Funding competition The Sustainable Innovation Fund: SBRI phase 1

Organisations can apply for a share of up to £10 million, including VAT, to help UK businesses and the public sector recover from COVID-19 in a sustainable manner.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


Innovate UK will fund organisations to develop and demonstrate new products or services. Your solution must help businesses and/or the public sector in the UK recover from the coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic in a sustainable manner, demonstrating the impact and potential of a clean growth led recovery and transition to net zero.

The overall programme will be delivered in 2 phases. This is phase 1 and will focus on exploring the feasibility of proposals. Phase 2 will concentrate on continued research, development and testing. 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 apply to take part in phase 2.

This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition. SBRI programmes fund organisations to conduct challenge-based research and development (R&D) to develop products or services that address a specific unmet public sector need. The intellectual property (IP) for these products and services remains with the applicant and therefore can be commercialised across the UK and internationally.

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

Funding type


Project size

We expect projects in this phase to range in size up to total costs of £60,000, including VAT.

Who can apply

Your project

Projects must start on 1 October 2020 and can last up to 3 months. You must be able to carry out project work under the prevailing restrictions of the pandemic.


To lead a project, you can be an organisation of any size. Academic institutions and registered charities can apply but must demonstrate a route to market, including a plan to commercialise the results.

Contracts will be awarded only to individual organisations but you can sub-contract specific tasks if they benefit the overall project. Ideally, subcontractors will have particular insight into the identified challenge area or clean growth agenda or be sector specialists or relevant academic institutions. Any subcontracted work is the responsibility of the main contractor.


The total funding available for the competition can change. The funders have the right to:

  • adjust the provisional funding allocations between the phases
  • apply a ‘portfolio’ approach across the specific themes identified in ‘Scope’

Funders sometimes use a portfolio approach to fit the competition’s spend profile and allocate funds across the strategic areas. To be successful applications must meet a quality threshold.

Phase 1. Research and development contracts, feasibility study

The first phase involves research and development (R&D) contracts being awarded to demonstrate technical feasibility of the proposed solution. A total of up to £10 million including VAT, is allocated to support successful projects in this phase.

It is anticipated that the feasibility study R&D contracts will be up to £60,000, including VAT. This is for each project for up to 3 months. The assessors will consider fair value in making their evaluation.

In phase 1, to simplify payment processing and make it easier for your project to adapt around the constraints of coronavirus (COVID 19), we plan to make 2 payments against milestones. The first payment (25% of the funding) will be related to the successful completion of the project kick off meeting and the second (75%) on the submission of the project end-of-phase report.

Phase 2 (only open to phase 1 participants). Research and development contracts, prototype development and testing

The second phase will award R&D contracts to organisations competitively selected from the successful phase 1 applicants. A total of up to £70 million including VAT, is allocated to support successful projects in phase 2. Up to £3 million including VAT, will be allocated for each 12 monthcontract, in order to develop a prototype and undertake field testing.

Successful projects may be required to demonstrate progress as part of a showcase at the UN climate change conference COP26 in November 2021.

The contract is completed at the end of phase 2, and the successful business is expected to pursue commercialisation of their solution.

Research and development

Your application must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively to R&D services, including solution exploration and design. R&D can also include prototyping and field-testing the product or service. This lets you incorporate the results of your exploration and design then demonstrate that you can produce in quantity to acceptable quality standards.

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

State aid

SBRI competitions involve procurement of R&D services at a fair market value and are not subject to state aid criteria that typically apply to grant funding.

Your proposal

Your organisation must work with identified potential future customers to:

To be successful by the end of phase 2 you must develop and demonstrate new products or services which do both of the following:

  • help businesses and/or the public sector in the UK recover from the pandemic
  • protect the climate and environment upon which we and future generations depend

Your proposed solution must:

  • be innovative
  • be practical and deliverable
  • take affordability into consideration
  • result in sustainable innovation which, in phase 2, can act as a showcase approach to delivering net zero

Your application must:

  • demonstrate a clear plan for commercialisation and a route to market for affordable, developed solutions
  • set out clearly how solutions might be tested in a representative or real world setting as part of phase 2
  • address how any potentially negative outcomes (such as on the environment or society) would be managed
  • explain how a positive impact on climate change and/or environmental sustainability will be achieved, maintained and measured
  • work throughout with at least one potential future customer who might use your solution when it comes to market

The potential customer can be a public, private or third sector organisation that is looking to tackle such a challenge. They should also help you understand their requirements and explore the feasibility of your proposal. During phase 1 you must make plans with them for phase 2, to build a prototype and test it in real world scenarios.

