Funding competition Women in Innovation Awards 2020/21

Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, is offering 10 Women in Innovation Awards to female entrepreneurs across the UK. The winners will receive a £50,000 grant and a bespoke package of mentoring, coaching and business support.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


The aim of this competition is to find women with exciting, innovative ideas and ambitious plans that will inspire others. The awards are for female founders, co-founders or senior decision makers working in businesses that have been operating for at least one year.

Applicants must be confident, with the support of an award, that they can make a significant contribution to a pressing societal, environmental and/or economic challenge through their innovative project.

The competition is split into 2 phases. In phase 1 the written application will be assessed by independent experts. In phase 2 the shortlisted applicants will be interviewed by a panel of experts.

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

Funding type


Project size

Each award will provide £50,000 of funding. Projects must start by 1 April 2021 and will last for one year.

Who can apply

De minimis

The funding will be made as a de minimis award. All applicants for a de minimis award must complete and provide to Innovate UK a de minimis declaration, which can be found in question 1. This declares any and all de minimis awards (from any source of public funding) during the current and previous 2 fiscal (tax) years. Total grant must not exceed 200,000 euros for any one organisation in line with the above de minimis regulations.

Agriculture, fisheries and road transport sectors

Innovate UK provides research, development and innovation funding opportunities within the agriculture and fisheries sectors through other forms of aid. However, we will not fund the following through de minimis:

  • aid subsidising any primary production within fishery and aquaculture sectors
  • aid subsidising any primary production of agricultural products
  • aid partially or wholly subsidising any primary producers involved in the marketing and processing of agricultural products (for instance, a farm producing and marketing meat)

De minimis aid cannot be used for costs associated with:

  • export-related activities towards third countries or member states, namely aid directly linked to the quantities exported, to the establishment and operation of a distribution network or to other current expenditure linked to the export activity
  • activities that favour domestic goods over imports
  • activities related to purchasing of road freight transport. For any other activity which involves hire or reward in the road freight transport sector, aid is limited to 100,000 euros over 3 fiscal years

Your project

Your project must:

  • start on 1 April 2021
  • end on 31 March 2022
  • last 12 months

Lead organisation

To be eligible for an award you must:

  • be a female founder, co-founder or senior decision maker within a UK registered micro or SME business which has been operating for at least 12 months by the competition closing date
  • carry out your project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • be able to receive funding under de minimis state aid regulations
  • be legally and contractually able to use the funding
  • be available to attend an online interview panel during the week beginning 7 December 2020
  • attend 2 bootcamps over one and a half days during the week beginning 18 April 2021 and in November 2021
  • be fully committed to work as a role model for up to 5 days over the duration of the award

Applications from UK-based social enterprises operating economically will be eligible if they meet all other criteria.

Find out which definition your organisation falls into.

You can only make one application for yourself. More than one woman working within the same organisation can apply. The awards are for individuals, but this does not prevent you from working with others.


Subcontractors are allowed in this competition and must be selected through a participant’s normal procurement process. Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK. If an overseas subcontractor is selected, a case must be made as to why no UK-based subcontractor can be used including a detailed rationale, evidence of UK companies that have been approached and reasons why they were unable to do so. A cheaper cost is not deemed as a sufficient reason to use an overseas subcontractor.

Previous applications


You can use a resubmission from a previous round to apply for this competition as long as you did not receive an award.

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 must submit a Statement of Expenditure (SoE) with your final claim. If you failed to submit an SoE or Independent Accountant’s Report (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 £500,000 for 10 awards at £50,000 each. We will also provide a bespoke package of mentoring, coaching and business support.

The funding will be paid in 3 increments:

  • 50% (£25,000) upfront (April 2021)
  • 40% (£20,000) at the mid-point (October 2021)
  • 10% (£5,000) at the end of your project on receipt of a completed statement of expenditure

In addition to the grant funding, all award holders will receive a package of support tailored to their needs.

The expert advice available includes, but is not limited to:

  • funding and finance options and how to access these, including introductions to investors and training on pitching
  • media and communications, such as branding
  • intellectual property
  • developing new business models
  • evaluating market opportunities
  • finding new partners
  • growth and scale up
  • developing international collaborations and accessing global markets
  • business planning strategy

Access to relevant world-leading facilities and equipment will be also be provided where this is appropriate.

