Funding competition The Sustainable Innovation Fund: round 1 (temporary framework)

UK registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £55 million for new projects focusing on sustainable economic recovery from COVID-19.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, is investing up to £55 million to fund single and collaborative research and development projects as part of the Sustainable Innovation Fund.

The aim of this competition is to help all sectors of the UK rebuild after the effects of COVID-19.

All projects must be led by a business and include at least one SME. Proposals can either be from a single business or a collaboration.

This competition is round 1 of a potential 3.

  • Round 1 – Temporary framework (this competition)
  • Round 2 - De Minimis (opening July 2020)
  • Round 3 - Temporary Framework (opening September 2020)

This competition closes at 11am UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type


Project size

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between £100,000 and £500,000. Each organisation working alone or in a collaboration can claim a maximum of £175,000.

Who can apply

State aid

These grants are a form of state aid under the COVID-19 Temporary Framework for the UK.

Aid may be granted to organisations that were not in difficulty (within the meaning of Article 2(18) of the General Block Exemption Regulation) on 31 December 2019, but that faced difficulties or entered into difficulty thereafter as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Micro and small businesses are exempt from this test unless they:

  • are in insolvency proceedings
  • have received rescue aid that has not been repaid


  • are subject to a restructuring plan under state aid rules

(Text edit 1 July 2020: we have added some guidance above on the rules for micro and small businesses.)

Unless you are exempt as a micro or small company, you must complete a state aid declaration in question 2 to confirm that your organisation was not an undertaking in difficulty on 31 December 2019.

The cumulative aid that any organisation may receive under the Temporary Framework must not exceed €800,000 in total. Any aid provided under de minimis is in addition to this allowance.

If you have been awarded a continuity grant or any other funding under the Temporary Framework, then any money awarded through this competition funding will count towards your €800,000 limit.

If you wish to carry out R&D activity in the agricultural sector you cannot use your grant to pay primary producers of agricultural products. Some examples of activities of primary producers are: farming, fishing, livestock rearing.

Primary producers of agricultural, fishery and aquaculture, as defined by Regulation No 1379/2013 of the EU, can participate as a project partner in this competition but cannot claim more than £75,000 per organisation. A failure to adhere to this limit will result in the entire proposal being deemed ineligible for funding.

In the event that an applicant fails to meet the criteria set out in the COVID-19 Temporary Framework, there is a round 2 of this competition opening in July under de minimis that applicants could choose to apply to.

It is your responsibility to make sure that your organisation is eligible to receive state aid. We strongly recommend that you seek independent legal advice before applying into, and accepting the terms of, this funding award.

Your project

Your project’s total eligible costs must be between £100,000 and £500,000.

Each funded partner can claim a maximum of £175,000 against their eligible project costs. This amount cannot exceed their cumulative aid total of €800,000 if they have received other funding as part of the Covid-19 Temporary Framework.

Projects must be ready to start by 1 October 2020. They can last between 3 and 9 months.

Lead organisation

To lead a project or work alone your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business of any size
  • involve at least one SME
  • carry out its project work in the UK
  • be able to carry out project work under the current restrictions of COVID-19
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

Academic institutions and research and technology organisations (RTOs) cannot lead or work alone.

Sole traders are not eligible to apply for this competition.

Project team

To collaborate with the lead organisation your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered business, academic institution, charity, public sector organisation or research and technology organisation (RTO)
  • carry out its project work in the UK
  • be able to carry out project work under the current restrictions of COVID-19
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • be invited to take part by the lead applicant
  • enter your costs in the Innovation Funding Service

The lead and at least one other organisation must claim funding if applying as a collaboration.

The research organisations in your consortium undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation undertaking non-economic activity, this maximum is shared between them.

Subcontractors are allowed in this competition. Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK/European Economic Area (EEA). We expect subcontractor costs to be justified and appropriate to the total eligible project costs. Subcontractor costs should not exceed 30% of your total project costs.

Your project can include partners that do not receive any of this competition’s funding, for example non-UK businesses. Their costs will count towards the total eligible project costs.

All projects awarded funding must upload evidence for each expenditure with every claim made. These might include invoices, timesheets, receipts or spreadsheets for capital usage. This is part of Innovate UK’s obligations under the Managing Public Money government handbook in relation to assurance, financial management and control.

Multiple applications

Any one business can lead on one application and collaborate in a further 2 applications.

If a business is not leading an application, they can collaborate in up to 3 applications.

Academic institutions and RTOs can collaborate on any number of applications.

Previous applications


You can use a resubmission to apply for this competition.

A resubmission is a proposal Innovate UK judges as not materially different from one you've submitted before. It can be updated based on the assessors' feedback.

If you submit a new proposal this time you will be able to use it in no more than one future competition that allows resubmissions.

Failure to exploit

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole organisation 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, and communicate it to you in writing

Previous projects

Under the terms of Innovate UK funding, you are required to submit an independent accountant’s report (IAR) with your first and final claim. However, if the grant funding you receive is less than £100,000, you must submit an IAR with your final claim only. If you or any organisation in your consortium failed to submit an IAR on a previous project, we will not award funding to you in this or any other competition until we have received the documents.