We have launched a virtual marketplace website to help innovators, potential customers and other sub-contractors find each other, communicate and develop project ideas. The website will be available until the application deadline.

We will be interested to see proposals that:

  • look at relevant aspects of behaviour change
  • link proposed activities and solutions to current academic research
  • demonstrate scalability and replicability
  • recognise and explore the potential international impact of the products or services developed
  • consider, and address where necessary, equality, diversity and inclusion aspects across your project, your sector (or sectors) and society
  • consider the impact on productivity and jobs across the country and any future international expansion opportunities

You must also consider user experience throughout the design and development process.

At this stage contracts will be given for phase 1 only. You must define your goals and outline your plan for phase 2. This is part of the full commercial implementation in your phase 1 proposal.

Specific themes

Your project must address one or more of the following themes, which are informed by the government’s Clean Growth Strategy:

  • decarbonising energy, business and industry
  • improving business and industry efficiency
  • improving the energy efficiency, heating and cooling of our homes and other buildings
  • accelerating the shift to low carbon transport
  • enhancing the benefits and value of our natural resources
  • innovating for a more sustainable public sector
  • climate change adaptation and mitigation

In your application you must select the main theme you are focusing on, but your work can also address other themes.

Research categories

In phase 1 you must work closely with the stakeholders to develop a solution. In phase 2 the outcome of your project will be a prototype of the solution. Phase 2 is only open to participants in phase 1.

Phase 1. Technical feasibility studies

This means planned research or critical investigation to gain new knowledge and skills for developing new products, processes or services.

Phase 2. Prototype development and evaluation

This can include prototyping, demonstrating, piloting, testing and validation of new or improved products, processes or services in environments representative of real life operating conditions. The primary objective is to make further technical improvements on products, processes or services that are not substantially set.

In phase 1 the supplier will work closely with the stakeholders to develop a solution. The outcome of phase 2 will be a prototype of the solution.

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund projects which:

  • do not engage with potential future customers to understand needs
  • cannot be undertaken within the working restrictions of coronavirus (COVID 19)
  • do not address how any potentially negative outcomes (such as on the environment or society) would be managed
  • do not evidence the potential for their proposed innovation to generate positive economic and/or societal impact
  • would directly duplicate other UK government or EU funded initiatives you have already been funded to deliver

duplicates existing innovation, or work in progress by others
29 June 2020
Competition opens
2 July 2020
Online briefing event
3 July 2020
Q&A: Watch recording
5 August 2020 11:00am
Competition closes
11 September 2020 11:34am
Applicants notified

Before you start

By submitting an application, you agree to the terms of the draft contract which is available once you start your application. The final contract will include any details you have agreed with the funding authority and will be sent to you if your application is successful. The terms and conditions included in the draft contract should not substantially change.

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 from your organisation and subcontractors to contribute to the application.

What happens next

A selected panel of assessors will review your application. For phase 2 they can also take into account the phase 1 end-of-phase report. They might ask a number of finalists to attend an interview or give a demonstration. Soon after that we will award contracts and you will be provided with feedback.

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

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

1. Project details

These sections are not scored.

Application details

The lead applicant must complete this section. Give your project’s title, start date and duration.

Your background

Who made you aware of the competition?

How long has your organisation been established for?

What is your organisation’s primary area of focus?

Your answer can be up to 80 words long.

Project summary

Describe your project briefly. Be clear about what makes it innovative and how it relates to the scope of the competition.

Give details of the lead organisation, including any achievements, experience or skills which make it well suited to lead this project. Before you submit it, we expect you to have discussed your application within your own organisation and any other relevant organisations.

List any organisations you have named as subcontractors.

Describe how your proposal meets the scope of the competition. How does it tackle different aspects of the challenge and how will it provide an integrated solution?

Select one main theme from the specific themes list in the ‘Scope’ section of this competition. You cannot choose more than one. If your proposal is addressing more than one theme, select the one which best fits the proposal and clearly list any other themes as secondary.

