Funding competition SBRI competition: Improving operations through machine learning

Organisations can apply for a share of up to £250,000 to develop machine learning solutions that will improve Innovate UK’s operations.

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


The aim of this competition is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Innovate UK’s operational functions.

We are looking for as many ideas as possible for how machine learning can help Innovate UK make the best use of its existing data. You should show how you would develop and test a prototype application. You can find out more about the data that we will provide to successful applicants in Annex A on the secure server (FTP) site. The FTP site will be available after you register.

Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence. It allows computers to become more accurate in predicting outcomes without explicit programming, using algorithms that iteratively learn from data.

This is a 2 phase competition. A decision to proceed with phase 2 will depend on the outcomes from phase 1.
1. Phase 1: technical feasibility. Projects should last up to 4 months and you must complete your project by 31 March 2018. Projects can range in size up to a total cost of £50,000 including VAT. The total funding available is up to £250,000 including VAT.
2. Phase 2: prototype development and evaluation. Projects should last up to 6 months. They can range in size up to a total cost of £250,000 including VAT. We expect the total funding available to be £500,000 including VAT.

Funding type


Project size

We expect projects to range in size up to total costs of £50,000.

Find out if you are eligible to apply

To lead a project, you must:

  • be an organisation of any size

Projects that we won't fund

In this competition we are not funding projects covering:

  • other forms of artificial intelligence technology
  • the development of solutions for non-operations data such as human resources

Funding and project details

We have allocated up to £250,000 including VAT to fund innovative feasibility study projects in phase 1 of this competition.

Project details

In phase 1 you will develop a tool or service as part of the feasibility study. Projects should last up to 4 months. They can range in size up to a total cost of £50,000 each, including VAT.

Your proposal should include:

  • details of how you plan to carry out the research and development project
  • a breakdown of your proposed costs
  • a plan for the ongoing support of your proposed tool or service
  • a plan for commercialisation

If your proposal is successful, we will expect you to engage with Innovate UK to:

  • support the development of the solution
  • support the user experience
  • validate the proposed performance of the solution

Developments will be 100% funded. We will select suppliers for each project through an open competition process. You will keep the intellectual property rights (IPR) generated from the project. Innovate UK will keep some rights of use.

Competition scope

The aim of this competition is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Innovate UK’s operational functions.

We welcome as many ideas as possible for the application of machine learning to Innovate UK’s existing data. You should show how you would develop and test a prototype application to:

  • improve operational efficiency
  • improve the efficiency and quality of decision-making, both pre and post-funding award

We have identified 2 areas where machine learning could help us reduce costs and work more efficiently:

1. Assessor allocation: identifying key words from funding applications to allocate appropriate assessors. Currently we use a time-consuming manual allocation process. Using machine learning would help us move towards more automated assessor allocation. It would also lead to improved quality and robustness in the assessment process. We would save money and allow our teams to focus on more value-added activities. This would help us fund successful projects more quickly.

2. Checking for undeclared re-submissions: searching for re-submissions, duplicate and reassessed applications. Currently we do this manually. We could save money by automating this process and reducing the possibility of fraud.

These are 2 possibilities and there are more below but we welcome other ideas:

  • analysing competition queries, complaints and enquiries data to improve the quality of our communications
  • gathering information automatically from different styles of application form and representing that data in a meaningful and readily-accessible way
  • learning from project outcomes to better inform competition and project design
  • learning from economic exploitation data to better inform investment decisions
  • using monitoring reporting data to inform continuous improvement of monitoring services
  • reducing the potential for fraud
  • improving the accuracy of expenditure claims forecasting helping us to schedule projects more effectively

Our aim is for efficiency savings to cover the cost of the project investment.

This is phase 1 of a potential 2-phase competition. A decision to proceed with phase 2 will depend on the outcomes from phase 1. Only successful applicants from phase 1 will be able to take part in phase 2. We may change the budget and transfer funding between the different phases.

We will provide details of available data to help you develop your proposal. We will provide successful applicants with anonymised data for their feasibility study. We will also provide descriptions of our internal systems. Successful applicants will need to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

In phase 2 the successful applicants will continue to develop and test their prototype.

24 July 2017
Competition opens
9 August 2017
Applicant briefing event - watch the recording.
6 September 2017
Midday registration deadline
6 September 2017 12:00pm
Registration closes
13 September 2017 12:00pm
Competition closes
9 October 2017
Applicants notified

Before you start

To apply:

  • the lead applicant must register online. Please note that you must complete a separate registration for each proposal submitted
  • read the invitation to tender which will be available for you to download from our secure site after registration
  • attend the briefing event for potential applicants or watch the recording (available under the dates tab)
  • read the guidance for this competition
  • complete and upload your online application for phase 1. You must complete a separate form for each innovation proposed

We will not accept late submissions. Your application is confidential.

A panel of selected experts will assess the quality of your application. We will then choose the best proposals from those that meet the aims of this competition.

Also, please read the general guidance for applicants. It will help your chances of submitting a successful application.

Background and further information

Innovate UK has accumulated significant amounts of valuable operations data and continues to do so. Current system and resource constraints mean that we have been unable to make the best use of this data. Recent exciting developments in machine learning offer opportunities. They could help us to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations activities.

We are running this SBRI competition to identify, research, develop, prototype and evaluate these opportunities.

Innovate UK is ideally placed to exploit the development and application of this novel and disruptive technology. There is a market opportunity for innovative applications such as a new approach to data mining. By providing funding for feasibility studies to de-risk the development of prototypes, we will enable innovative companies to resolve the initial research challenges. This will help them to develop a commercial solution and take it to market. It will solve a significant challenge for Innovate UK at the same time. This aligns with our strategy for helping businesses commercialise their innovations.

About SBRI competitions

SBRI provides innovative solutions to challenges faced by the public sector. This can lead to better public services and improved efficiency and effectiveness. SBRI supports economic growth and enables the development of innovative products and services. It does this through the public procurement of research and development (R&D). SBRI generates new business opportunities for companies and provides a route to market for their ideas. It also bridges the seed funding gap experienced by many early-stage companies.

Applications must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively for R&D services. R&D can cover solution exploration and design. It can also include prototyping and field-testing the product or service. R&D does not include:

  • commercial development activities such as quantity production
  • supply to establish commercial viability or to recover R&D costs
  • integration, customisation or incremental adaptations and improvements to existing products or processes

Further help and information

You can find information on how to enter this competition in the invitation to tender document which is available for download on our secure site after registration.

If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

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

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