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Innovate UK Smart Grants: Do I Qualify?

The Smart competition offers generous grants to a broad range of businesses. But it can be hard to know whether your company actually qualifies for funding. To help make things clearer, here are the key things you need to know about your eligibility for a Smart Grant.

The Smart competition is Innovate UK’s primary ‘open funding call’, meaning its funding is available to a wide range of companies and sectors.

Rather than focusing on a particular technology or industry, Smart provides grants worth up to £25 million to innovative, first-of-their-kind projects, regardless of whether they’re related to biotech, manufacturing or fashion. 

But while Smart’s inclusive scope makes grant funding accessible to businesses that don’t fit Innovate UK’s targeted competitions, it can be difficult to apply the competition’s open but deceptively strict criteria to your business.

As a result, companies often struggle to work out whether their project is really eligible for Smart, and whether they have a good chance of securing grant funding.

To make things a little clearer, I will take a closer look at which projects are more likely to win a Smart Grant by diving deeper into the scheme’s nuanced criteria and drawing on our years of experience working with this popular competition. 

Smart grant project criteria

To be eligible for a Smart Grant, your business and project must satisfy three key criteria: novelty, commercial viability and changing dynamics.

These criteria are often misunderstood, so I’m going to explain what each of them mean from a practical perspective.


First, your project must be novel, innovative and represent a first-of-its-kind product or brand new application of a specific technology. 

This essentially means that your innovation must be significantly different from the current state of the art within your relevant industry or market space.

Your project must also represent a substantial leap forward in terms of processes, design or application of a specific technology.

Commercial viability

Second, both your project and your company must be commercially viable. 

This means that your company must be in a position to exploit the results of the project commercially. And that your project will result in a commercial offering. 

It also means that the outcomes of your proposed project must have a credible and well-researched route to market.

Changing dynamics

Thirdly, your technology must represent an opportunity to change the dynamics of your industry. In other words, it should be disruptive.

This means your project should be capable of changing the overall landscape of your sector and of stimulating wider industry development.

Smart grant company criteria

The points above are three of the most important eligibility criteria concerning your project. But before you start putting pen to paper on your application, you need to make sure your company as a whole is eligible for Smart.

Here are the key criteria for your company.


To lead a Smart application, you must be a UK-registered company or a research and technology organisation (RTO).

All the project activity must take place in the UK.

Company size

If you are applying as a sole applicant, your company must count as a micro, small or medium-sized business (SME). Here’s how Innovate UK defines SMEs


All of your subcontractors (if included) must be UK based.

State aid

It is important to ensure that your company meets the necessary criteria surrounding state aid, or your project will fail at the due diligence stage.

More information about this can be found on the Innovate UK website.


It is also important to note that you can only resubmit a failed application once. In order to resubmit your project idea more than once, Innovate UK requires that your overall proposal be ‘materially different’ to your previous applications.


Once you’ve determined that your project and company meets the criteria for a Smart Grant, you have to choose which ‘stream’ to apply to. The stream you apply to is dictated by the length and cost of your proposed project. Smart Grants always have two streams: 

Stream 1

If your project’s duration is 6 to 18 months:

  • It must have total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £500,000
  • It can be single or collaborative

Stream 2

If your project’s duration is 19 to 36 months:

  • It must have total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £2 million
  • It must be collaborative

The application process is the same for both streams, but it is important that you take time to consider which stream your project is best suited to, and what size and type of project your company is able to manage.

Are Smart grants right for your company?

I hope this article has shed some light on your company’s eligibility for a Smart Grant. 

Having read this blog, and after looking more closely at the criteria, you might realise that Smart Grants are not the most appropriate competition for your project.

But don’t worry. Innovate UK runs themed competitions regularly throughout the year, and it’s possible that your project may be better suited to one of these calls.

Or, alternatively, to funds beyond Innovate UK, such as Eureka Eurostars or EU funding opportunities.

If you want to find the best grant funding approach for your company, give GrantTree a call.