Innovate UK Smart Grants: Answers to All Your Burning Questions

We've secured £125M+ for innovative ideas. This experience gives us a deep understanding of what grant assessors truly want to see. Find out today.

Megan Williams
June 18, 2024
Innovate UK Smart Grant FAQs

The Innovate UK Smart Grant presents an amazing opportunity for UK businesses to secure vital funding for their groundbreaking R&D projects. But navigating the complexities of the application process and understanding the key criteria for success can be challenging. 

Only 4-5% of applicants who submit proposals without help win funding.

That's where Grantify comes in. Over the past three years, our team has helped hundreds of businesses successfully secure over £125M in funding. 

This hands-on knowledge gives us a deep understanding of what assessors truly want to see, and we're here to share that expertise with you.

In this comprehensive guide, we cover everything from Smart Grant eligibility requirements and funding levels to application tips and common pitfalls. 

There’s a lot to cover, so we’ve included a short version for those who need a concise overview, and a long version for those interested in the nitty-gritty details.

Whether you're just starting to explore funding options or are ready to submit your application, this guide will provide valuable insights and practical advice to enhance your chances of success.

Short Version

The Innovate UK Smart Grant: 30-second Primer

  • What: Funding for game-changing R&D projects with strong commercial potential and economic impact for the UK.

  • Funding: Up to £1 million in project R&D cost, with projects ranging from 6 to 24 months. Funding levels depend on company size and research type (up to 70% of your R&D costs).

  • Eligibility: UK-registered businesses, with at least one SME as the lead organisation or a collaborator. Projects must be carried out in the UK.

  • Focus: Groundbreaking innovations with a clear path to commercialisation and significant economic benefits for the UK.

  • Key criteria: Strong innovation, market potential, team expertise, project plan, and value for money.

  • Application: Submitted through the Innovation Funding Service (IFS) online platform; typically open 4 times per year.

  • Support: Grantify can help you navigate the process, optimise your application, and maximise your chances of success.

Long Version

Understanding Innovate UK

What is Innovate UK and what is its mission?

Innovate UK is the UK's innovation agency. Its mission is to drive economic growth by helping businesses develop and commercialise new ideas, boosting productivity and supporting innovation across the nation.

How does Innovate UK fit into the larger UK research and innovation landscape?

Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental public body funded by the UK government. UKRI brings together the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

How does Innovate UK support businesses and innovators?

Innovate UK primarily supports businesses through grant funding competitions, with the Smart Grant being one such example. These competitions can be either challenge-led, focusing on specific areas like AI or clean growth, or open to businesses from any sector. 

They also offer additional support through Innovate UK Business Connect and Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), providing access to resources, networking opportunities, and expert advice.

The Innovate UK Smart Grant: Overview

What is the Innovate UK Smart Grant?

The Smart Grant is a program under Innovate UK that offers funding to UK-registered businesses for research and development (R&D) projects with significant potential for rapid commercialisation and economic impact.

What kind of innovations does the Smart Grant support?

The Smart Grant supports groundbreaking and innovative R&D projects across all technology areas and sectors. The key requirement is that the innovation be significantly different from anything currently available and have the potential to create new markets or revolutionise existing ones.

What is the typical amount of funding available through a Smart Grant?

The amount of funding available varies depending on several factors. Projects can range from 6 to 24 months, with total eligible project costs ranging from £100,000 to £1 million. The specific funding amount offered will then depend on the type of research and development undertaken, your business’s size, and whether your project is single (just your business as the applicant) or collaborative.

When are Smart Grant competitions typically held?

Smart Grant competitions are held regularly throughout the year, with open competitions launching around four times a year. Specific opening and closing dates for each competition are published on the Innovation Funding Service.

How does the Smart Grant programme differ from other Innovate UK funding programmes?

Unlike many other Innovate UK funding programs that focus on specific challenges or sectors, the Smart Grant is open to businesses and projects from any area of technology and any part of the economy. The emphasis is on groundbreaking innovations with a clear path to commercialisation and significant economic impact.

What are the key criteria for a successful Smart Grant application?

