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About Smart Grants and how we can support you

Navigating the world of innovation funding can be complicated so we’ve compiled a list of the questions we get asked most frequently along with comprehensive answers to help you understand more about Innovate UK, Smart Grants, and how we can support your next application.

New application dates announced!

From 26 August UK registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £25 million. Find out more about this round here or get in touch.

About Innovate UK and Smart Grants

Innovate UK has this to say:

Being a monitoring officer, assessor or steering board member for Innovate UK, or indeed being a former employee, does not necessarily preclude that person from being associated with a company applying for or receiving funds from Innovate UK. Indeed, those who Innovate UK appoint to advisory or consultative roles are often from an innovation background. As such, some of them may have worked for organisations in receipt of Innovate UK funding. The important point is that they would not be allowed to undertake their assessment or monitoring duties on those companies if they were applying for or receiving grants.

Unfortunately not. Innovate UK's role is to enhance the economy by encouraging commercialisation of innovative ideas. It defines a business as 'an organisation undertaking economic activities', and applicants are subject to financial viability checks.

MPA can help you put your financial position back on track with innovation-first tax and accounting advice, so even if you're not sure that you're in a position to apply for grant funding now, working with us will help you open up more options for the future.

No. If you need to make changes you'll need to withdraw it and reapply under a new application number.

Each application received in a round is scored, and – simply put – those with the best scores secure the funding.

The chances of success are also dependent on the number and quality of the applications submitted in the round, but you have no way of knowing how good the other applications were. Our advice to have the best chance of winning is to ensure your application is as comprehensive, well researched, and well written as possible.

There’s a significant amount of funding on the table for those who qualify, apply and win. In the current live round, for example, there’s £25m allocated to be shared.

What you’ll actually receive varies dependent on the type of business you are, who you’ve worked with and what your project covers, but 70% of the funding you require could be received from an Innovate UK Smart Grant.

Sort of. You may submit an application for the same project, however, you should alter the bid to improve it. It's likely that the same assessor may read your application the second time around and they'll make note of resubmitted applications that haven't taken feedback into account.

That being said, winning applications are those that score the highest out of all of the ones submitted in the round. Therefore, one round of applicants could be stronger than another, and you may have a better chance of being one of the highest scorers, and therefore winning funding, in a less competitive round.

There is no way of knowing what the quality of the applications you're competing against is.

That’s not a particularly easy question to answer without sight of project and business specifics. Many more things than just qualifying criteria need to be taken into account, such as other types of funding you receive, your tax position and any innovation relief you claim for, who you work with and from where (company type, sector, country), the size of your business and resource allocated to R&D/innovation and much more.

We suggest taking a look at the high-level eligibility criteria on the Innovate UK website and reading all of our FAQs, and then getting in touch with us for a free business review.

Competition funding, which is also available through Innovate UK, is aimed at solving a specific problem that Government wants to address - for example, products and services to support healthy ageing.

If you see a competition that fits your idea, your project matches their scope, and you match the eligibility criteria, then you could apply for Competition funding.

The best thing to do is talk through your project with a specialist like MPA who can advise on the best route for you to take, considering all other things like research and development tax reliefs and your financial position.

Smart Grants are part of Innovate UK's 'Open grant funding' programme. They're designed to help commercially viable innovations by SMEs reach market launch. They have a broader scope of eligibility criteria than funding they provide through other routes such as Competitions.

The 'Grand Challenges' are the four global trends that have been identified in the Industrial Strategy as transforming the future:

  1. Artificial Intelligence and data.
  2. Ageing society.
  3. Clean growth.
  4. Future of mobility.

Applications that overlap with the Grand Challenges are eligible for Smart funding, but it’s not a compulsory requirement. However, in our experience, applications that do address one or more of the challenges are more likely to be successful.

Innovate UK often run other Competitions directly linked to these challenges, some times in collaboration with other research organisations or government departments.

You should check the scope and eligibility criteria for each round of Smart Grant applications, but as a starter here are some things to check direct from Innovate UK themselves:

In order to apply for smart funding you must:

  • Be a UK-registered business or research and technology organisation
  • Carry out your research and development project activity in the UK
  • Intend to commercially exploit the project results from the UK
  • Be or involve at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise

There is a comprehensive list of all available Innovate UK funding on their website, here, and you’ll notice that most have strict open and close dates. These opportunities can be referred to as competitions, and they’re typically looking to fund R&D or innovations that tackle a specific problem.

