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Smart grants

Innovate UK are the UK’s innovation funding agency and part of UKRI. They help businesses develop the new products, services, and processes they need to grow through innovation.

There are several different schemes available to business primarily, with research organisations as project partners, current opportunities are listed on their website.

Innovate UK should be seen as a potential funding source for any academic working to apply their research with industry partners – and especially so when the industry partners are active in R&D and capable of leading and managing a project. However, Innovate UK has different priorities to the Research Councils – more directly linked to stimulating investment in R&D and growing the economy. This means that application templates tend to emphasise the business case and route to market, rather than focusing on the academic merit or track record of the researchers involved. Colleagues in the KTC have experience with Innovate UK applications and understand this different approach to funding applications.

Grant funding via Innovate is shared across the following main schemes:

  • Smart Grants
  • Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP)
  • Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF)
  • Catalyst Programmes
  • Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).

The main schemes which academics are involved with are Smart Grants and KTPs.

Smart Grants are an opportunity for UK-registered organisations to apply for a share of up to £25 million to deliver research and development innovation that can significantly impact the UK economy. This is Innovate UK’s main funding model for business-led proposals. There are regular deadlines every two to three months. Applications can come from any area of technology and be applied to any part of the economy, as a result these are incredibly competitive.

There are three types of projects a Smart Grant can support:

  • early feasibility studies to analyse and evaluate the potential of an idea, including market research. Feasibility studies help businesses decide to work either individually or collaboratively with other industrial or research organisations, before conducting a subsequent larger project.
  • industrial research, with the intention that the skills and knowledge acquired will lead to an improvement in existing products, processes, or services.
  • experimental development, using existing knowledge and skills to develop new products, processes or services through activities including prototype testing, piloting, and demonstration.

Projects must be business-led and involve SMEs. Research organisations cannot lead or work alone on a Smart Grant proposal; however, they can partner with a commercial organisation and access up to 30% of the total eligible project costs (at 80% FEC). Funding rates available to the businesses involved in a proposal vary with the size of business, type, and duration of proposal up to a maximum of 36 months and £2m.

For academics partnering on an Innovate UK grant, the process includes both contributing to the main application on the Innovation Funding Service (IFS) and making a cut-down Je-S application:

  • All partners are required to have access to the main grant on IFS. On this you will be able to see and edit the entire application, and you will be asked to complete specific sections that focus solely on the University’s role in the application.
  • Your Research Development Manager will help you cost your project contribution via a Je-S application. In addition to the costing, you will be required to complete a Justification of Resources. You may also need to add a summary of the expertise and facilities provided by the University to the project.
  • Once the Je-S is complete, it must be submitted ahead of the IFS deadline, and you must upload the PDF of the Je-S to your section in the IFS. You also take the costings from Je-S and enter them separately into the finances section for the University on IFS, where they are added to the total project costs automatically.
  • Each partner must mark every section of the IFS form 'Complete' on their version before the application can be submitted by the lead.

Your application will be reviewed by 3–5 assessors. There is no feedback stage. Once funded there is a strict project monitoring process where each project is:

  • assigned a Monitoring Officer (specialist contractor),
  • required to submit quarterly reports,
  • required to deliver quarterly progress meetings, with monitoring officer in attendance.

Colleagues in the KTC can help you manage the relationship with your partner by:

  • supporting you to scope your contribution appropriately, and
  • providing expert advice to the company on the quality of the application.

Before submitting a SMART application, you must consider:

  • the appropriateness of the company that you are collaborating with
  • the background Intellectual Property that you are bringing to the project
  • potential conflicts of interest with existing collaborative research projects.

If you would like to discuss a potential Smart Grant application, please contact your KTP Business Partner.