to other groups of SMEs or integrated into other business support programmes?
  • how will your trial help others understand the problem of adoption and not just tell them about the impact of your particular solution?
  • how would you share learnings beyond the project team, or how will business support providers and policymakers be able to understand the approach you have used and adopt it themselves?
  • any expected impact on government priorities
  • any expected regional impacts of the project

Question 6. 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 trial

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 7. 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 and up to 2 pages long to support your answer. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 8. 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
  • 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 9. 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.

Where SMEs take part in trials and are therefore likely to receive an 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 Business Basics 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 2 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 5pm 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.

Consider attending the evaluation masterclass webinar listed in the ‘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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