Smart: innovation funding guidance - Innovate UK

An overview of the grants that organisations can get to carry out ambitious, disruptive research and development (R&D) projects with a high potential for commercial success.

As the UK’s innovation agency, we know that new and novel ideas to improve and transform people’s lives, industries and the world, can come from anywhere, at any time.

They might relate to a particular technology, or be rooted in a certain sector – from more traditional disciplines like science and engineering to creative industries such as film-making or design.

We also know that innovation is hard. It can take a lot of time and resources to get an idea off the ground, find a suitable market and develop new products, services and processes.

Grant funding is one way that businesses can take a project forward and quickly turn it into reality.

Through the Innovate UK Smart programme, we look to find the very best ideas from business, no matter what sector they’re from and where in the UK they are based.

What the programme involves

Innovate UK Smart grants are available for game-changing and disruptive ideas from business, through a regular, competitive application process.

Grants are for projects that can provide evidence for considerable potential to gain market share, generate economic impact and exports.

To apply your business needs either:

  • an idea for a completely new product, service or process
  • a brand-new use or an unprecedented use for an existing product, service or process that takes it above and beyond what’s currently available.

It is not limited to a particular industry or technology area.

Although not a requirement for applications, businesses may wish to submit a project that aligns with the government’s modern Industrial Strategy (GOV.UK).

Whilst we welcome projects that overlap with the grand challenge areas (GOV.UK), we are also keen to support projects that are outside of these entirely. Working in these areas is not part of the eligibility criteria.

The most important thing is that the idea, if successful, will be something that people will want to use and be willing to pay for.

Grants are for projects that offer a major innovation compared to what’s already available and have strong potential for commercialisation in the UK and overseas.

Your idea must be demonstrably and significantly different from anything that has been developed in that area to date.

Businesses that are not able to demonstrate a willing market could consider other types of innovation support and advice, including connecting with experts (GOV.UK).

What support is available

Different amounts of grant funding are available depending on the size of the business applying for funding and the stage of their project.

Projects can be:

  • early feasibility studies to analyse and evaluate the potential of an idea, including market research
  • industrial research, with the intention that the skills and knowledge acquired will lead to an improvement in existing products, processes or services
  • experimental development, actually developing these new products, processes or services through activities including prototype testing, piloting and demonstration.

For innovation support, including finding project partners, advice on bidding for funding and attracting investment, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

Who can apply

Businesses of any size can apply for grants through the Innovate UK Smart programme.

They can work alone or with other businesses, the research base or third sector, depending on the amount of grant and the duration of the project. This will be outlined in the specific competition brief.

If leading a project, the business will need to be registered in the UK and conduct their project here. Research and technology organisations can also lead a project.

How to apply for funding

Innovate UK runs regular competitions where businesses can apply for Smart grants with their innovation projects.

Businesses will need to register and complete an application via the Innovation Funding Service.

Applicants will need to outline the need or challenge they have identified and how their innovation will meet this, going beyond competitors and what’s currently considered state-of-the-art.

They will need to demonstrate and evidence a clear market that will want to buy and use the final product, process or service, and how they will access and exploit this.

They will also need to explain why a grant is important to their project’s development and what would happen without this.

Competition details with more information are published on the Innovation Funding Service as and when these are available.

Apply for funding

Search for ‘Smart’ funding for your project on the innovation funding service.

Customer support service

Telephone: 0300 321 4357

Last updated: 17 August 2021

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