The package of support will be delivered by the:

You will also be introduced to business mentors and Women in Innovation ambassadors within the Innovate UK network as part of your award.

Role model work

Award holders will be required to work as a role model for at least 5 days over the one year duration of the award. This is likely to generate interest in their stories and businesses. See the work that was done with the Women in Innovation Award holders from 2016 and 2019.

De minimis aid

The grant funding will be made to the business as a de minimis award.

In order to minimise distortion of competition, the European Commission sets limits on how much assistance can be given without its prior approval, to organisations operating in a competitive market. There is a ceiling of 200,000 euros for all de minimis aid provided to any one organisation over a 3 fiscal year period.

You need to declare any de minimis aid awarded to any other public funding body which requests it. You must also keep all documentation associated with the award for 10 years from the date the award is granted.

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to fund and support a diverse portfolio of Women in Innovation Award winners:

  • from regions across the UK
  • who are solving a range of pressing societal, environmental and economic challenges
  • in a variety of innovation areas

Your proposal must identify clearly evidenced pressing societal, environmental and/or economic challenge(s), and how your project and innovation can help solve them.

Applications can come from any area of innovation (where innovation is defined as the commercially successful exploitation of ideas) and be applied to any part of the economy, such as but not exclusively:

  • the arts, design and media
  • creative industries
  • science or engineering

Whilst we welcome projects that overlap with the grand challenge areas this is not a requirement, as we are also keen to support projects in other areas.

We plan to offer 10 awards.

We want to support women who are at a critical stage with their business, where an award will enable them to take an important step forward. The funding should help them make a real difference to innovation in the UK including in and beyond their sector or innovation area.

You should be someone who will be an inspiration to others.

We are looking for women who clearly explain how they will benefit from the full package of funding and support on offer and who can describe how this will add value to them and their business.

We are particularly encouraging applications from women who:

  • have the potential, capability, experience and personal drive to become leaders in business innovation
  • want to be a role model for others, including in your region, sector and to young people
  • have a clear vision for their business
  • are looking to develop a game changing novel idea or business innovation
  • know what they are hoping to achieve from the award and how to measure success

Projects we will not fund

We are not funding projects that:

  • do not intend to use the full package of support on offer
  • have a negative impact on the environment or society
  • have a detrimental effect on equality, diversity and inclusion
  • do not involve any research and development or innovation, for example, the creation of information-only websites
  • do not meet the competition eligibility or scope
  • involve exports or imports
  • involve purchasing within road freight transport sector
  • involve primary production in fishery and aquaculture
  • involve primary production in agriculture
  • are not allowed under de minimis regulation restrictions

1 September 2020
Online briefing event
1 September 2020
Competition opens
14 October 2020 11:00am
Competition closes
26 November 2020
Invite to interview
7 December 2020
Interview panel week commencing
18 December 2020 10:42am
Applicants notified

Before you start

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.

Please read the guidance on monitoring officers and the additional general guidance.

When you start an application you will be prompted to create an account. You will need an account to track the progress of your application.

You will be responsible for:

  • collecting the information for your application
  • representing your organisation in leading the project if your application is successful

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

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


If your application is successful at the written stage you will be invited to attend an interview, where you will need to give a presentation. Online interviews will take place during the week beginning 7 December 2020 using Zoom. The invite will be emailed to you with the joining details.

You will be expected to answer questions based on your application form and the assessor feedback.

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

  • must tell us who will attend the interview with you
  • must send your interview presentation slides
  • can send a written response to the assessors’ feedback

List of attendees

The interview is for you but you can bring one partner with you if you think this is appropriate. You need to send us their name by the date stated in the invite email. Make sure they will be available on the published interview dates. We are unable to reschedule slots once allocated.

Presentation slides

Your interview presentation must:

  • use Microsoft PowerPoint
  • be no longer than 15 minutes
  • have no more than 10 slides
  • not include any video or embedded web links

You must submit your presentation slides to Innovate UK by the date stated on the email invite. You cannot change the presentation after you submit it or bring any additional materials to the interview.

Written response to assessor feedback

This is optional and is an opportunity to answer the assessors’ concerns. It can:

  • be up to 4 A4 pages in a single PDF or Word document
  • include charts or diagrams


After your presentation the panel will spend 20 minutes asking questions. You will be expected to answer based on the information you provided in your application form, presentation and the response to feedback.

