Funding competition SBRI: Innovate at HS2 2020, phase 1

Organisations can apply for a share of £300,000, inclusive of VAT, to support HS2 through innovation in construction and design.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition funded by High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd. The aim of the competition is to deliver innovation that will drive project efficiencies and process optimisations during the design and construction phase of High Speed 2.

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 invited to apply to take part in phase 2. This will be managed by HS2. To find out more about phase 2, see ‘Supporting information’.

Phase 1 of this activity is being managed by Innovate UK on behalf of High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd.

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 and the viability and desirability for the HS2 project. A total of up to £300,000, inclusive of VAT, is allocated to this phase.

Feasibility study R&D contracts will be up to £30,000, inclusive of VAT. This is for each project for up to 3 months.

We expect to fund up to 10 projects. The assessors will consider fair value in making their evaluation. For this competition, up to 2 assessors will be from HS2.

We welcome bids from a single entity that brings together sector specialists as subcontractors. Delivery of the contract work will still be the responsibility of the applicant.

Any adoption and implementation of a solution from this competition would be subject of a separate, competitive, procurement exercise. This competition does not cover the purchase of any solution.

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

Funding type


Project size

Phase 1 projects to range in size up to total costs of £30,000, inclusive of VAT.

Who can apply

Your project

Projects are expected to:

  • start by 1 March 2021
  • end by 31 May 2021
  • last up to 3 months


To lead a project, you can:

  • be an organisation of any size
  • work alone or with other organisations as subcontractors

Contracts will be awarded only to a single legal entity. However, if you can justify subcontracting components of the work, you can employ specialist consultants or advisers. This work will still be the responsibility of the main contractor.


A total of up to £300,000, inclusive of VAT, is allocated to phase 1.

Phase 1 feasibility study R&D contracts will be up to £30,000 inclusive of VAT, for each project for up to 3 months. We expect to fund up to 10 projects.

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

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 and 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

The aim of this competition is to demonstrate the desirability, feasibility and viability of innovations. The innovations must provide efficiency, or step change, to traditional processes or ways of working on major infrastructure projects, such as HS2.

In phase 1 you must demonstrate:

  • the desirability and feasibility of your solution by using a proof of concept relatable to the HS2 project
  • the viability of your solution by presenting a qualified supporting business case and demonstrating the breadth of impact your solution can deliver

You must deliver to HS2 your phase 1 report outlining the results of your study. HS2 may share this with other organisations engaged in the HS2 programme

At this stage contracts will be awarded 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.

You must demonstrate a credible and practical route to market, so your application must include a plan to commercialise your results.

Specific themes

You will be asked to select the primary theme as part of your application in ‘project details’. Your project must focus on one or more of these themes:

  • reduce manual operations
  • project interfaces
  • waste in construction
  • recruitment and onboarding
  • procurement loss prevention

Reduce manual operations

The construction industry has been slow to adopt digital capability, therefore there is tremendous opportunity across a wide string of processes and activities.

We want to explore technology that can replace:

  • manual ways of working
  • activities that are historically labour intensive or inefficient

We want new innovation that can:

  • identify, reduce or remove paper-based activities
  • automate and optimise processes as efficiently as possible

Project interfaces

Major projects such as HS2 are complex. We want to improve the way HS2 can digitally interface between:

  • contracts
  • work packages
  • project schedules
  • project disciplines
  • stakeholders

Waste in construction

The construction industry contributes to a large percentage of waste generated in England. Poor site management can lead to materials being unused. We want to explore technology solutions that can minimise material waste on HS2. This could be a result of:

  • storage
  • protection
  • multi handling
  • site control
  • overordering
  • lack of control
  • damage

Recruitment and onboarding

HS2 will need to recruit tens of thousands of people over the duration of the project. Due to the large number of sites on HS2, our workforce will undertake multiple inductions of a similar nature. We want to research and develop solutions that can optimise:

  • the recruitment process
  • site inductions
  • onboarding of staff

Procurement Loss Prevention

HS2 wants to research and develop solutions that could identify:

  • inflated costs
  • payments that fall outside of scope of works
  • anomalies in wage rates
  • ways to validate itemising of materials for quantity and quality
  • any false representations

Research categories

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. The primary objective is to demonstrate an initial proof of concept that can demonstrate the need for further investment.

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

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund projects that:

  • are not likely to be successfully exploited by the rail industry to deliver benefits to rail infrastructure clients or contractors
  • do not create a significant change in the level of innovation available in the rail industry
  • do not meet the needs of the competition challenges
  • do not demonstrate a significant return on investment on the end solution
  • have a lead time for feasible realisation greater than 3 years
  • develop solutions already commercially available
21 October 2020
Competition opens
12 November 2020
Online briefing event
21 December 2020 12:00pm
Competition closes
22 January 2021
22 January 2021 3:02pm
Applicants notified
19 February 2021
Phase 1 contracts awarded

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 contract is binding once the contract is returned by the applicant and signed by both parties.

The terms and conditions for phase 1 included in the draft contract should not substantially change.

When you start an application on the Innovation Funding Service 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 to contribute to the application.