We have allocated up to £55 million to fund innovation projects in this competition.

If your organisation’s work on the project is mostly commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically.

Under the COVID-19 Temporary Framework your business could get up to 80% funding for your eligible project costs, up to a maximum of £175,000 per organisation, regardless of size.

Research organisations working in collaboration undertaking non-economic activity will be funded as follows:

  • universities: 80% of full economic costs
  • all other research organisations: 100% of eligible costs

We will provide up to £50,000 to each grant-claiming organisation as an advance on grant payment 10 working days after the return of a fully-signed Grant Offer Letter (GOL). This will be taken off the first and any subsequent claims.

This competition provides state aid funding under the COVID-19 Temporary Framework for the UK. It is your responsibility to make sure that your organisation is eligible to receive state aid.

Please refer to the framework, and subsequent amendments to the framework dated 3 April 2020 and 8 May 2020. There are specific T&Cs under the Temporary Framework, including potential clawback, so it is important that you review these and satisfy yourself that this is the best route for your business.

Your proposal

COVID-19 has affected R&D across all sectors, and our aim of this competition is to help all sectors of the UK recover, grow and create new opportunities from the aftermath of the global health pandemic.

Your proposal must show evidence of key challenges as a direct consequence of COVID-19, and how your project can help solve them.

In addition, your proposal must consider its impact on climate change and/or environmental sustainability.

(Text edit 3 July 2020: we have edited the guidance on climate change and sustainability above to make clear that this is a requirement.)

We would also like you to address where necessary, equality, diversity and inclusion in relation to your project, your organisation(s) and your approach to innovation.

We are looking to fund a portfolio of projects, across a variety of technologies, markets, regions, technological maturities and research categories, including the themes listed below.

Specific themes

Your project can also focus on

  • decarbonisation, circular economy and/or biodiversity
  • climate change and environmental sustainability
  • geographic or regionally-targeted innovation
  • innovation that is aimed at commercial or residential users
  • innovations that work across more than one sector
  • follow-on international opportunities that help the UK lead the world

Research categories

We will fund industrial research projects and experimental development projects, as defined in the general guidance.

Projects we will not fund

We are not funding projects that:

  • are not related to an impact on a business due to Covid-19 disruption
  • have a negative impact on the environment and/or society
  • have a detrimental effect on equality, diversity and inclusion
  • would duplicate other UK Government activities or EU-funded initiatives already underway such as the testing or manufacture of vaccines and ventilators.
  • do not involve any research and development or innovation, for example, the creation of information-only websites
  • are feasibility studies

29 June 2020
Competition opens
3 July 2020
Online briefing event
3 July 2020
Q&A: Watch recording
29 July 2020 11:00am
Competition closes
28 August 2020 4:41pm
Applicants notified

Before you start

You must read the general guidance for applicants before you start.

Innovate UK is unable to award grant funding to organisations meeting the condition known as undertakings in difficulty on 31 December 2019 unless you are an exempt micro or small business.

Data Protection

By submitting an application, you are providing authority for Innovate UK (and any subsidiary or agency appointed to evaluate your application) to do checks on the financial standing of your organisation. This might include, but will not be limited to, checks with credit reference agencies (which might be recorded on your record) to determine your credit standing, identity, beneficial ownership and control, and source of existing funds.

The principles that Innovate UK follows when we collect, hold or use your personal information and how you can check what details we hold are set out in Innovate UK’s personal information charter.

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

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

1. Project details

This section sets the scene for the assessors and is not scored.

Application team

Decide which organisations will work with you on the project. Invite people from those organisations to help complete the application.

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

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 500 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 500 words long.


Describe how your project fits the scope of the competition. If your project is not in scope it will not be eligible for funding. Your answer can be up to 500 words long.

2. Application questions

The assessors will score your answers. You will receive feedback from them for each one.

Your answer to each question can be up to 500 words long. Do not include any URLs in your answers.

Question 1. Equality, diversity and inclusion (not scored)

We collect and report on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) data to address under-representation in business innovation and ensure equality, diversity and inclusion across all our activities.

You must complete this EDI survey and type ‘EDI survey completed’ within your answer. The survey will ask you questions on your gender, age, ethnicity and disability status. You will always have the option to ‘prefer not to say’ if you do not feel comfortable sharing this information.

Question 2. Declarations (not scored)

You must state in your answer:

  • how this funding will ensure that your portion of the project will be able to be completed
  • that you were not an undertaking in difficulty on 31 December 2019 unless you are exempt
  • how you will manage the staff needed to continue this project (including returning staff from furlough)

Using the attached template you must tell us about any other awards you have received under the temporary COVID-19 framework. The maximum amount of cumulative aid you can claim under the temporary framework is €800,000.

Please download the declaration provided, all partners must complete and sign their own declaration and the lead must upload as a single PDF to this question.