Your answer can be up to 800 words long. This section is not scored, but we will use it to decide whether the project fits the scope of the competition. If it does not, it may be rejected.

Public description

Please provide a brief description of your project. This question is mandatory but we will not assess this content as part of your application.

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. We have the right to amend the description before publication if necessary but will consult you about any changes.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

2. Application questions

The assessors will score your answers to all these questions except questions 1 and 2.

Your answer to each question can be up to 400 words long. Do not include any website links (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. Scope (not scored)

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.

Question 3. Proposed idea or technology

Set out the challenge you are looking to address and how it relates to a sustainable recovery from the impacts of coronavirus (COVID-19).

Provide a brief description of your proposed solution. How does it address the outcomes described in the competition scope?

Describe the current state of development or readiness of the solution.

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF containing images and diagrams to support your answer. It can be no larger than 10MB and up to 2 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

This question will be scored against this assessment criterion: ‘How well does the proposed challenge and solution meet the outcomes described in the competition scope?’

Question 4. Customer engagement

Describe or explain:

  • how you are working with potential future customers to understand user needs and validate solution development
  • why the identified potential future customer is well suited for this project
  • the commitment you have received from the identified potential future customers to help you in activities throughout phase 1 and the planned phase 2

You will be required to submit a letter of support or commitment from a potential future customer with your phase 2 application. If you already have a letter of support or commitment you can upload it as an appendix in PDF format no larger than 10MB and up to 2 A4 pages long.

This question will be scored against this assessment criterion: ‘How far is effective engagement with appropriate potential future customers evidenced?’

Question 5. Technical project summary

Give a short background to the main technical challenges you are looking to address.

Describe or explain:

  • what the innovation is
  • the main technical deliverables
  • the research and development that will prove the scientific, environmental and commercial merit of the project
  • what might be achieved by deploying the innovation to address the selected challenge
  • the positive impact your project will have on climate change and/or environmental sustainability, and how this will be achieved, maintained and measured

This question will be scored against this assessment criterion: ‘How valid is the technical approach?’

Question 6. Current state of the art and intellectual property

Detail other products currently available on the market and how the innovation of your proposed project differentiates itself from them.

Include details of:

  • any existing intellectual property (IP)
  • its significance to your freedom to operate

This question will be scored against these assessment criteria: ‘How innovative is this project? How much does the project develop or employ novel concepts, approaches, methodologies, tools or technologies for this area?’

Question 7. Project plan and methodology

Describe your project plan and identify the main milestones.

The plan for phase 1 must be comprehensive. For phase 2 only an outline is required. The emphasis throughout should be on practicality. We are seeking evidence that the technology works, can be made into a viable product and can achieve the proposed benefits.

You should describe or explain:

  • what resources will be needed to deliver the project
  • what the main success criteria would be
  • the identified project management processes that will ensure you achieve the milestones
  • the main technical, commercial and environmental risks and what you will do to mitigate them
  • how you would handle any IP issues which might arise during the project

Please ensure that if you are working with subcontractors you explain how you will maintain freedom to operate and fulfil the IP requirements detailed in the contract.

You must upload a project plan or Gantt chart as an appendix in PDF format no larger than 10MB and up to 2 A4 pages long. Include a description and dates of milestones, deliverables, resources required, payment schedule and success criteria. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

This question will be assessed against these assessment criteria: ‘Does the proposal show a clear plan for establishing technical and commercial feasibility? Are the proposed project management processes appropriate? Is there a clear management plan? Will the main technical, commercial and environmental risks to project success be effectively managed?’

Question 8. Milestones

Download and complete the milestone template.

Your milestones must be:

  • clear
  • defined using SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) criteria
  • associated with the appropriate deliverables and payments

Once you have completed the milestone template it must be uploaded in a PDF format to this question. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

In phase 1, to simplify payment processing and make it easier for your project to adapt around the constraints of coronavirus (COVID 19), we plan to make 2 payments against milestones. The first payment (25% of the funding) will be related to the successful completion of the project kick-off meeting and the second (75%) on the submission of the project end-of-phase report.

This question will be assessed against these assessment criteria: ‘Are the milestones clear and appropriate to ensure the successful delivery of the project?’

Question 9. Technical team and expertise

Provide a brief description of your technical team. Include the expertise of each team member or subcontractor relevant to your application, outlining why they are critical to the project’s success and how much of their time will be spent on the project.

