General guidance for applicants: Innovate UK
This guidance provides a general overview of the application process including funding rules, categories and participation levels.
The application process
This section will give guidance on how to register and apply for a competition and upload any relevant documents.
Registering for a competition
If you are the lead applicant, or sole applicant, you need to register for a competition. Registration closes at 12 noon one week before the application deadline. Registrations are not accepted after this time. A link inviting you to register for a competition is available on each competition web page.
Your username and password
When you register you will receive an email from us containing:
- your secure username
- unique application form
- a secure URL to access the competition
As applications may contain sensitive information they must be submitted using the above.
When you click on the URL (or copy and paste it into your address bar) you will be taken to the secure competition website. The website will include downloadable documents for the competition. Log into the website with your username and password. You may need to zoom out in order to view the login tab. You can do this by holding down the ctrl key and the minus key on your keyboard.
Enter your username and password manually as cutting and pasting will not work.
Your files and their formats
File names and formats must follow these rules:
- appendices should be named APPENDIX and include an appendix reference as stated in the specific competition guidance. It should also include your applicant number. For example: APPENDIXB123456
- file names should only include letters or numbers and no special characters
- Innovate UK application or finance forms should not be converted, encrypted or zipped
- applications should be saved as word documents only
- finance forms should be saved as excel documents only
- appendices should be saved as pdf documents only
Please note: if your submitted appendices do not follow the specific competition guidance, your application will be ineligible and not sent for assessment.
Uploading your documents
To upload and submit your application documents, follow these steps:
- log into the competition website (the URL link that has been emailed to you)
- you will see an online folder for your documents
- click on the ‘upload’ tab and select files to show the file browser
- select the file you want to upload and click ‘open’
- your file status will be shown as ‘pending’, click on ‘start upload’
- when the upload is complete you will see the file name, size, type and date which should match those of your original document. You will not be able to open uploaded documents so it is important that you check that the name and size match
- you will not receive an email notification so it is important that you check your uploaded files are showing in your folder.
If you have any difficulties registering or applying for a competition, you can telephone the Customer Support Team on 0300 321 4357 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What happens after you have submitted your application?
Applications must be submitted before 12 noon on the day of the submission deadline. Late submissions will not be considered.
How your application is assessed
After the deadline, valid applications will be sent for assessment. Only applications that meet the eligibility criteria and scope of the competition will be sent for assessment. You will be notified if your application is out of scope with full reasons as to why. Innovate UK reserves the right to declare applications as out of scope.
Applications are assessed by up to 5 independent assessors. The assessors are experts from both business and academia.
Applications are assessed against the same set of scoring criteria. Assessors will provide written feedback for each scored question in the application. All applications are assessed on individual merit. The Innovate UK funder’s panel makes the final decision regarding funding.
Innovate UK reserves the right to apply a ‘portfolio’ approach in certain competitions. This is to make sure that funds are allocated across the strategic areas identified in the scope of the competition. Successful applications are all required to meet a quality threshold.
You will be notified of the decision
Once all applications have been assessed, you will be informed of the final decision by email. If you are the lead applicant you need to let the other collaborators and partners know the decision.
If you have any queries about public relations and media coverage email email@example.com.
Assessor feedback will be provided on applications. This is usually 4 weeks after you have been notified of the decision. You will receive an email which will let you know when feedback will be ready to view.
What happens if you are successful?
You will be sent a conditional grant offer letter that you must sign and return before the project can start.
Any additional documentation that you are asked for will need to be completed and returned within stated timelines.
We will review your project costs to check that they meet our funding rules. You may be asked to provide further information on the detail in your finance forms.
Financial viability checks will be made on all industry partner organisations.
If your project is a collaboration you will be asked to provide a collaboration agreement. An example of this is found in the Lambert Agreement toolkit.
You will be assigned a monitoring officer who will work with you on the project start-up. They will help to make sure your project complies with our terms and conditions. They are not responsible for project management.
Claims and auditing
Costs are only eligible if they are incurred and paid between the project start and end dates. Claims may be subject to an independent audit.
Grants should be claimed quarterly in arrears. Once audits and reports are complete, the grants will be paid to each participant.
For grants over £2 million for collaborative research and development projects, if forecast spend is not used in a specific quarter, it cannot be reallocated to another quarter. So if a company forecasts a spend of £100,000 in one quarter, but only spends £80,000, the unspent £20,000 is taken off the total value of the grant.
If you require further information please contact Customer Support Team on 0300 321 4357 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Innovate UK supports UK businesses to invest in research, development and innovation. Some of the support we provide operates under European Commission state aid rules. An example of this is support offered by collaborative research and development (R&D) competitions.
What is state aid?
State aid is a term used by the European Commission. It describes assistance from a public body or publicly-funded body. This assistance is given to organisations on a selective basis who take part in commercial activity. The activity would have the potential to distort competition and affect trade within the European Union.
The state aid rules are designed to regulate subsidies and stop public authorities from distorting markets. They are also designed to help public authorities to make sure that public resources are being targeted to where they are most needed.
Further information on state aid
The state aid branch of the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has lead responsibility within the UK for coordination and development of state aid policy. The BEIS State Aid guidance has further information. You can also visit the European Commission’s information on state aid.
The General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) covers a range of pre-approved types of state aid that do not require individual approval from the European Commission in advance of being granted. Such pre-approved aid may favour:
- small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
- regional development
- risk capital
- environmental protection aid
Member states are encouraged to focus on aid that will benefit job creation and competitiveness. The GBER also reduces the administrative burden for the public sector, the beneficiaries and the commission.
Innovate UK state aid coverage
The “Innovate UK (Technology Strategy Board) Research, Development and Innovation scheme” provides state aid coverage for the majority of support Innovate UK provides in accordance with GBER.