A successful Smart Grant application will demonstrate the following:

Groundbreaking and innovative idea: The project should be significantly different from anything currently available, with the potential to create new markets or disrupt existing ones.

Orange Quote Icon
Technical innovation is a key aspect of interest to the assessors. They want to see projects develop solutions that are groundbreaking on a technical level, as opposed to simply combining completed technologies or components into a novel package.
Testimonial Author
Mike Ko
Funding Consultant @ Grantify

Clear path to commercialisation: There should be a well-defined plan for bringing the innovation to market and achieving commercial success after project completion.

Economic impact: The project should demonstrate the potential to positively impact the UK economy through job creation, increased productivity, and global competitiveness.

Strong team and project plan: The application should showcase a capable team with the necessary skills and experience to deliver the project, along with a realistic and well-structured project plan.

Value for money: The proposed budget should be appropriate and justifiable, demonstrating efficient use of public funds.

What is the typical success rate for Smart Grant applications?

The Smart Grant program is highly competitive, with a large number of applications submitted in each round (according to this January 2024 applicant briefing, Innovate UK gets up to 10,000 applications each year across all its grants).

While the specific success rate can vary depending on the competition and the quality of applications received, it is generally quite low (4-5%). 

This is why it’s so important that you submit a strong and well-structured application that clearly demonstrates the innovation, commercial viability, and economic impact of your project.

Eligibility

Who is eligible to apply for the Innovate UK Smart Grant?

UK-registered businesses can apply for Smart Grants. Every project must involve at least one SME. SMEs can apply individually or in collaboration with other businesses, research organisations, or third-sector organisations.

Do I have to be a UK-based business to apply?

Yes, to be eligible for the Smart Grant, your business must be based in the UK, and all project activities must be carried out in the UK. This includes any work done by subcontractors.

Can I apply as a solo applicant, or is collaboration required?

If you are an SME and your project duration is between 6 and 18 months, you can apply as a solo applicant. However, collaboration is mandatory for projects lasting 19-24 months with costs exceeding £500,000.

Are there specific size requirements for businesses to be eligible?

UK-registered businesses of any size can apply for the Smart grant. However, the competition is mainly aimed at supporting micro, small, or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and large businesses can only apply if they collaborate with at least one SME for the project.

Can universities or academic institutions be the lead partner?

While universities and academic institutions cannot be the lead organisations on a Smart Grant application, they can participate as collaborators. In such cases, there must be at least one SME serving as the lead organisation or a collaborator.

Are there any sector or technology restrictions?

No, the Smart Grant is open to applications from any sector or technology area. The focus is on the project's innovativeness and potential for commercialisation and economic impact, not the specific sector or technology it belongs to.

I'm confident my idea is innovative, but how can I be sure it fits the Smart Grant's specific criteria?

Assessing your project's fit for the Smart Grant requires careful consideration of several factors. Beyond the core innovation, the program emphasises a clear path towards commercialisation and substantial economic impact for the UK. This means demonstrating a well-defined market, a strong business plan, and the ability to achieve rapid growth and return on investment after project completion.

Funding and Project Scope

How much funding is available through the Smart Grant?

The funding available through the Smart Grant depends on project duration and type (single or collaborative). Projects can range from 6 to 24 months, with total eligible project costs ranging from £100,000 to £1 million. The exact funding amount offered is determined by your business size and the nature of your research and development activities.

What are the typical project durations for the Smart Grant?

Smart Grant projects can last 6 to 24 months, depending on the complexity and scope of the proposed R&D activities. Projects lasting 6 to 18 months can be single or collaborative and have total eligible project costs ranging from £100,000 to £500,000. Those lasting 19 to 24 months must be collaborative projects, with costs ranging from £100,000 to £1 million.

Do you get 100% of the grant funds if you win?

The Smart Grant does not provide 100% funding for project costs. The percentage of funding awarded depends on the size of your organisation and the type of research and development activities involved. The grant amount will be a percentage of your eligible project costs, typically ranging from 25% (if you’re a large organisation) to 70% (if you’re a micro or small business). Research organisations undertaking non-economic activities can receive up to 80% or 100% of their eligible costs depending on their type. Check out our article about the match funding concept

What are the eligible costs for a Smart Grant project?

