Funding competition January 2018 sector competition: strand 2, emerging and enabling technologies

UK businesses can apply for a share of up to £19 million to develop innovations in emerging and enabling technologies or health and life sciences. A further £12 million is available for KTPs.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


Innovate UK will invest up to £19 million in innovation projects that inspire new products, processes and services. These should address challenges in emerging and enabling technologies.

The aim of this competition is to help UK businesses broaden their innovation activities, disrupt existing markets and find new revenue sources.

A further £12 million is available to fund Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs).

Projects must show significant innovation in one of our 4 priority areas:

  1. Emerging technologies (biofilms, energy harvesting, graphene, new imaging technologies).
  2. Digital.
  3. Enabling capabilities, including electronics, sensors and photonics (ESP), robotics and autonomous systems (RAS), creative economy and design.
  4. Space applications.

This competition has 2 strands. This is the emerging and enabling strand. The other strand is health and life sciences.

If you are a business, you can carry out the project on your own or you can collaborate with others. A business or research and technology organisation (RTO) must lead the project. If your project size falls outside of our scope, contact us before you apply.

Funding type


Project size

Your project’s total costs should be between £35,000 and £2 million. Projects should last between 3 months and 3 years.

Who can apply

To be eligible for funding you must:

  • be a UK based business, academic, charity, public sector organisation or research and technology organisation (RTO)
  • carry out your project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from the UK

The lead organisation must claim funding through this competition. If the project is collaborative, at least one other organisation in the consortium must also claim funding.

All projects must involve an SME. Only an SME can lead projects with costs up to and including £100,000.

Any one business or RTO may lead on one application and partner in a further 2 applications. If a business is not leading an application, they can be a partner in up to 3 applications. An RTO can only lead a project if no business in the consortium has the capacity to lead the project.

If an RTO is:

  • the lead on an application they must have 2 business collaborators (one SME, and one other business of any size)
  • not the lead on any application, they can be a partner in any number of applications

Academics cannot lead on an application but can be a collaborator in any number of applications.

The research organisations collaborating as part of a consortium may share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum will be shared between them.

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole company and were awarded funding by Innovate UK, 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
  • communicate our decision to you in writing


If Innovate UK judges that your proposal is not materially different from your previous proposal, it will be classed as a resubmission.

If your application is unsuccessful, you may reapply with the same proposal once more, taking into account the feedback received from the assessors. This can be into another round of this competition or another competition. In other words, you can make a maximum of 2 applications in total with any proposal.


We have allocated up to £19 million to fund innovation projects across both strands in this competition. Up to £9.5 million is allocated for strand 2, emerging and enabling technologies. Another £9.5 million is allocated to health and life sciences.

Projects with costs:

  • up to and including £100,000 can be single or collaborative but must be led by an SME
  • over £100,000 must be collaborative, include a funded partner and involve an SME

There is funding available of up to:

  • £7.5 million for projects that have eligible costs of up to £100,000 and last between 3 and 12 months
  • £11.5 million for projects that have eligible costs of up to £2 million and last between 1 and 3 years
  • £12 million for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs)

Projects may include partners that don’t receive any funding (for example, non-UK businesses). Their costs will count towards the total project costs but they will not count as collaborators.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

As part of this competition we also welcome applications for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs). KTP applications should follow the specific guidance for KTPs, and use the KTP application form.

For KTPs we are accepting applications across all disciplines and proposals that can be considered to be emerging or enabling technologies. That includes KTP applications beyond the defined scope of this specific competition.

KTP applications have the same competition deadlines.

If you are applying for a KTP, you are subject to the same deadline but must follow a different process. Contact your local KTP adviser to learn more and find out how to apply.

Your proposal

The aim of this emerging and enabling strand is to help businesses to innovate in order to find sources of revenue from new products, processes or services.

To be considered, proposals must:

  • show significant innovation in one of our 4 priority areas (described further in the ‘Specific themes’ section)
  • have outputs that can be applied in more than one industry, sector or market
  • improve business growth or productivity, or create export opportunities for at least one UK SME involved in the project

Where possible, all projects should take customer and user needs into account to deliver more desirable and useful solutions.