If successful, please let us know if you require any reasonable adjustments to be made to participate in the interview.

1. Project details

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

Application details

Give your application’s title, start date and duration. Projects must start on 1 April 2021 and be of 12 months’ duration.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Please complete the EDI survey (opens in new window). 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.

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.

Project summary

Describe yourself, your business and your idea briefly, and be clear about what makes your idea innovative. We use this section to assign experts to assess your application. Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Public description

Describe yourself, your business and your idea in a way that you are happy to see published. Please do not include any commercially sensitive information. If your application is successful, we will publish this description. This could happen before the start date of your award. Your answer can be up to 400 words long.


Describe how your application fits the scope of the competition. If your application is not in scope it will be immediately rejected and will not be sent for assessment. We will give you feedback on why. Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

This section provides background for the assessors and is not scored.

2. Application questions

The assessors will score your answers. You will receive feedback for questions 6 to 11.

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

Question 1: De minimis declaration (not scored)

Please download the de minimis declaration template. You must complete this declaring any other de minimis aid received during the current and previous 2 financial years. You must keep all documentation relating to this and other de minimis awards for a period of 10 years and be prepared to release it to any public funding body that requests it. Please upload the completed declaration form to this question as a PDF.

Please type “declaration attached” in the text box.

Question 2: Previous applications (not scored)

Have you applied for funding from any Innovate UK competition previously? Please select Yes or No.

Question 3: Previous support (not scored)

Have you previously received support from the Innovate UK family including Knowledge Transfer Network, Enterprise Europe Network and the Catapults?

Please state Yes or No as part of your answer and explain what support you have received

Question 4: How you heard about the Awards (not scored)

How did you find out about the Women in Innovation Awards? Please select one or more of the following:

  • recommended by a colleague
  • recommended by a friend
  • Innovate UK’s social media channels (Linked In, Twitter)
  • KTN’s social media channels (Linked In, Twitter)
  • KTN Women in Innovation newsletter
  • an email or other communication from Innovate UK
  • an email or other communication from KTN
  • Women in Innovation event
  • World Labs platform
  • Enterprise Europe Network
  • other (please specify)

Question 5: Additional support (not scored)

Even if you are unsuccessful we may be able to find you some support. Are you happy for us to share your details with our partner organisations, the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) and Catapults?

Please select either yes or no.

Question 6: Your potential to be a leader in business innovation

Do you have evidence that you have the capabilities and potential to be a leader in your area of business innovation, and a role model for others?

Describe or demonstrate:

  • why you have the potential to become a leader in innovation
  • why you have made the decision to focus on innovation in your field
  • that you have the ambition to achieve great things and the business acumen to deliver commercial success
  • your relevant skills and capabilities, giving evidence of aptitude and potential to lead, inspire and influence, communicate, and a willingness to work hard to achieve your potential
  • how you would feel about being a champion for equality, diversity and inclusion and a role model to inspire more women into business innovation (especially in your sector or innovation area, region and to young people)
  • your role in previous innovation activities including the development of novel technologies, innovative products or services and their commercialisation
  • your understanding of the processes and stages involved in making innovation happen, including any relevant experience, such as accessing funding, protecting intellectual property rights, getting buy-in from stakeholders, leading teams, identifying resources for innovation projects, or understanding market requirements and dynamics
  • the difference that an award will make to you personally
  • any particular equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) challenges in your sector or innovation area that have motivated you to apply

If you were encouraged to apply for this award by a colleague, please include a few sentences from them on why they put you forward.

You can submit an appendix to support your answer. It can include recommendations from colleagues, publicity or outside references to your work. It must be a PDF, up to one A4 page and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 7: Your vision for your business and timeliness of the award

What is the vision for your business and why is this the right time for you and your business to benefit from the award?

Describe or explain:

  • your vision for where you see your business in the future
  • how the vision is ambitious
  • the current status with your business and progress to date including other relevant support that you have received
  • the added value of the award to the business and why this is the right time for the injection of support it offers
  • the dynamics of the market you are targeting and any other potential markets
  • what you expect the future to look like

You can submit details of any public or private support received to date and graphics to illustrate the vision as an appendix to support your answer. It must be a PDF, up to one A4 page and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 8: Need or challenge

What is the pressing societal, environmental and/or economic challenge(s) you are trying to solve through your innovation and what is the expected impact?