Eligible costs typically include labour, overhead, materials, captial usage, subcontractor fees, and travel and subsistence expenses directly related to the R&D project. It's important to categorise and justify your costs accurately within your application.

How can I determine the optimal funding amount to request for my project?

Determining the optimal funding amount requires careful planning and consideration of your project's needs. It's essential to create a detailed and realistic budget that accounts for all project costs, including personnel, materials, equipment, and any subcontractor fees. This is something we can advise you on based on our experience of helping hundreds of innovative companies win grant funding from Innovate UK.

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As long as your funding request is within the eligibility limits, the viable amount to ask for can actually vary quite a bit. Assessors would generally be interested in seeing what kind of R&D work the requested funding would be used for and whether they are proportional and justified.
Testimonial Author
Mike Ko
Funding Consultant @ Grantify

The Application Process

Where can I find the latest information on open Smart Grant competitions?

The Innovation Funding Service (IFS) website provides the latest information on open Smart Grant competitions, including deadlines and specific requirements. This platform allows users to search for funding opportunities and access detailed competition briefs.

How do I apply for the Smart Grant?

Applications for the Smart Grant are submitted through the Innovation Funding Service (IFS) online platform. You will need to register an account and complete the online application form, providing all necessary information and documentation as outlined in the competition brief.

What are the key components of a Smart Grant application?

Key components of a Smart Grant application include:

  • Project details: A clear and concise description of your project, its objectives, and the innovative R&D activities involved.
  • Market potential: A comprehensive analysis of the target market, demonstrating the need for your innovation and its commercial viability.
  • Team and expertise: Information about your team members and their relevant skills and experience to successfully deliver the project.
  • Project plan and deliverables: A well-structured plan outlining the project's phases, timelines, and expected deliverables.
  • Costs and justification: A detailed budget breakdown with clear justification for the requested funding amount and demonstration of value for money.
  • Impact and benefits: A description of the expected impacts and benefits of your project, both for your business and the wider UK economy.

How long is the application timeframe?

The application timeframe for Smart Grant competitions typically ranges from 4 to 12 weeks.

How are Smart Grant applications assessed, and who assesses them?

Smart Grant applications are assessed by three independent assessors with relevant subject or business expertise. They evaluate applications based on the information provided and the assessment criteria outlined in the competition brief. Key assessment criteria include the level of innovation, commercial viability, economic impact, team expertise, and project plan feasibility.

What is the typical timeline for receiving a decision?

After the competition closes, it typically takes 6-10 weeks for applications to be assessed and a final funding decision to be reached. You will be notified of the outcome through the IFS platform.

How does Innovate UK handle outlier scores in Smart Grant assessments?

Unlike some other Innovate UK funding programs, the Smart Grant program does not utilise the ‘outlier’ process for assessment scores. This means that all three scores from the independent assessors are considered when making funding decisions.

Are there common pitfalls in Smart Grant applications that I should be aware of?

Yes, some common pitfalls to avoid in your Smart Grant application include:

  • Lack of clarity or focus: Clearly articulate the innovation, its market potential, and the project plan. Avoid ambiguity and provide concise, well-structured responses.
  • Overlooking eligibility criteria: Carefully review the eligibility requirements and ensure your project and business meet all criteria before investing time in the application.
  • Underestimating commercialisation aspects: Demonstrate a clear and realistic plan for bringing your innovation to market and achieving commercial success.
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While assessors would understand if you are still in relatively early stages of your R&D, they would still be keen to see some high-level but specific details for your commercialisation plan - e.g., the marketing channels you will use to reach your customers, specific contacts or networks that you might leverage. This would show that your business will be well-poised to storm the market once you complete your R&D work.
Testimonial Author
Mike Ko
Funding Consultant @ Grantify
  • Insufficient justification for costs: Provide a detailed budget breakdown with clear justifications for each cost element. Demonstrate value for money and efficient use of public funds.
  • Neglecting impact and benefits: Clearly articulate the expected impacts and benefits of your project, both for your business and the UK economy. Support your claims with evidence and data whenever possible.
  • Ignoring the competition: Remember that the Smart Grant programme is highly competitive. Thorough preparation, a strong application, and a demonstrably innovative project are crucial for success.

