Applying for an Innovate UK grant: Things to consider

Grants are a great, low-risk way to fund a project that will contribute to the growth of your business. As the name implies, Innovate UK grants are typically intended to cover the cost of innovative research and development activities, rather than business-as-usual tasks or straightforward expansion of existing business activities. 

If you’re thinking of applying for an Innovate UK grant there are some key details you need to take into consideration to ensure a successful application.

Understand Innovate UK

“Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), is focused on helping UK businesses develop through innovation, the new products, services, and processes they need to grow and scale up. Innovate UK supports innovative ideas and business growth through:

  • tailored support
  • grant funding
  • loans or procurements”

To better understand how IUK operates we recommend reading the IUK General guidance.

To receive funding, you must apply for a specific competition and answer a series of questions about your business and the project you intend to undertake. Because each competition has its own particular criteria and focus areas, companies must meet these eligibility criteria as well as scope requirements in order to be considered and potentially secure funding. The information in the competition brief always takes precedence over general guidance like this. Explore IUK Guidance for Applicants page to find tailored support on several related topics.

The level of competition for Innovate UK funding is generally high - your application usually needs to be of very high quality to secure funding. Assessors will read your application and assign marks for each question -the score you receive will determine whether your project is funded or not.

Identify the Right Funding Competition

  • Visit the Innovate UK website and explore current funding opportunities.
  • Select the competition that best matches your project’s objectives, scale, and sector.

Check Eligibility

Some competitions are limited to certain types of organisations or businesses. For example, you may need to qualify as a Small or Medium Enterprise (SME) or the competition may require individual applicants. If you are ineligible, you can’t apply, so it’s worth checking this part of the information first.

  • Type of Business: some competitions are open to business of any age and size, while others require you to be an SME or to have been in business for a certain period of time before you are eligible to apply (typically a year). 
  • Project Stage: Your project should align with the stages Innovate UK supports.
  • Industry Sector: Check if your project aligns with the focus areas Innovate UK is prioritising
  • Scope: Scope details the aim of the competition and the types of projects that will be funded. Be sure that your project fits - if you are out of scope, your application won’t be considered.
  • Location: Your business should be UK registered.
  • Collaboration: Some grants require collaboration with other businesses or research organisations.

Things to consider: 

The stage your company is currently at. Is now the right time to apply for a grant or would you be better off waiting for a future competition? Will completing a project distract from other priorities?

The nature of your project. Is your project innovative? Are you able to demonstrate clearly why it deserves funding, or do you need to do some more preparation/research?

Your own finances. Some competitions will fund 100% of the project costs, while others cover a lower percentage. Some grants are paid in arrears, meaning that you will need to complete activities before you receive any money. IUK will usually check that you have enough funds available to make the entire project work. 

Completing a project takes time and effort. Check that your team has the capacity to deliver within the timeframes that the competition requires. Bear in mind that some time will need to be spent managing the grant - completing timesheets, recording expenses and meeting with your monitoring service provider.

Some competitions require collaborators. Collaborators are other businesses or organisations that jointly apply and complete the project with you. They need to be invested in the project and have an interest in the outcome.

You may need to bring in people with the right expertise and skills to make the project successful. Many competitions cover the cost of subcontractors, up to a specific percentage of the total cost. Usually these subcontractors need to be UK-based.

If you are unsuccessful in one competition, you can often re-apply for a future one. It can sometimes take more than one attempt to secure a grant. Submitting an application and receiving assessor feedback can be a great way to hone your project plan and ensure you are successful at a later stage.

Grant-writing support

If you are new to grant-writing, it may be worth working with a specialist company to support you, particularly for larger grants. Most companies require an up-front fee and some also take a success fee, should the grant be awarded. 

Nightingale has worked with a wide range of companies on grant-funded projects. Read about our work on a Design Foundations funded project here. If you would like some advice, or you feel we could come on board your project as subcontractors, get in touch