Describe or explain:

  • the overall societal, environmental and/or economic challenge(s) you are focusing on
  • any links to current government priorities where relevant, including the UK Government’s COVID-19 Recovery Strategy, grand challenge areas and the R&D Roadmap
  • expected impacts on society, the economy and the environment, what potential negative impacts have you considered
  • any equality, diversity or inclusion challenges if appropriate

Question 9: Your idea or business opportunity

What new idea or business opportunity would you like to develop with the award, and why this is a critical next step for your business?

Describe or explain:

  • the new idea or business opportunity
  • why this is important and how it relates to your vision described in question 7
  • how your new idea or business opportunity will respond to the challenge identified in question 8
  • the business need, technological challenge or market opportunity
  • how you will improve on 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
  • 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 it will make you more competitive
  • how you will consider equality, diversity and inclusion in the development of your innovation (for example unintended exclusion of minority groups, recognising bias)

Question 10: Plan for the award

How will you use the package of support provided by the award?

Describe or explain:

  • the specific activities you would undertake with £50,000 of funding
  • the cost of each activity you plan to undertake and explain how this represents value for money
  • who you will need to work with to successfully execute your project or carry out the planned activity, including any important internal or external parties, such as subcontractors
  • any resources, equipment and facilities required for the project or activity and how you will access them
  • how you will manage the project to keep it on track and maximise the likelihood of success, including any tools and mechanisms that will be used to ensure successful delivery
  • the main risks and uncertainties of your project or planned activity, for example any technical, commercial, managerial or environmental risks, and explain how these will be mitigated

Explain fully how you plan to use the non-grant package of support to add value to your work and to develop yourself as a leader in innovation. Refer to the information on the package of support in the funding section. Tell us what expert advice you are most interested in and why. Say if you would like to access world-leading facilities and equipment and, if so, provide details of what you are looking for.

You can submit a project plan or Gantt chart to support your answer. You must also include a risk register. These must be submitted as a single appendix. It must be a PDF, up to 2 A4 pages long and no larger than 10MB in size. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 11: What does success look like?

What are the expected outputs of the award and how will these be measured?

Describe or explain:

  • what outputs you expect to see for each activity described in question 10
  • what success looks like and how it will be measured
  • 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
  • how you will protect and exploit the outputs of the project, for example through know-how, patenting, designs or changes to your business model
  • any output likely to be subject to regulatory requirements, certification, ethical issues and so on, and how you will manage this
  • what you expect the next steps to be after the award

3. Finances

In the finances section you must complete your project costs, organisational details and funding details. For full details on what costs you can claim please see our project costs guidance.

Background and further information

Innovate UK launched Women in Innovation in 2016, after research revealed that just 1 in 7 applications for Innovate UK support came from women. Boosting the number of female entrepreneurs could deliver £180 billion to the economy.

The overall aim was to get more women with excellent ideas innovating within UK businesses. Women in Innovation is part of our commitment to promote greater diversity and inclusion in business innovation.

Shortly after launching the campaign we opened our first competition for Women in Innovation Awards. The campaign and awards programme in 2016 and 2018 have had a huge impact so far. The number of women applying to Innovate UK’s funding and support has increased by 70%. The Women in Innovation Awards 2020/21 will build on this success.

Anyone who self-identifies as a woman is eligible to apply.


The Women in Innovation bootcamps will be held at the start and mid-point of your award.

The bootcamps are an opportunity to engage and network with both those providing the expert support available and other peers in your cohort, including your innovation advisor.

We expect you to agree your action plan at the first bootcamp.

Knowledge Transfer Network

Visit the Women in Innovation programme page on the KTN website to access expert advice sessions, find out about future networking events, meet the previous Women in Innovation award holders and join the Women in Innovation community.

Contact us 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).

Innovate UK is committed to making the support we have accessible to all. We can provide assistance to applicants that face barriers in making an application (for example, as a result of a disability, neurodiversity or any other accessibility issue). If you need additional support, it is important that you contact us as early as possible so we can discuss your needs and work together on a solution.

Enterprise Europe Network

Upon award, you will be allocated an Innovation Advisor from the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), acting on behalf of Innovate UK, who will offer bespoke business support to help maximise your project and business potential. It will be a requirement that you engage with your EEN Innovation Advisor throughout your project.

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