Proposal Guidance

How important is market research to a successful proposal?

Market research is absolutely crucial for a successful Smart Grant proposal. You need to demonstrate a deep understanding of your target market, including its size, structure, dynamics, and needs. This involves:

  • Identifying your ideal customers
  • Assessing the competitive landscape
  • Quantifying the market opportunity

What level of detail is needed for the financial plan and budget?

Your financial plan and budget should be detailed and transparent, outlining all project costs and justifications. This includes:

  • Breakdown of costs: Categorise costs into specific areas such as labour, materials, equipment, subcontractor fees, and other relevant expenses.
  • Cost justifications: Explain why each cost is necessary for the project and how it contributes to achieving project objectives.
  • Value for money: Demonstrate that your budget is realistic and represents an efficient use of public funds.

How should I address potential risks in the project plan?

A comprehensive risk assessment is essential for a robust project plan. Identify potential risks that could impact project success, including:

  • Technical risks: Challenges related to the development and implementation of your innovation.
  • Market risks: Factors that could affect market adoption or competition.
  • Financial risks: Potential budget overruns or funding shortfalls.
  • Management risks: Issues related to team dynamics, project management, or resource availability.

For each identified risk, outline mitigation strategies to address and minimise their potential impact on the project.

Are there specific themes or focus areas that Innovate UK prioritises for Smart Grant proposals?

While the Smart Grant is open to applications from any sector or technology area, Innovate UK does prioritise projects that align with broader government strategies and initiatives. These include:

  • Net Zero and sustainability: Innovations that contribute to achieving net-zero emissions and promoting sustainable practices.
  • Health and wellbeing: Projects that address healthcare challenges, improve patient outcomes, and enhance overall well-being.
  • Next-generation technologies: Innovations in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and quantum computing.
  • Creative industries: Projects that drive growth and innovation in the creative sector.

How do I ensure my proposal effectively communicates the commercialisation potential of my project?

To effectively communicate the commercialisation potential, your proposal should demonstrate a clear and realistic plan that covers:

  • Market entry strategy: Define your approach to entering the market, including target customer segments and distribution channels.
  • Marketing and sales plan: Outline your strategies for promoting your innovation and generating sales.
  • Financial projections: Provide realistic financial forecasts demonstrating the potential for profitability and return on investment.
  • Intellectual property (IP) strategy: Explain how you will protect and manage your intellectual property.

The Smart Grant emphasises the need for high-impact innovation. How can I best demonstrate that my project fits this description?

To showcase your project as a high-impact innovation, focus on demonstrating:

  • Significant advancement: Clearly explain how your innovation is a substantial step forward compared to existing solutions or technologies.
  • Disruptive potential: Highlight how your project can disrupt existing markets or create entirely new markets.
  • Scalability and growth: Demonstrate the potential for scaling up your innovation and achieving significant growth and market share.
  • Economic impact: Clearly articulate the positive economic effects of your project, including job creation, productivity gains, and contributions to UK exports.
  • Alignment with national priorities: If applicable, highlight how your project aligns with key government strategies or initiatives, such as those focused on net zero or advanced technologies.

Grant Application Assistance

This all makes sense, but it sounds complicated! What help is available?

Navigating the Smart Grant application process can be complex, but you don't have to go it alone. 

Grantify is here to simplify the journey and maximise your chances of success.

Here's how we can help:

  • AI-powered platform: Our platform streamlines the application process, breaking it down into manageable steps and providing AI-driven tools to save you time and effort.
  • Expert grant consultants: Our team of experienced grant consultants offers personalised guidance and support, ensuring your application is optimised for success.
  • Funding expertise: We have a deep understanding of the Smart Grant program and its requirements, helping you navigate the complexities and avoid common pitfalls.
  • Strategic partnership: We go beyond simply helping you apply; we become a strategic partner invested in your long-term growth and success.
£125M+
AND COUNTING
Our team has helped hundreds of businesses successfully secure over £125M in funding over the past three years.

This hands-on knowledge gives us a deep understanding of what assessors truly want to see.
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