Speeding up funding incentives for your business with public grants

Innovative or risky research project with a clear commercial opportunity? You could be eligible for an R&D grant says Myriad Associates' Lauren Olson

Research & development (R&D) grants, which are awarded to projects that seek to resolve a technical uncertainty by undertaking risky or innovative research and development, can provide an essential source of match funding for your innovative project.

Often awarded to projects considered too risky for private sector investment, proposed R&D projects and costs must be realistic, with a clear commercial opportunity, and have the aim of creating new or exploiting significant growth within the market.

The government funding incentives currently available to you

UK companies and organisations can apply for a number of UK-based government grants and European grant funding. The main source of UK R&D grant funding is from Innovate UK, the government’s innovation agency, which runs funding competitions that can help you develop your innovative idea and make it successful. Innovate UK funding competitions provide funding between £25,000 and £10m and typically fund technical or market feasibility studies, proof of concept projects, and the development of prototypes.

Although Innovate UK has not yet released its delivery plan for 2017-2018, the agency has several funding opportunities currently open, including:

  • Manufacturing and materials round 3 – for innovative projects focusing on technical or commercial challenges in manufacturing and materials
  • Open programme round 3 – for game-changing, cutting-edge innovations in any area of UK enterprise and industry
  • Connected and autonomous vehicles test bed – to develop the world’s most effective connected and autonomous vehicle testing infrastructure

European grant funding for UK companies includes Horizon 2020, with nearly €80bn of grant funding available over seven years (2014 to 2020); and EUREKA Eurostars, for innovative small businesses wanting to take part in collaborative research with partners across Europe and associated countries.

Horizon 2020 has many funding opportunities across multiple areas, including the dedicated SME Instrument, which has several topics and cut-off dates throughout the year.

Innovative companies seeking grant funding opportunities

External funding – whether from public or private sources – can help start-ups and other innovative businesses set themselves up for success. Investment can help companies to speed up innovation, do things they couldn’t do alone, and access market opportunities, including additional funding.

What are the stages of an R&D grant application?

Each grant funding competition will have its own rules and requirements, but generally you can apply for grant funding if you want to:

  • Test whether your idea will work through a feasibility study
  • Create a new product, process, or service, or improve an existing one through research and development
  • Work on collaborative projects with other businesses or research organisations

You’ll need the right combination of people to cover the grant application’s key aspects: the technology, market knowledge, commercialisation plan, and financial details. Preparation of a grant application can take over 300 hours of work, so it’s best to make sure you have everything in place before you start the application process.

Once you’ve made your application, it will be evaluated by the grant funding organisation. This process varies by competition, with some competitions subject to a ‘portfolio’ approach to ensure that funds are allocated across all the strategic areas in the competition scope. Successful applications must usually meet a quality threshold.

It will generally take up to three months (although it can be longer) after you make your submission to be notified of the funding decision.

What types of digital innovation projects qualify for R&D grants?

Your R&D grant funding application is more likely to succeed if:

  • It shows how the project results in a real innovation and doesn’t replicate products currently on the market
  • It provides a convincing company description, which explains why you are more likely to succeed than a competitor
  • It includes a clear and thorough description of the business opportunity, not just a description of the project
  • It demonstrates a clear understanding of the target market, including commercialisation and competitor information
  • It has global opportunities that draw on unique strengths from the UK

How to ensure your company’s next project is eligible

Applying for an R&D grant application requires a substantial investment of time and resources. You should match your planned or existing project to the right competition – don’t try to come up with a project that fits the requirements of the competition, as you’ll be wasting both your time and the time of the grant organisation. You should only apply for R&D grant funding if you’re prepared to pay the costs of the entire project, as grant funding is extremely competitive and the grant money is usually paid in arrears.

All successful R&D projects start with a good idea, and projects that win R&D grant funding are no exception. You should develop your project, and your company, as if there weren’t any grant schemes available; and if you win a grant funding competition, it will be a very nice bonus.

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