Innovate UK has introduced major changes to the latest iteration of the popular Smart grant competition. Here’s what you need to know.
Smart is Innovate UK’s most popular and competitive source of funding. An industry-agnostic grant, Smart is designed to support small and medium-sized businesses developing disruptive, commercially-viable technologies.
The previous iterations of Smart have all followed the same format. However, the latest version of the competition, which launched on 25 April 2022, has a brand new structure, creating significant changes to the application process.
In this blog, I will explain the main changes to the Smart grant, the reasons behind them, and how they will affect your application.
The New Smart Grant Questions
Smart grant applications are structured around a series of questions that explore:
- Your innovation’s value and its impact on your business, the market and the wider UK economy
- Whether your company is in a position to successfully deliver its project with grant funding
- Your ability to commercialise the outcome of your project once it’s completed
For the past two years, the Smart grant application has generally consisted of 10 questions and 4 appendices.
The new format, however, consists of 6 questions and 2 appendices. The 6 questions have either a 400 or 600-word limit.
The new questions
These are the questions that comprise Innovate UK’s new Smart grant application.
- Your idea and innovation: What is your innovation, and why is it game-changing? (600 words)
- Justification for funding: Why is your innovation and proposal suitable for Smart funding, and why do you need public funding to help you succeed? (400 words)
- The potential market: What is your target market? What is your strategy for securing the market opportunity you have identified, including your route to market and commercialisation of project outputs? (400 words)
- Impact and Benefits: What impact will the grant have in and outside of your business? (600 words)
- Delivering your project: Who is in the project team, why do you have the right skills and experience to succeed, and how will you successfully deliver your project? (400 words) (This question has two appendices: a project plan and a risk register with 2 pages per appendix)
- Value for Money: How will you spend your grant funding, and how does this represent good value for money for the taxpayer? (400 words)
You will still need to provide both a public description – where you detail how you would like Innovate UK to discuss your project publicly – and a project scope summary – where you must briefly explain your project and what makes it innovative.,
Why has Innovate UK made these changes?
We believe Innovate UK has changed the application process to make Smart grants funding more accessible and inclusive.
Our evidence for this comes from the UK Innovation Strategy, the Nurse Review, and an interview Innovate UK’s CEO Indro Mukerjee gave to the Catapult Network’s Supercharging Innovation podcast. Shortening the application form to encourage more people to apply is one element of this effort.
A shorter application has several benefits. All Smart applications are reviewed by five Innovate UK assessors, but each one only spends 2-3 hours. Key information can be easily missed. Fewer questions means assessors can spend more time looking at each answer, allowing them to get a better grip on the applicant’s technology.
Fewer questions also means a smaller time commitment from businesses and their innovation leads, freeing them to spend more time on R&D and other important projects.
Innovate UK may be looking to award funding to businesses that have not previously applied for or won a Smart grant. If so, companies that have already won funding may have a lower chance this time. If that’s the case, they might need to consider alternative funding options for their development work.
Now that Innovate UK has made Smart more accessible, we could see more companies applying. This would mean an even smaller percentage of projects receiving funding. That is just speculation at this point, though. We’ll have to wait and see.
The new application also requires companies to provide much more information on what R&D they’ve conducted before applying and how the grant fits into their funding strategy.
Applicants will also need a strong go-to-market plan to encourage innovation with a product/market fit that is likely to be commercially viable.
Am I eligible for a Smart Grant?
Now that the Smart grant is becoming even more competitive, it’s more important than ever that you understand your eligibility and chances of success before starting your application.
Here are some of the key eligibility criteria. For a full rundown, head over to the Smart grant website.
To qualify for the Smart grant, your company must:
- Be a UK-registered business of any size or a UK-registered research and technology organisation (RTO)
- Be or involve at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME)
- Carry out all your research and development (R&D) project activity in the UK
- Intend to commercially exploit the project results from the UK
Your project must:
- Start by 1 January 2023
- End by 31 December 2025
- Include at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) as the lead or a collaborative grant claiming partner
- Have total project costs of between £100,000 and £500,000 (if it lasts 6 to 18 months) or between £100,000 and £2 million (if it lasts 19 to 36 months)
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