What happens next

A selected panel of assessors will review and score your application and the winners of phase 1 contracts will be selected. All applicants will be given feedback.

For phase 2 assessors will 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.

Innovate UK will share details of your application with HS2 and the Department for Transport.

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.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

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 then select yes in the application question. 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.


Which theme does your project focus on?

Your solution can overlap a number of themes but please select only the main one.

  • reduce manual operations
  • project interfaces
  • waste in construction
  • recruitment and onboarding
  • procurement loss prevention

For more detail see the specific themes section of the competition’s scope tab.

Project summary

Please provide a short summary of your project.

Describe your project briefly. Be clear about what makes it innovative and how it relates to the scope of the competition. How does it tackle different aspects of the challenge and how will it provide an integrated solution?

Give details of the lead organisation. Before you submit 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.

If your application covers more than one theme, please state which other themes are applicable for your project.

Your answer for this section 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 will be rejected.

Public description

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

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. 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.

Your answer to each question can be up to 400 words long. Do not include any website addresses (URLs) in your answers unless we have explicitly requested a link to a video.

Question 1. Proposed idea or technology

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

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

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 proposal meet the challenge?’

Question 2. Technical project summary

Give a short background to the main technical challenges. State what the innovation is and the main technical deliverables.

This would typically involve highlighting the research and development that will prove the scientific and commercial merit of the project. Also describe what might be achieved by deploying the innovation to address the technical challenges.

Briefly describe how you will address the challenge.

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

Question 3. Current state of the art and intellectual property

Detail other products on the market and the innovation of your proposed project. Include details of any existing intellectual property (IP) and 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 4. 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 intellectual property (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. Allow for the preparation of a detailed plan for phase 2, towards the end of phase 1

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. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Download and complete the milestone and payment schedule template.

Your milestones must be:

  • clear
  • defined using SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) criteria
  • associated with the appropriate deliverables and payments
  • indicate your required payment schedule quarterly

Once you have completed the milestone template it must be uploaded in a PDF format no larger than 10MB in size to this question. 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 and the development of a working prototype? Is there a clear management plan What are the main technical, commercial and environmental risks to project success? Will these be effectively managed? Are the milestones and evaluation procedures appropriate?’

Question 5. Technical team and expertise

Provide a brief description of your technical team. Include the expertise of each team member that is relevant to your application 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 6. 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, inclusive of 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 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.

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.

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

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.

Question 7. Commercial potential

Describe how you would realise the commercial potential of your proposal and to what timescales, including a clear plan to deliver that and a route to market.

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 phase 1 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 HS2

HS2 is a state-of-the-art, high-speed line critical for the UK’s low carbon transport future. It will provide much-needed rail capacity across the country and is integral to rail projects in the North and Midlands – helping rebalance the UK economy.

For additional information, please see the HS2 website

About Innovate at HS2 2020 phase 2: research and development contracts, prototype development and testing

If HS2 decides to run phase 2 it will 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 will be to make further technical improvements on products, processes or services that are not substantially set.

Up to 5 R&D contracts will be awarded to businesses chosen from the successful phase 1 applicants. Up to £250,000, inclusive of VAT, will be allocated for each contract, in order to develop a prototype and undertake field testing for up to 12 months.

HS2 will manage phase 2 activities directly. The contract is completed at the end of phase 2, and the successful business is expected to pursue commercialisation of their solution.

The phase 2 competition will not cover the purchase of any solution.

In phase 2 HS2 will ask successful applicants from Phase 1 to partner with a Tier 1 supply chain joint venture (see list below) to continue solution development and to deliver the maximum value to the HS2 project. Further details will be provided to successful phase 1 applicants

Main Works Civils Contractors:

  • SCS JV
  • BBV JV
  • Stations - MaceDragados JV


HS2 Innovation Framework Partners:

As part of phase 2 activities, successful applicants must deliver a demonstrator in the UK working with one of the following:

  • HS2 tier 1 supply chain contractors on HS2 sites
  • equivalent UK client organisations, such as HS1, Network Rail or Highways England, on their infrastructure

You must demonstrate how you will work with an HS2 tier 1 supply chain partner as part of your Phase 2 application and you must possess a letter of support to this effect.

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

Data sharing

This competition is jointly operated by Innovate UK, and High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd (each an “agency”).

Your submitted application and any other information you provide at the application stage can be submitted to each agency on an individual basis for its storage, processing and use. Any relevant information produced during the application process concerning your application can be shared by one agency with the other, for its individual storage, processing and use.

This means that any information given to or generated by Innovate UK in respect of your application may be passed on to HS2 and vice versa.

Innovate UK and HS2 are directly accountable to you for their holding and processing of your information, including any personal data and confidential information. Data is held in accordance with their own policies. Accordingly, Innovate UK, and HS2 will be data controllers for personal data submitted during the application.

Innovate UK complies with the requirements of GDPR, and is committed to upholding the data protection principles, and protecting your information. The Information Commissioner’s Office also has a useful guide for organisations, which outlines the data protection principles.

Further help and information

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

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

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