This question will be scored against this assessment criterion: ‘Does the applicant have the skills, capabilities and experience to deliver the intended benefits?’

Question 10. Costs and value for money

How much will the project cost for phase 1? How does it represent value for money for the team and the taxpayer?

Describe or explain:

  • the total eligible project costs, including VAT, you are requesting in terms of the project goals
  • how this project represents value for money for you and the taxpayer
  • how it compares to what you would spend your money on otherwise

You should indicate your potential costs for phase 2. (Progression to phase 2 depends on your success in phase 1).

Costs quoted must reflect actual costs at a “fair market value” and not include profit.

Full economic cost (FEC) calculations are not relevant for SBRI competitions. SBRI is a competitive process and applications will come from a variety of organisations. Whatever calculation you use to arrive at your total eligible project costs your application will be assessed against applications from other organisations. Bear this in mind when calculating your total eligible project costs. You can include overheads but remember that this is a competitive process.

In the Innovation Funding Service, you will be asked if you are VAT registered before entering your project costs. If you are a VAT registered organisation you will not need to enter your costs inclusive of VAT as the Innovation Funding Service will calculate the VAT for you.

VAT is the responsibility of the invoicing business, and applications must list total costs inclusive of VAT. If you are VAT exempt then you can quote without VAT but you will not be able to increase invoice values to cover VAT later on.

You can submit a single appendix as a spreadsheet no larger than 10MB and up to 2 A4 pages long to support your answer. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

The assessors are required to judge the application finances in terms of value for money. In other words, does the proposed cost for effort and deliverables reflect a fair market price? They will score your finances against this assessment criterion: ‘Are the budget and costs realistic, justified and appropriate for the aims and methods?’

Please note information from the finances section will be used to support the assessment of this question. Proposed costs stated in this section must match those entered in the finance summary on your application.

Question 11. Commercial potential

Describe how you will realise the commercial potential of your proposal and to what timescales, including a clear plan to deliver that and a route to market. Focus on your proposed customer’s needs but you may also mention the future commercial potential across the public or private sector and the international market.

How far is the challenge you are addressing shared across the public and/or private sector in the UK and further afield? Describe the competitive advantage that your proposal has over existing or alternative technologies that meet market needs.

This question will be scored against these assessment criteria: ‘Is there a clear commercial potential for a marketable product, process or service and a clear plan to deliver that and a clear route to market? How significant is the competitive advantage of this technology over existing technologies that meet the market’s needs?’

3. Finances

Enter your project costs, organisation details and funding details. For full information on what costs you can claim, see our project costs guidance.

Background and further information

About Small Business Research Initiative competitions

SBRI provides innovative solutions to challenges faced by the public sector. This can lead to better public services and improved efficiency and effectiveness.

The SBRI programme:

  • supports economic growth and enables the development of innovative products and services through the public procurement of R&D
  • generates new business opportunities for companies
  • provides a route to market for their ideas
  • bridges the seed funding gap experienced by many early-stage companies

SBRI competitions are open to all organisations that can demonstrate a route to market for their solution. The SBRI scheme is particularly suited to small and medium-sized businesses, as the contracts are of relatively small value and operate on short timescales. Developments are 100% funded and focused on specific identified needs, increasing the chance of exploitation.

Suppliers for each project will be selected by an open competition process and retain the intellectual property generated from the project, with certain rights of use retained by the contracting authority. This is an excellent opportunity to establish an early customer for a new technology and to fund its development.

By submitting this application you acknowledge that:

  • you have read the statement above
  • you have read the draft contract and are prepared to agree to the terms and conditions if you are successful
  • you agree that your contact details can be passed to other government agencies and Affinity Partners
  • the information given in this application is complete
  • you are actively engaged in this project and responsible for its overall management
  • you agree to administer the award if made

About the Sustainable Innovation Fund

The coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic has resulted in an unexpected and unparalleled disruption to UK jobs, businesses, the economy at large and society in general. Recovering will take considerable time and investment, but the opportunity exists to recover in a sustainable way, resulting in increased prosperity with lower carbon emissions.

Further help and information

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

If you have any questions about the requirements of this competition, email

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

Our phone lines are open from 9am to 11:30am and 2pm to 4:30pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

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