These set competitions are focused in scope and applicant eligibility, and are often linked to one of the four Grand Challenges set out in the Industrial Strategy:

  • Artificial Intelligence and data
  • ageing society
  • clean growth
  • future of mobility

Outside of these competitions, Innovate UK also have open funding.

Referred to as ‘Smart Grants’, these have broader eligibility criterion, and open in rounds throughout the year. Although there are application deadlines, rounds are consecutive – so when one deadline is met, the next application round becomes live, unlike set competitions that are specific and open for a limited amount of time, once.

Applications can come from any area of technology and be applied to any part of the economy, and although projects that overlap with the grand challenge areas listed above are welcome it’s not a requirement.

Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body launched in April 2018 sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Innovate UK work with companies to ‘de-risk, enable and support innovation’, through connecting businesses to partners, customers and investors. Crucially, it also funds innovation projects that have the possibility to become commercially successful.

In order to apply for smart funding you must:

  • Be a UK-registered business or research and technology organisation
  • Carry out your research and development project activity in the UK
  • Intend to commercially exploit the project results from the UK
  • Be or involve at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise
More about our Grant application support service

The Smart Grant application process

No, submitting a Smart Grant application can be done free online. However, collating all of the necessary information and making sure your application is as strong as it possibly can be is time-consuming.

Your submission must be written so that it clearly meets the required criteria and is submitted in accordance with the overall guidance, along with supporting documentation.

Helping clients cut down on the time it takes to create winning applications is the reason we launched a bid writing/application support service.

Innovate UK has this to say:

Being a monitoring officer, assessor or steering board member for Innovate UK, or indeed being a former employee, does not necessarily preclude that person from being associated with a company applying for or receiving funds from Innovate UK. Indeed, those who Innovate UK appoint to advisory or consultative roles are often from an innovation background. As such, some of them may have worked for organisations in receipt of Innovate UK funding. The important point is that they would not be allowed to undertake their assessment or monitoring duties on those companies if they were applying for or receiving grants.

No, there is no way of finding out who will be scoring your application, but they are reviewed by relevant independent experts from academia and business

Innovate UK has this to say regards to their assessors:

Assessors are assigned to independently assess the applications to our competitions. This ensures that we have the right technical expertise in place to determine the merits of projects. Financial due diligence activities on applicants are separately undertaken by our internal team. Monitoring officers evaluate the progress of live projects.

We do not allow assessors or monitoring officers to perform these duties in respect of companies in which they have a financial or personal interest. We manage any potential conflicts of interest by requiring our assessors and monitoring officers to declare any interests that could be (or be perceived as) a conflict in their work for us. 

No. If you need to make changes you'll need to withdraw it and reapply under a new application number.

Yes, and no. While it is important you submit your application as soon as possible, especially if you are keen to receive financial assistance quickly, Smart Grants are open all year long. They are held in rounds, which usually take place 4 times a year, so if you missed the last deadline you could always wait for the next application window to open.

More importantly, we recommend you start your application at least nine weeks before the round deadline to give you enough time to pull together the information you'll need to submit. If you're working with an advisor and you've started the application process already you could turn it around in as little as six weeks however the less time you give yourself the more intense the process will be.

Applications are welcome in relation to projects that are at all different stages however, the more evidence you can provide to demonstrate the level of innovativeness involved and the impact it’s going to make, or is already making, the better. You also need to evidence the commercial viability of your project with comprehensive route to market research, so you do need to seek funding for more than simply an idea.

Each application received in a round is scored, and – simply put – those with the best scores secure the funding.

The chances of success are also dependent on the number and quality of the applications submitted in the round, but you have no way of knowing how good the other applications were. Our advice to have the best chance of winning is to ensure your application is as comprehensive, well researched, and well written as possible.

Sort of. You may submit an application for the same project, however, you should alter the bid to improve it. It's likely that the same assessor may read your application the second time around and they'll make note of resubmitted applications that haven't taken feedback into account.

That being said, winning applications are those that score the highest out of all of the ones submitted in the round. Therefore, one round of applicants could be stronger than another, and you may have a better chance of being one of the highest scorers, and therefore winning funding, in a less competitive round.

There is no way of knowing what the quality of the applications you're competing against is.

We have a set fee upfront for all clients that we'd be happy to share with you on request. If your application is successful a percentage of the funding received would also be payable.