Projects costing more than £500,000 and lasting 2 years or longer must include human-centred research and design activities within the first 6 months of the project. This is unless the applicant can demonstrate an existing, thorough understanding of customer or user needs.

To carry out human-centred design you should:

  • investigate the needs of important stakeholders (such as potential customers, end users, investors or delivery partners)
  • use that research to define what attributes a desirable solution should have
  • explore and test a broad range of possible solutions, and agree on the best investment-ready idea

Where applicable, please consider the cyber security implications in your proposal.

We are looking to fund a portfolio of projects, across different technologies, different markets and different technology maturities. These may include feasibility studies, industrial research or experimental development.

Specific themes

Choose one priority area for your innovation. There are 4 themes for this competition.

1. Emerging technologies

An emerging technology is one that is still developing from, or has only recently developed from, the research base. It allows you to do something that was impossible or only theoretical before. That means it disrupts existing markets and gives us new ways to improve our lives and generate wealth.

Your project must lead to a significant change in business performance and bring a totally new technology to market. We are particularly eager to fund projects in:

  • biofilms: advancing the understanding of biofilm management, control or exploitation, or applying biofilm to novel industrial applications
  • energy harvesting: scavenging low levels of energy from external sources for small portable devices. (We will not fund energy efficient products, applications that use harvested energy, or utility scale energy production in this competition)
  • graphene: seeking to develop and exploit the principal properties of graphene and its utility (not simply screening graphene against numerous other materials)
  • cutting-edge imaging: technologies not in commercial use (not new applications of existing technology and not simply image processing software)

2. Digital technology

You must demonstrate a significant development in, or use of, one or more of the following technologies:

  • machine learning and AI
  • cybersecurity
  • data analytics or ‘big data’
  • distributed ledger technology, such as blockchain
  • the Internet of Things
  • immersive media, such as virtual or augmented reality
  • 5G: innovative applications and services using enhanced mobile broadband, ultra-reliability, low latency or massive machine type communications

3. Enabling capabilities

Electronics, sensors and photonics (ESP)

You must propose an innovative project from across the range of ESP technologies, including:

  • electronic systems
  • large area electronics
  • power electronics
  • sensor and sensor systems
  • photonics
  • compound semiconductors

Robotics and autonomous systems

We are looking for proposals that provide significant improvements on system abilities in:

  • robotics for professional or personal service applications
  • robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) for inspection and maintenance
  • health and social care, including assistive technologies, patient care and robotic surgery
  • next generation farming
  • efficient individualised and customised manufacturing for SMEs
  • autonomous transport, including automotive, aerospace and rail applications
  • AI technologies for autonomous systems

Creative economy

We are looking for innovative projects that provide a significant improvement in efficiency or user experience in the creative industries.

4. Space applications

We are looking for innovations in commercially exploitable applications of satellite data or signals. We welcome applicants from all specialisms. Innovations must involve, or relate to, the use of one or more of the following technologies.

  1. Satellite communications. These must be new services or applications that use satellite communications infrastructure or innovations related to the ground segment and user terminals. One area of interest is in innovations that will strengthen satellite industry links with other telecommunications sectors, including 5G.
  2. Satellite positioning, navigation and timing. These must be new services or applications that use GNSS (global navigation satellite system). We are also interested in innovations that address the challenges of a disruption to GNSS (technologies that protect systems using GNSS against its loss are regarded as eligible).
  3. Earth observation. These must be new services or applications using existing satellite infrastructure or technology that directly links to the provision of new commercial services.

Projects that include the development of new satellite instruments or hardware are eligible so long as they have a clear path to exploitation as part of a service or application that uses satellite data or signals.

Project types

For feasibility studies and industrial research projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 70% if you are a small business
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 50% if you are a large business

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 45% if you are a small business
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 25% if you are a large business

Find out if your business fits the EU definition of an SME.

Projects we won't fund

We will not fund projects that cover:

Eligible technology definitions

Where applicable you must follow Innovate UK’s definitions for the following technologies:

Emerging technologies

For the purposes of this competition an emerging technology project should not be a new application of a widely adopted technology. It should be in a relatively undeveloped area of technology, but where the technology has the potential to create whole new categories of products or service sectors with significant potential for the growth of the UK economy.

