Prosperity Partnerships: early-stage collaborations
This funding opportunity is a pilot aimed at supporting ambitious early-stage academic-business research collaborations. These will be promising emerging partnerships which are on the way towards becoming strategic partnerships.
A strategic partnership in this context is one which is well-established, trusted, and built on a track record of significant, regular, collaborative research projects which the academic and business partners have developed and completed together. The strategic partnership will be recognised by both parties, have a clear trajectory for future collaborative work, and may involve the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) or collaboration agreement.
This early-stage collaborations pilot will complement the main Prosperity Partnerships funding opportunity. Where the flagship Prosperity Partnerships scheme is aimed at well-established and strategic partnerships, this strand is for partnerships which are at an earlier stage of their collaborative relationship.
For this opportunity, EPSRC expects the collaborative relationship between the academic and industrial partners will be pre-existing, operating for about a year at least, and certainly less than 5 years. This will not be the partners’ first collaboration, nor the continuation of a strategic partnership.
This opportunity looks to increase the support of these earlier-stage relationships to encourage business investment in discovery science as part of the partners’ long-term strategies.
We are also trialling a swifter process with this pilot to shorten the time between application and decision. There will be no separate postal peer review stage. We will not be providing feedback to unsuccessful applicants. There will be an opportunity to respond to panel feedback and queries during the interview, for those applicants that reach that stage.
We encourage SME involvement. This could be alone, as part of a consortium, or as part of the supply chain of a larger company
Studentships are not permissible for this funding opportunity.
Based on our experience with the flagship Prosperity Partnerships scheme we expect this funding opportunity to be highly competitive.
Business-led, co-created, co-delivered
EPSRC Prosperity Partnerships funding opportunities aim to fund business-led research that arises from an industrial need, with the work being co-delivered between the business and academic partners. The opportunity is aimed at supporting excellent, world-leading fundamental research which has clear benefit to the businesses involved, resulting in accelerated impact arising from the new knowledge, innovations, or technologies.
Co-creation of the research programme is essential. EPSRC expects programmes funded through this opportunity to:
- drive forward shared research challenges
- demonstrate impact beyond the partners
- provide benefits to the businesses involved
The Prosperity Partnerships: early-stage collaborations programme should contribute positively to the path towards an overall strategic partnership between the parties. We expect you will have a pre-existing framework, agreement or MoU in place between the parties.
It should be clear that both the business and academic researchers are making distinct intellectual contributions to the partnership.
Where an individual is discharging responsibilities within both a business and a research organisation (for example, because of being involved in university spinouts) clarity on separation of duties and managing conflicts of interest is essential.
If the proposal is deemed appropriate for EPSRC support, a collaboration agreement will be required before the funding can proceed.
The research challenges to be addressed in your Prosperity Partnerships: early-stage collaboration should:
- be relevant to stimulating innovation aimed at tackling major problems faced by the UK and the world
- drive capability in key technologies and scientific advancements
EPSRC recognises that the specific outcomes will be unique to each project, but you should consider how they may:
- deliver new or improved products or services
- drive efficiencies or cost reductions
- enable expansion to new sectors or markets while also jointly authoring high-impact publications
Ultimately, the project should be providing economic impact and prosperity which wouldn’t exist without the partnership.
EPSRC seeks to foster greater collaboration and networking between researchers, business, and civic bodies to deliver research and skills outcomes vital to the long-term prosperity of communities and regions of the UK. We believe that flagship investments and partnerships such as those funded through Prosperity Partnerships funding opportunities can have significant positive effects on places.
This is not an assessment criterion; EPSRC is encouraging you to address, where appropriate, how your partnership might contribute to local or place-based ambitions and impacts to further enhance the excellence and the impact of your programme.
We encourage applications to articulate, where appropriate, how their partnership aligns and supports both industrial and civic ambitions or priorities. Demonstrative examples could include, but are not restricted to:
- links with regional or local policies, economic strategies, or plans through engagement with local partners and stakeholders
- involvement or alignment with parallel, wider local or regional investments, for example city deals, regional growth deals, Strength in Places Programmes, innovation centres, etc.
- delivering on local needs. For example, the project has been informed by local socio-economic conditions and challenges
- fit to a local or regional cluster, network, or programme of activities
Where applicable, you are also asked to demonstrate what place-based outcomes might be expected to arise from your project, both in the short and longer term. These may include (but are not restricted to):
- contributing to cluster development through knowledge diffusion, supply chain development, SME growth or generation, or growth of spin outs, and so on
- driving local and regional economic growth, skills development, job creation or retention
- catalysing critical mass activities or pioneering new markets leading to increase private investment, including foreign direct investment, in a specific place
Examples (non-exhaustive) of stakeholders we consider in having a place-based or local civic role:
- enterprise, development, or skills bodies (such as local enterprise partnerships or devolved equivalents)
- local authorities, councils, or combined authorities
- devolved administrations and their agencies
- regional or local industrial bodies
- local NHS trusts
You are asked to clearly indicate in your case for support if your project has place-based context or outcomes.
You are expected to work within the EPSRC framework for responsible innovation.
You should consider and implement plans for responsible innovation throughout the research project, and include details of these plans in the application, including specific actions that will be taken.
If you are planning to include international collaborators on your proposal you should visit Trusted Research for guidance on getting the most out of international collaboration while protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.
Equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI)
Through productive collaborative partnerships the long-term strength of the UK research and talent pipelines can be enhanced, and to do so effectively all available talent must be harnessed. EPSRC expects equality and diversity to be integral at all levels of research practices as a part of our funding portfolio.
One common approach is to reference institutional strategies and policies related to EDI and indicate that the project would be delivered in alignment with these activities. While these activities are important context, EPSRC is looking to understand the specific approach and activities of the projects in relation to management and decision-making processes.
