Is Your Technology Ready for a Grant?

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When looking into grant funding it’s easy to get confused. 

What competition should I apply to? Do I meet the criteria? How much money can I ask for? 

And perhaps most importantly: Am I eligible? 

Whether you’re eligible for a grant really depends on what the specific competition is looking to fund. So it’s important to read the stream’s scope and criteria carefully before applying. 

Bear in mind that most innovation grants go to projects with an obvious social benefit, as well as the possibility for major disruption. Additionally, some EU-funded competitions look for projects with applications across Europe. 

But there’s also the question of technology. Specifically, where your project is in terms of its technological development. 

Grants are generally awarded to projects in the modelling, prototyping, and pilot phases. These phases are often too risky for private investors, so grant funding exists to bridge this gap, often referred to as the ‘valley of death’. 

Whether your project qualifies depends on where it sits in the Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) framework, which is used by Horizon 2020 and Innovate UK, the two main innovation funding schemes available to British businesses. 

Note: The Horizon 2020 programme ends in October 2020. It is currently unclear whether the UK will be participating in its successor, Horizon Europe. For all the latest information on how Brexit will impact your government funding options, sign up to our newsletter.

Technology Readiness Levels

Developed by NASA in the 80’s, TRLs describe where a technology is in its development. 

Technology Readiness Level (TRL). Source: NASA

The scale ranges from TRL 1, “basic principles observed and research reported”, up to TRL 9, “actual system ‘flight proven’ through successful mission operations”. 

In other words: ‘basic concept’ to ‘working product that’s being bought and used’. 

Note
TRLs make several mentions of ‘space’ and ‘flight’. For ‘space’ you can read ‘in the field’. For ‘flight’, read ‘field-tested’. 

The European Commission uses TRLs for all H2020 streams, while Innovate UK is using them more and more. 

H2020 and TRL

H2020 grants generally start with technologies that are at TRL 6 or 7, moving towards TRL 7 and 8. 

TRL 6 is “system/subsystem model or prototype demonstration in a relevant environment”. Translation: a technology at the modelling or prototype stage.  TRL 7 is “System prototype demonstration in a space environment”.

For Research Actions, Research and Innovation Actions each topic defines the expected TRL of the technology development it will be supporting.

Again, it’s important to look at each steam’s criteria. 

Innovate UK and TRL

Innovate UK is primarily focused on supporting innovations that are between TRL 4 and TRL 6. 

It will fund R&D in service of one or more of the following outcomes: 

  • fundamental research
  • feasibility studies
  • industrial research
  • experimental development

Innovate UK’s Smart Grants competitions, which are open to companies in a range of industries, often put more emphasis on projects requiring fundamental research. 

There is more of a range in sector-specific competitions, which provide opportunities for early, mid and late stage projects. 

Conclusion 

When it comes to the technology they fund, different grant competitions are looking for different things. 

While Innovate UK looks for projects with TRL 4 to 6, and Horizon 2020 TRL 6 and above, it’s important to look at the scope and criteria for each scheme individually. 

Familiarize yourself with the TRL framework and identify where your project sits within it. Then you’ll be in a better position to judge your eligibility. 

If you want help with a grant application, or would like to discuss your eligibility for a particular scheme, then please get in touch

One of our grants experts would be happy to help.

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Nancy Scotford
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Nancy Scotford

Starting her first venture out of the University of Exeter, Nancy entered the start-up funding ecosystem raising over £600m for her own clean tech projects in South America. Following a brief stint investing into IoT in China, Nancy uses her investment experience to turn our client’s ideas into the commercial, grant fundable propositions.







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