We will discuss your project and funding needs thoroughly before recommending and undertaking grant application work to ensure you're getting the service right for you.

The typical process after you secure funding successfully is as follows:

  • you'll need to complete project set up online which includes completing agreements and providing requested documentation
  • your project costs will then be reviewed and financial viability checks will be made on all partner organisations
  • a collaboration agreement will be requested if your project is shared
  • a monitoring officer will be assigned to work with you throughout the project. They will ensure you remain compliant with terms and conditions
  • funding can be claimed quarterly in arrears, and claims will be audited. Some reports may be needed - an independent accountant's report for example and evidence to support each claim should also be collated
  • claims will be paid into a bank account and the bank must provide a clearing facility, be regulated by the FCA and be authorised by the PRA

Smart Grant applications are free to complete online, however, many are put off by the amount of detailed information that is required to complete the application and in understanding the scope of who can apply, and when.

The application process is split into three sections: project details, specific questions, and financial information.

There are around 10 questions, and answers for each can be up to 400 words long plus supporting materials.

All sections must be completed before you can submit an application and there is guidance throughout the online process.

From Innovate UK:

The lead applicant represents the lead organisation for the application. As the lead applicant you will be responsible for:

  • starting an application
  • adding people from your organisation to the application and removing them
  • adding partner organisations you wish to collaborate with, where applicable, and removing them
  • assigning questions
  • answering questions relevant to you
  • reviewing answers given by team members
  • submitting the application before the deadline
  • accepting the terms and conditions on behalf of your organisation
  • uploading permitted appendices

You should only add people who are directly involved in the project. If your project wants to change who is leading the application, the new person will need to start a new application.

From Innovate UK:

Partner organisations are invited to join an application by the lead applicant. They will receive an email invitation from the Innovation Funding Service and will need to accept the invitation and create an account, or sign in to an existing account.

As a partner you are responsible for:

  • completing project costs and finance details for your organisation
  • inviting other people from your organisation to help with the application
  • answering questions assigned to you by the lead applicant
  • accepting the terms and conditions for your organisation

Partners can see:

  • all application questions and answers
  • their own organisation’s finance details
  • the application finance summary

Neither the lead applicant nor partners can view the financial details of any of the other organisations involved in the application. They can only view their own.

Partners are not able to:

  • start an application
  • invite people from other organisations
  • assign questions
  • submit the application

From Innovate UK:

The standard assessment process applied to most full stage applications is as follows:

  • applications are allocated to assessors in a secure and confidential manner, taking into account conflicts of interest and expertise that best match the funding opportunity
  • each application is marked by a minimum of 3 assessors
  • applications are assessed against the same set of questions within a funding category
  • each assessor must complete and submit a score-sheet with comments for each application they assess. This will form your application feedback
  • a report is compiled to identify a ranked order of all applications based on the average of all assessor scores. This is known as the panel sheet
  • the panel sheet is reviewed and moderated
  • the highest ranking applications, subject to a minimum quality threshold, are recommended to Innovate UK for funding
  • moderation involves checking for any outlying assessor scores, for instance, if one of the scores varies considerably from the other scores provided
  • the final recommended panel list is presented to the Funder’s Panel of Innovate UK to obtain final approval for funding
  • resubmissions are assessed by different assessors who do not have access to your previous application or assessment

Once all applications are assessed, you are informed of the final decision by email. If you are the lead applicant you should ensure any application partners know of the decision. This decision is final and there is no right of appeal.

Assessor feedback is provided to successful and unsuccessful applicants and is made up of the comments provided by the assessors. This can take up to 4 weeks after you are notified of the decision. You will receive an email which will let you know when feedback is ready to view.

The assessor feedback is intended to be constructive. Contradiction in your feedback may suggest that your proposal could be clearer or better justified, as well as reflecting the different views of assessors. Your feedback may contain points or comments that you may disagree with. The comments provided will be based on the individual assessors’ interpretation of your project idea.

No additional feedback will be provided and addressing feedback with Innovate UK or the assessors in question is not permitted.

You may wish to address the assessor feedback in a resubmitted application should you be eligible. Please note: resubmissions will be reviewed by different assessors who will have no prior knowledge of the original application or its feedback.

Addressing assessor feedback in a resubmission does not guarantee success and the onus is on you to act on the suggestions made.

There is no right of appeal against the feedback provided and you should not use the complaints procedure should you disagree with a scientific or technical decision Innovate UK makes regarding your application.