Question 3. Need or challenge

What is the challenge you are trying to solve, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Describe or explain:

  • the main motivation for the project
  • the impact COVID-19 has had on businesses or sectors that are a focus of your project
  • any decarbonisation, circular economy and/or biodiversity challenges as a result of COVID-19
  • any equality, diversity or inclusion challenges if appropriate
  • the nearest current state-of-the-art, including those near market or in development, and its limitations
  • any work you have already done to respond to this need, for example if the project focuses on developing an existing capability or building a new one
  • the wider economic, social, environmental, cultural or political challenges which are influential in creating the opportunity, such as incoming regulations, using our Horizons tool if appropriate

Question 4. Your idea

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

Describe or explain:

  • how you will respond to the need, challenge or opportunity identified
  • how you will improve on the nearest current state-of-the-art identified
  • whether the innovation will focus on the application of 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
  • how your idea can positively contribute towards a clean environment and sustainable growth within the UK, such as decarbonisation, circular economy and/or biodiversity (if at all)
  • the evidence to support your idea and how it will be measured, including any sustainability-specific plans
  • how you will consider equality, diversity and inclusion in the development of your innovation (for example unintended exclusion of minority groups, recognising bias)
  • 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 must submit one appendix to support your answer. It can include diagrams and charts. It must be a PDF and can be up to 2 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 5. Team, resources and delivery

Who is in the project team, what are their roles, and how will you deliver the project?

Describe or explain:

  • the roles, skills and experience of all members and the diversity of the project team as a whole that are relevant to the approach you will be taking (please do not provide personal information on individuals)
  • any roles you will need to recruit for and how you will promote equality, diversity and inclusion, as appropriate
  • the resources, equipment and facilities needed for the project and how you will access them
  • the details of any vital external parties, including sub-contractors, who you will need to work with to successfully carry out the project
  • if your project is collaborative the current relationships between project partners and how these will change as a result of the project
  • the main work packages of the project, indicating the lead partner assigned to each 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
  • who will be responsible for measuring the sustainability outcomes and impact and how they will report this

You must submit one appendix describing the skills and experience of the main people working on the project to support your answer and any supplementary project management information such as a gantt chart or project plan. It must be a PDF and can be up to 4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 6. Market awareness

What does the market you are targeting look like?

Describe or explain:

  • the markets (domestic, international or both) you will be targeting in the project and any other potential markets, including their sizes
  • the structure and dynamics of the target markets, including customer segmentation, together with predicted growth rates within clear time frames
  • 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

If your project is highly innovative, where the market may be unexplored, describe or explain:

  • what the market’s size might to be
  • how your project will try to explore the market’s potential

Question 7. Outcomes and route to market

How are you going to stabilise and grow your business following COVID-19 and increase your productivity into the long term as a result of the project?

Describe or explain:

  • your current position in the markets and supply or value chains outlined, and whether you will be consolidating, 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, particularly if COVID-19 has changed market dynamics
  • 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

If there is any research organisation activity in the project, describe:

  • your plans to spread the project’s research outputs over a reasonable timescale
  • how you expect to use the results generated from the project in further research activities

Question 8. 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, providing a risk register if appropriate
  • how you will mitigate these risks
  • ways to mitigate future risk arising from COVID-19 restrictions and other possible national and global factors
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, such as resources, expertise, data sets and if they are affected by COVID-19
  • any output likely to be subject to regulatory requirements, certification, ethical issues and so on, and how you will manage this

You may submit one appendix to support your answer. It can include diagrams and charts. It must be a PDF and can be up to 2 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 9. Costs, added value and value for money

What impact would an injection of public funding have on the businesses involved?

Describe or explain:

  • the total eligible project costs and the grant you are requesting in terms of the project goals
  • how each partner will finance their contributions to the 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
  • the balance of costs and grant across the project partners
  • any sub-contractor costs and why they are critical to the project
  • costs associated with baselining, monitoring and reporting the sustainability aspects of project
  • 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

3. Finances

Each organisation in your project must complete their own project costs, organisational details and funding details. Academic institutions 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

More information on climate change, net zero, and global warming can be found on the Committee on Climate Change website, an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008.

Equality, diversity and inclusion resources that companies may find helpful include:

Extra help

The Knowledge Transfer Network’s (KTN’s) Good Application Guide aims to help you prepare the best application for Innovate UK competitions. This guide has been produced by KTN to supplement the official Innovate UK Guidance for Applicants. In addition to the guide, contact KTN for support in finding project partners and providing independent, objective feedback on your application.

In working towards a more sustainable future, the Horizon tool can help test your strategy, inform commercial decisions and drive new innovation within a sustainable economy. Contact KTN to discuss the big trends and issues in your marketplace.

Enterprise Europe Network (EEN)

If you are a UK SME and successful in receiving an award, you will be contacted by your local Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) Innovation Advisor. They act on behalf of Innovate UK to discuss the growth opportunities for your business. They offer bespoke business support services to help you maximise your project and business potential.

This service forms part of your Innovate UK offer, under our commitment to help UK SMEs to grow and scale. It is only available to SMEs. Please engage actively with your Adviser so that, working together, you can determine and the most appropriate growth support for your business.

Contact us

If you need more information, email us at or call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 between 9am and 11:30pm or 2pm and 4.30pm Monday to Friday.

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