Innovate UK is the UK’s national innovation agency. We support innovative businesses in the race to future prosperity through:
- business advisory services.
Most of our funding programmes target specific themes and industry sectors, for example:
- autonomous vehicles.
However, our most popular funding competition, Smart Grants, has an open scope, giving innovative businesses the opportunity to present any idea, regardless of technology or sector.
In turn, this allows us to support innovations that may not be eligible for our other (sector-specific) competitions.
Supporting trailblazing ideas
Each year, Smart Grants distributes up to £100 million to the UK’s most innovative companies, whose unique, trailblazing ideas have the potential to improve people’s lives and create economic growth, jobs, and exports.
Through Smart Grants, we have supported a wonderfully diverse array of brilliant innovations, such as:
- cutting edge imaging systems that help guide surgical operations
- energy efficient air compressors that help reduce carbon emissions
- high tech suspension solutions that protect soldiers in military vehicles
- next-generation music technologies to boost education and the creativity of music makers.
Due to its popularity, Smart is our most competitive programme. Although we would love to be able to fund all the brilliant ideas we receive – our budgets are finite. This means, only the strongest, most cutting-edge, most commercially savvy projects with clear financial management get approved for funding.
We know that grant applications require a lot of effort, so we want to help you make an informed choice on whether to apply to Smart Grants, or to seek other Innovate UK competitions and support services.
Is Smart right for you?
If you are a UK-based business with a game-changing and commercially viable idea, Smart could be for you. But, it’s worth knowing that the success rates for other Innovate UK competitions are higher.
So, if you are eligible to apply for competitions dedicated to your sector or technology, then it might be a good idea to focus your application there instead.
So, what are we looking for in Smart competitions?
We’re looking for ideas significantly ahead of their field and an evidence-based plan to deliver economic impact and growth.
You can use Smart grants for feasibility studies, experimental development, and industrial research with the potential for swift commercialisation of new products, processes and services.
Applicants must submit a written application for projects from £25,000 to £2 million in total costs and taking from six to 36 months to complete. Success is based on an independent assessment score, and we offer reasonable adjustments to enable diversity and inclusion for all.
What are the chances of success?
Application numbers vary for each round of Smart, commonly highest in Spring, but it is always highly competitive.
The ‘assessor score’ required to secure funding varies with the volume and quality of applications. Sometimes incredible applications that score over 80% may not be successful.
We typically award less than 10% of all applicants. In fact, it’s similar to the proportion of children in football academies who eventually go on to have careers as professional footballers.
Unsuccessful applications are mostly caused by failing to score highly enough in the independent assessment or failing to meet the eligibility criteria. To maximise your chances of success, please read carefully and understand the Smart competition brief and attend the competition’s briefing webinar.
Can you help me with support and guidance?
Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) is our official partner for supporting companies with their Innovate UK applications. You can contact KTN to discuss your idea at any time or explore their website for resources such as the proposal writing guide.
They will help you understand your market or challenge and offer advice on the most relevant Innovate UK competition for your idea.
What if I am unsuccessful?
Failing to secure funding is always disappointing. However, many projects go on to reapply and achieve success.
We offer plenty of resources to support your next steps:
- we provide feedback from independent assessors for every application
- KTNorganise support events to network with like-minded applicants and potential future collaborators
- our YouTube channel has videos to help with the application process (YouTube) and in deciding if our funding is right for you.
- if you aren’t quite at the right stage to apply for funding, Innovate UK EDGE business advisors may be exactly what you need to guide your business journey.
Some businesses report that the application process, even when unsuccessful, had:
- strengthened their business case
- helped develop their value proposition and project plan
- helped with securing alternative funding, including commercial investment.
Our general guidance for applicants explains the process and has lots of supporting information.
In choosing to apply for Smart, we want you to be confident that this is the right competition, so you can maximise your chances of success.
Finally, good luck, and remember the words of Sir Isaac Newton:
My powers are ordinary. Only my application brings me success.
Useful contacts for more information
If you have any questions, please contact Innovate UK’s customer support on 0300 321 4357 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find all our current funding competitions
Visit the KTN website
You can go to the Innovate UK website
Top image: Credit: Drazen_ / Getty Images