We are committed to supporting the research community, offering a range of flexible options which allow you to design a package that fits your research goals, career, and personal circumstances. Therefore, these aspects should be strongly ingrained into the projects proposed for this opportunity.
Please see EPSRC EDI expectations and the accompanying blog, ‘Expectations for EDI – What should we be doing?’. This resource is designed to help members of the research community learn about and embed EDI practices in their local environment.
Criteria that the business and academic leads should consider before applying:
- the business and academic partners have a demonstrable, research-based relationship that can be at an early stage, being between about 1 year and less than 5 years in duration, and having had some collaboration activity
- there are clear plans to evolve this relationship via user-inspired shared research challenges demonstrating they are on the pathway to a strategic partnership
- both partners are committed to the co-creation of a jointly delivered research programme at technology readiness level (TRL) 1 to 3:
- basic principles observed
- technology concept formulated
- experimental proof of concept
- the business and academic partners can commit to leveraging EPSRC funding for their Prosperity Partnerships: early-stage collaborations proposal:
- industry cash contribution must at least match the amount funded by EPSRC, which will be 80% of the grant’s full economic cost (see budget examples document (PDF, 46KB))
- no UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) public or government funding will be used as leverage
- please see the ‘Definitive list of eligible cash contributions’ section
- demonstrate an auditable transfer during the grant duration
- the business lead is:
- a business in the private sector driven by profit, or from an organisation with a commercial arm which generates independent revenue
- in a position to contribute to the nation’s prosperity through increasing their investment in research and development activities and subsequent product development in the UK
The project should address research areas and challenges based on the EPSRC’s strategic delivery plan.
EPSRC funding is at 80% of full economic costs. In this opportunity, the funding provided by EPSRC must be matched by an industry cash contribution of at least equal value. In-kind contributions will be in addition to this matched component. See examples in the budget examples document (PDF, 46KB).
Please see the ’Definitive list of eligible cash contributions’ section. Any contribution not included in the cash contribution list will count as ‘in-kind’.
The combined cash contributions from the business partners must at least match the EPSRC funding requested. It is expected that the majority will come from the business lead and should be around 80% at a minimum. This expectation does not apply to an application from a consortium of SMEs.
Additional project partner contributions are encouraged.
Cash contributions from all partners can exceed the minimum industry matching contribution. Contributions can include:
- in-kind contributions, such as data, software, management time, or facilities access are welcome and can help show business commitment to the success of the project. However, they will not count towards the industry matching contributions
- academic partner’s cash contribution (including the academic lead) does not contribute to the matching figure requirements
- no UKRI or other UK government money, as part of baseline funding or otherwise, may be used as part of the matching contribution
EPSRC does not mandate a specific audit format for the industry contributions to a project, however, a record must be provided if requested. This must be able to demonstrate a continuous auditable cash transfer, or staff time-record, by the business partner per year in each year of the programme.
In summary, the gross salary for the staff (such as researchers, postdoctoral research associates (PDRA), technicians, and the project manager) can be counted as part-matched funding (that is, including indirect costs such as pension, National Insurance, taxes and so on), but business overheads and profits cannot. The salary of a single member of staff (researcher, PDRA, or project manager) can be covered in partnership by the business lead and EPSRC funds in a ratio that best suits the project.
The appropriateness of the time devoted to the project will be assessed by the expert panel during the initial stage.
Please note that the salaries of business lead investigators must be paid by the business and are ineligible as cash or in-kind contributions.
The following is the definitive list of eligible cash contributions. These are in addition to providing an auditable cash transfer to the academic organisations.
Definitive list of eligible cash contributions
All or part of the pro rata, gross salary cost associated with researchers employed by universities or businesses (including co-investigators). The expectation is that researchers will work at least 50% of their time on the Prosperity Partnerships.
All or part of the gross salary cost associated with research associates employed by research organisations to work exclusively on the Prosperity Partnerships. Research associates can also be employed directly by the businesses in the partnership and claim the gross salary as a cash contribution if they are exclusively committed to working on the Prosperity Partnerships.
Professional project managers’ salary
Pro rata gross salary cost of a professional project manager is an eligible cash contribution if they work at least 50% of their time on the Prosperity Partnerships.
Pro rata gross salary costs of technicians are an eligible cash contribution if they work at least 50% of their time on the Prosperity Partnerships.
New software licences needed for the project and their maintenance cost for the duration of the grant. Software licences or intellectual property owned by the business which are already accessible by the partners will apply at marginal cost, not at market rate.
Genuine new equipment purchases, please see ‘Equipment’ section. The equipment should be dedicated to the objectives of the Prosperity Partnerships and their utilisation should be critical to deliver the activity.
The access does not have to be restricted to the project members, but EPSRC expects at least 50% of the time to be dedicated to the Prosperity Partnerships project. All equipment should be appropriately justified.
Equipment produced by the business
Equipment produced by the business, but only at the cost of manufacture, not market rate.
Access to equipment and facilities
Access to specific equipment and facilities critical to achieve the outcomes of the project (including access to labs and use of lab equipment). If the facility is based at the academic or business lead, the contribution will be at the internal rate, not market rate.
Facilities refurbishment can be an eligible research organisation cash contribution if the upgrade will increase the capability of the facilities. This contribution must be justified in addition to any estate costs already factored in.
Business cash donation
Business cash donation which will be provided to the partner universities, for the universities to manage in line with the project objectives.
Up to £10 million is available from EPSRC.
Requested funds may include:
- staff costs
- equipment and other items required to carry out the project
- costs related to impact
- travel and subsistence
ESPRC guidance on equipment funding.