Smart: innovation funding guidance - Innovate UK

The Smart Grants programme is part of Innovate UK’s diverse business and innovation support ecosystem. It is designed to propel high-impact innovations into the marketplace.

The innovation should not only be new and way ahead of anything similar on the market, it should also:

  • align with key industry and market trends
  • solve users’ problems

Through the Innovate UK Smart programme, we look to find the very best ideas from business, no matter what sector they’re from, whether it’s traditional disciplines like science and engineering or creative industries such as filmmaking or design.

What is important is that the innovation should embody a forward-thinking approach, poised to set new industry standards or create new markets. The aim is to support projects that don’t just fill existing gaps but leap forward, shaping future market landscapes.

It can take a lot of time and resources to find suitable markets for new innovations and develop new products, services and processes. Grant funding is one way that businesses can take a project forward and quickly turn it into reality.

We also know that new ideas to improve and transform people’s lives, industries and the world can come from anywhere, at any time. That’s why Smart Grants also have an emphasis on inclusive growth, supporting diversity in innovation and enabling a wider range of businesses to contribute to the UK’s competitive advantage on the global stage.

What the programme involves

These grants are more than just funding opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and partners where applicable. They are an exceptional investment and support for companies with projects that:

  • promise to make a substantial difference in their respective industries or completely new areas that have not been addressed before but can validate a sizeable market and need
  • depict a robust business plan for successful completion of the project followed by swift commercialisation

The exploitation plan must demonstrate realistic high potential for significant economic return, growth and market share.

To apply, your business needs one of the following:

  • an idea for a completely new product, service or process
  • a brand-new use for an existing product, service or process that takes it above and beyond what’s currently available

It is not limited to a particular industry or technology area.

Applications must clearly demonstrate how the innovation will contribute to the UK’s economic growth, including job creation, market expansion, and overall economic prosperity.

The expertise and capability of the project team is critical. If the project involves collaboration, the synergy between the partners should have a marked effect on the project’s prospect of success.

Businesses that are not able to demonstrate a willing market could consider other types of innovation support and advice, including connecting with experts.

What support is available

Different amounts of grant funding are available depending on the size of the business applying for funding and the stage of their project. The latest competition brief, available online, provides a detailed and comprehensive list.

For innovation support, including finding project partners, advice on bidding for funding and attracting investment, contact Innovate UK Business Connect.

Who can apply

UK-based businesses can apply for grants through the Innovate UK Smart programme. However, every project must involve at least one SME. SMEs can work alone or with other businesses, the research base or third sector, depending on the amount of grant and the duration of the project. This will be outlined in the specific competition brief.

The lead applicant and any partners need to be UK registered companies and conduct their project related activities here.

It is vital for all interested parties to read and carefully consider the guidance provided in the online competition brief as well as the recorded applicants’ briefing for the current round.

This will ensure they understand:

  • what the programme offers
  • what contractual obligations will apply to them
  • whether their proposal is clearly in scope

It will also help establish if the programme aligns with their business model and capacity to deliver their part of the equation.

How to apply for funding

Innovate UK runs regular competitions where businesses can apply for Smart grants with their innovation projects.

Businesses will need to register and complete an application via the Innovation Funding Service.

You will need to outline the need or challenge you have identified and how your innovation will meet this, going significantly beyond what competitors are doing and what’s currently considered state-of-the-art.

You will need to show evidence of a clear market that will want to buy and use the final product, process or service, and how you will access and exploit this.

You will also need to explain why a grant is important to your project’s development and what would happen without this.

Competition details with more information are published on the Innovation Funding Service as and when these are available.


By completing and submitting your application, you will be declaring your acceptance of the assessment process and terms and conditions relating to the competition.

Your application will be assessed by three independent assessors. All three of the scores awarded will count towards the total score used to make the funding decision. The standard Innovate UK ‘outlier’ process does not apply.

The final decision regarding a grant offer will ultimately rest with Innovate UK.


For Smart Grants April 2024 and all subsequent Smart Grants competitions (until further notice), the exception process will be as follows.

If the highest or lowest score is 30% or 18 marks away from the next closest score and the funding decision is impacted, we will review your application against our exceptions policy.

In our exceptions policy we will look for one or more of the following:

  • if an assessor marked no to ‘recommend for funding’ and is subsequently judged by us not to have marked the questions on the merit of the responses or taken into account the guidance provided
  • if Innovate UK determines the verified assessor skills and content of the application are not an appropriate match

If we identify one or more of these, we will replace that assessment.

View our assessor guidance.

Apply for funding

Read and carefully consider the latest competition brief for detailed information on eligibility and application procedures. Every round may involve significantly changed eligibility metrics designed to maximise opportunity, return on investment and value.

Only consider applying if you are sure your project aligns with Smart Grants’ emphasis on completely new and groundbreaking solutions with significant potential for swift commercialisation following project completion, and considerable economic returns, growth and market share.

Take into account other factors that differentiate this programme from alternatives that may be more aligned with your vision. The ‘Applicant Briefing’ webinar (date and time on the competition page online) provides more detail.

Search for ‘Smart’ funding for your project on the Innovation Funding Service.

Ask a question about the Smart Grants programme



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Last updated: 22 April 2024

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