Novel single-layer (2D) materials Single sheets of one or fewer atomic layers thick, or stacks of such sheets, which have properties that are different from the bulk.

Energy harvesting A means of providing a small amount of power for low-energy electronics. This can be by scavenging low-grade, ambient energy sources such as environmental vibrations, human power, thermal and solar energy, and converting them into useable electrical energy. Energy harvesting devices have the potential to replace primary batteries in low-power electronic systems or to charge rechargeable batteries.

Internet of Things (IoT) Where connected online objects share their data and information in order to help make smarter decisions for the benefit of humans. IoT technologies may include sensors, networks, software platforms, analytics and apps. However, they must:

  • focus on a primary sector or industry
  • solve a current problem in one market or technology

Distributed ledger technology (DLT)

A shared and decentralised database that has data mutually agreed upon through consensus. One application of this is blockchain, where a time-stamped and integrity-checked record is added sequentially and linked to previous transactions.

Cyber security The protection of data, programs, computers and networks from attacks, damage to hardware and software, or unauthorised access.

5G projects

These can be feasibility studies or industrial research projects. They should focus on 5G use cases and the user experience of 5G applications and services. This will involve considering the utility, usability and desirability of such applications and services, as well as issues such as security and privacy.

Projects may be related to:

  • the Internet of Things
  • the tactile internet
  • mission-critical applications
  • new handset services
  • new mobile applications
  • connected media or broadcast services
  • immersive content or
  • content distribution

The scope of this competition is deliberately broad to capture your imagination, and this list should not be considered exhaustive.

If a feasibility study, your project must include the analysis and evaluation of the potential of these applications and services. You must objectively assess their prospects for success under various configurations and conditions, as well as identifying the resources required to carry them through to market.

Industrial research projects may be underpinned by a 5G test network, an augmented 4G or other wireless network, or a simulated environment.

Projects may combine a feasibility study and industrial research. Mobile device investigations are allowed, provided that they are related to the application or the service.

Robotics systems

These are machines (or cyber-physical systems) that are capable of carrying out actions or tasks (usually dull, dirty or dangerous) on behalf of humans. They can be remotely controlled, automated or autonomous.

Autonomous systems

These are systems that are capable of achieving goals or objectives by conforming to a set of rules or laws. These laws define or constrain their behaviour, without explicit execution rules. This means they have “decisional” autonomy and demonstrate emergent behaviour employing AI technologies. They may be either digital or cyber-physical.

Creative industries

The 9 sectors in the creative industries are:

  • advertising and marketing
  • architecture
  • crafts
  • design: product, graphic and fashion
  • film, TV, video, radio and photography
  • computer games and services
  • publishing
  • museums, galleries and libraries
  • music, performing and visual arts
22 January 2018
Briefing event in London. Watch the recording.
22 January 2018
Competition opens
24 January 2018
Briefing event in Edinburgh.
29 January 2018
Briefing event in Cardiff.
8 February 2018
Briefing event in Leeds.
28 March 2018 12:00pm
Competition closes
26 June 2018 8:16am
Applicants notified

Before you start

Please read the general guidance for applicants. It will help your chances of submitting a quality application.

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 to contribute to the application
  • other organisations to participate in the project as collaborators if your application is successful

Partner organisations can be other businesses, research organisations, public sector organisations or charities.

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

  1. Project details
  2. Application questions
  3. Finances

1. Project details

Explain your project. This section is not scored, but we will use it to decide whether the project fits with the scope of the competition. If it doesn’t, it will be immediately rejected.

Application details

The lead applicant must complete this section. Give your project’s title, start date and length. List any partner organisations you have named as collaborators.

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.

Public description

Describe your project in detail, and in a way that you are happy to see published. Please do not include any commercially sensitive information. If we award your project funding, we will publish this description. This could be before you start your project.

Project scope

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.

2. Application questions

In this section, answers to these questions are scored by the assessors. Following assessment, you will receive feedback from the assessors for each question.

Your answer to each question can be up to 400 words long.

Question 1: Need or challenge

What is the business need, citizen challenge, technological challenge or market opportunity behind your innovation?