You should check the scope and eligibility criteria for each round of Smart Grant applications, but as a starter here are some things to check direct from Innovate UK themselves:

Generally speaking, projects tend to fall into one of these three categories:

  1. Early feasibility studies – aimed at analysing and evaluating the potential of an idea, including market research.
  2. Industrial research – that will generate the necessary skills and knowledge to help improve existing products, processes or services.
  3. Experimental development – in new products, processes or services are developed through activities, such as prototype testing, piloting and demonstration.

Any concepts that offer a major innovation compared to what’s already available and have good potential for commercialisation in the UK and overseas are strong Smart Grant contenders. Ultimately, your idea must be demonstrably and significantly different from anything that has been developed within that area to date.

No. But it will put you in a much better position to do so.

Innovate UK smart grant applications are assessed and scored against set criteria, and only the best receive funding.

The lengthy and intense application process can be daunting at first, and we find that many simply give up halfway through without support.

Working with an advisor can help you understand what information you need to include to get you the best score possible, what details are worth spending the time seeking out to include, and how to explain critical information properly.

After your application has been reviewed you'll be informed what scoring range the successful applications fell into. Your pass score isn't public, but you will get told what your score was on the day you receive application feedback.

More about our Grant application support service

About MPAs application writing service

MPA has a unique team comprised of qualified tax advisors and accountants, innovating funding specialists, and industry-sector analysts who come from technical backgrounds. We have manufacturers, engineers and scientists in our team and we'll pair you with someone with experience that matches the industry or project you're working on/in as closely as possible.

We pride ourselves on being able to speak your language, so you won't have to spend hours explaining technical details to someone with no relevant experience.

The application process can take at least nine weeks even if we work on it with you. This is because we still need input from you, as the client and project lead.

We try to tackle one question a week - there are 11 questions in all - to minimise disruption to your diary, and to give you time in between to source the information and supporting documentation required.

How much you need to be involved depends on how formulated your project/idea is, how far along in the application process you already are, how easily information is to hand, and how complicated your project/idea is.

We have a set fee upfront for all clients that we'd be happy to share with you on request. If your application is successful a percentage of the funding received would also be payable.

We will discuss your project and funding needs thoroughly before recommending and undertaking grant application work to ensure you're getting the service right for you.

Following an initial conversation, we’ll build a team around your objectives, drawing on specialist consultants, tax advisors, accountants, bid-writers and project managers.

The team then follow a four-step process to complete your Innovate UK funding bid:

  1. Discovery – Our team work fast to understand your project, market, and business and conduct an early suitability assessment.
  2. Gap Assessment – A gap assessment is created with prioritised actions to align the project with the Innovate UK Grants framework.
  3. Draft – Our bid writing team create the first draft submission, and work iteratively to improve it ahead of the deadline.
  4. Submission – Your completed bid will be submitted to Innovate UK.

We can help you quickly assess:

  • The best funding strategy for your project
  • Likely success of a grant bid
  • Alternative funding options
  • Additional services to ensure the most tax efficient and profitable outcome
  • Potential project changes that could boost success of a grant bid
  • Opportunities to connect you with our innovation network of suppliers and clients

And do all the application leg work to boot.

Let us help you identify opportunities and manage the application from start to end, maximising your chance of winning funding to deliver game-changing innovations that put you on the map.

We’re more than just bid writers. We’re tax experts, accountants, project managers, analysts, engineers, scientists, manufacturers and more.

We’re embedded in the fabric of UK innovation, collaborating with trade bodies like Composites UK, and playing active membership roles in networks like Silverstone Technology Cluster.

Over the last 15 years we’ve helped thousands of SME businesses release and accelerate innovation to support the future of the UK economy.

And, put simply, we want your project to succeed as much as you do.

No. But it will put you in a much better position to do so.

Innovate UK smart grant applications are assessed and scored against set criteria, and only the best receive funding.

The lengthy and intense application process can be daunting at first, and we find that many simply give up halfway through without support.

Working with an advisor can help you understand what information you need to include to get you the best score possible, what details are worth spending the time seeking out to include, and how to explain critical information properly.

Not really. It's important for both us and our clients that the idea is right, so we start the process off with an exploration session that allows us to assess whether Smart Grant funding is right for you, and how likely you would be to win a bid/receive funding.

Innovate UK is looking to fund problems that solve societal, environmental and economic issues, so we focus on those ideas too.

More about our Grant application support service