You should describe or explain:

  • the main motivation for the project
  • the business need, technological challenge or market opportunity
  • 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 is focused on developing an existing capability or building a new one
  • the wider economic, social, environmental, cultural and/or political challenges which are influential in creating the opportunity, such as incoming regulations. Our Horizons tool can help with this

Question 2: Approach and innovation

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

You should 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
  • 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 may submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 1MB and up to 2 pages in size to support your answer.

Question 3: Team and resources

Who is in the project team and what are their roles?

You should describe or explain:

  • the roles, skills and experience of all members of the project team that are relevant to the approach you will be taking
  • 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
  • any gaps in the team that will need to be filled

You may submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 1MB and up to 4 pages long to support your answer.

Question 4: Market awareness

What does the market you are targeting look like?

You should describe or explain:

  • the markets (domestic, international or both) you will be targeting in the project and any other potential markets
  • the size of the target markets for the project outcomes, backed up by references where available
  • the structure and dynamics of the target markets, including customer segmentation, together with predicted growth rates within clear timeframes
  • 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 5: Outcomes and route to market

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

You should describe or explain:

  • your current position in the markets and supply or value chains outlined, and whether you will be extending or establishing your market position
  • your target customers and/or end users, and the value to them, for example, why would they use or buy it?
  • your route to market
  • how you are going to profit from the innovation (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 6: Wider impacts

What impact might this project have outside the project team?

You should describe, and where possible measure:

  • the economic benefits from the project to external parties, including customers, others in the supply chain, broader industry and the UK economy, such as productivity increases and import substitution
  • any expected impact on government priorities
  • any expected environmental impacts, either positive or negative
  • any expected regional impacts of the project

Describe any expected social impacts, either positive or negative on, for example:

  • quality of life
  • social inclusion or exclusion
  • jobs, such as safeguarding, creating, changing or displacing them
  • education
  • public empowerment
  • health and safety
  • regulations
  • diversity

Question 7: Project management

You should describe or explain:

  • the main work packages of the project, indicating the relevant research category, the lead partner assigned to each and the total cost of each one
  • your approach to project management, identifying any major tools and mechanisms that will be used for a successful and innovative project outcome.
  • the management reporting lines
  • your project plan in enough detail to identify any links or dependencies between work packages or milestones

You may upload a project plan or Gantt chart as an appendix in PDF format no larger than 1MB and up to 2 pages long.

Question 8: Risks

What are the main risks for this project?

You should 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 these risks will be mitigated
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, such as resources, expertise, data sets
  • any output likely to be subject to regulatory requirements, certification, ethical issues and so on, and how will you manage this?

You may upload a risk register as an appendix in PDF format no larger than 1MB and up to 2 pages long.

Question 9: Additionality

Describe the impact that an injection of public funding would have on this project.

You should describe or explain:

  • if this project could go ahead in any form without public funding and if so, the difference the public funding would make, such as faster to market, more partners and reduced risk
  • the likely impact of the project on the business 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

Question 10: Costs and value for money

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

You should describe or explain:

  • the total project cost and the grant being requested in terms of the project goals
  • how the partners will finance their contributions to the project
  • how this project represents value for money for you and the taxpayer and 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


The finances section asks each organisation in your project to complete their own project costs, organisational details and funding details. Academics 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

The government’s emerging technologies and industries strategy provides investment to help companies explore the potential of transformative early-stage technologies in their markets. The strategy aims to disrupt markets and bring significant commercial results. This includes where small early investments are followed by increased financial and wider support.

Enabling technologies or capabilities have the potential to make a difference in many sectors. Yet they can be slow to spread through target industries. They need support and tailoring to realise that potential. The emerging and enabling technologies programme brings together technology and end users to enhance productivity and efficiency across the UK economy. The programme provides opportunities for innovative companies to develop and use multiple technologies. Applications include disrupting markets and finding new sales routes. This could be through well-established systems integrators and manufacturers.

The emerging and enabling technologies sector group supports the Digital Catapult, Satellite Application Catapult and the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult. Companies wishing to access the available equipment and expertise are invited to partner with the Catapults in this competition.

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

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

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