The scheme itself does not provide any additional funding or budget. Read our notification statement for more information.
The main objective of Innovate UK is to stimulate and innovation in the UK. It does this by encouraging businesses to develop innovative products, processes and services with future commercial potential. As such, Innovate UK competitions require all projects to be led by a business. Other types of organisation can apply in collaboration with a business partner.
The funding rates you can receive will depend on the size and type of your organisation and your role in the project. Organisations fall into 3 categories:
- research organisations
- public sector organisations or charities undertaking research activity
A business is defined as an organisation undertaking commercial activities. Businesses can have their eligible costs funded at the following rates:
|Applicant Business Size||Fundamental Research||Feasibility Studies||Industrial Research||Experimental Development|
The definition of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) used by Innovate UK is set out in the European Commission Recommendation of 6 May 2003.
A large business in this context means any enterprise which is not an SME.
When referring to research organisations, Innovate UK uses the definition from the Framework for State aid for Research and Development and Innovation which states:
research and knowledge dissemination organisation’ or ‘research organisation’ means an entity (such as universities or research institutes, technology transfer agencies, innovation intermediaries, research-oriented physical or virtual collaborative entities), irrespective of its legal status (organised under public or private law) or way of financing, whose primary goal is to independently conduct fundamental research, industrial research or experimental development or to widely disseminate the results of such activities by way of teaching, publication or knowledge transfer. Where such entity also pursues economic activities, the financing, the costs and the revenues of those economic activities must be accounted for separately. Undertakings that can exert a decisive influence upon such an entity, for example in the quality of shareholders or members, may not enjoy a preferential access to the results generated by it.
Within Innovate UK competitions, this means:
- universities (higher education institutions)
- non-profit research and technology organisations (RTOs) including catapults
- public sector research establishments (PSRE)
- research council institutes
Research organisations undertaking non-economic activity will be funded as follows:
- universities: 80% of full economic costs (as set out by the Je-S application system described below)
- all other research organisations: 100% of eligible costs
Research organisations should be non-profit distributing to qualify. They should explain how they will disseminate the output of their project research as outlined in the application.
Research organisations which are engaged in economic activity as part of the project, will be treated as business enterprises for the purposes of funding.
Full economic cost (FEC) and joint electronic system (Je-S)
Universities, higher education institutions (HEIs) and other research organisations which are registered on the Je-S system should submit their costs through this. Submitted and approved costs should then be added onto the specific application. These will then be submitted into the competition.
Only 80% of the FEC is allowable as eligible costs for Je-S applicants. The remaining 20% should not be shown on the finance table or forms. Research costs submitted through Je-S must be in line with business and participation rules.
Public sector organisation or charity
Public sector organisations and charities can work with businesses to achieve innovation through knowledge, skills and resources. These organisations must not take part in any economic activity or gain economic benefit from a project. They can apply for 100% of grant funding for their eligible costs under the following conditions:
- they are undertaking research (this may be experimental, theoretical or critical investigation work to gain knowledge, skills or understanding vital to the project)
- they meet requirements for dissemination of their project results and
- they state in the application how they will do this
- they include their eligible costs for research purposes in the total research organisation involvement
- they make sure they are not applying for a grant towards costs which are already being paid by the public purse such as labour and overheads
Categories of research and development
The competition scope will specify the category of research and development activity (R&D) for that particular competition.
Innovate UK supports the following R&D categories:
- fundamental research
- industrial research
- experimental development
- feasibility studies
This means experimental or theoretical work primarily to gain new knowledge of underlying phenomena and visible facts, without any direct practical application or usage. This type of research is usually undertaken by a research organisation.
This means planned research or critical investigation to gain new knowledge and skills. This should be for the purpose of product development, processes or services that lead to an improvement in existing products, processes or services. It can include the creation of component parts to complex systems and may include prototypes in a laboratory or environment with simulated interfaces to existing systems, particularly for generic technology validation.
This means the acquiring, combining and shaping of existing scientific, technical and other relevant knowledge and skills. This would be to produce plans, arrangements and designs for your products, processes or services. This can include producing drafts, drawings, plans and other documentation as long as they are not intended for commercial use.
It can also include the development of commercially-usable prototypes and pilots. This would only be allowable if the prototype or pilot would be too expensive for demonstration purposes only. Any revenue made from it, must be deducted from the eligible costs.
Experimental production and testing of products, processes and services is also eligible provided they cannot be used, in any form, in industrial applications or commercially.
Experimental development should not include routine or periodic changes to products, production lines, manufacturing processes, existing services and other operations in progress, even if such changes may represent improvements.
This means analysis and evaluation of a project’s potential, aimed at supporting the process of decision making. This is achieved by uncovering its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as well as identifying resources needed and the prospects for success. Feasibility studies will usually help businesses decide to work either individually or collaboratively with other industrial or research organisations, before conducting a subsequent larger project.
Individual competition scopes will define their own requirements for feasibility studies in terms of project size and length.
Projects that span more than one category of research
Sometimes projects include work packages with more than one category of research. For example, a project may include elements of industrial research and experimental development. In this case, you would need to identify:
- the main research category (this will be where more than 50% of the eligible costs will be incurred)
- which other categories the other work packages fit into
- the appropriate level of funding for the total project, for example for a large company if 80% of a project is industrial research and 20% is experimental development, the total eligible funding is 45% (80% @ 50% = 40%, and 20% @ 25% = 5%).
You should apply for grant funding equivalent to the aggregated work packages.
Innovate UK assessors will decide whether the work packages have been correctly assigned across the R&D categories. If assessors decide they have been incorrectly assigned, Innovate UK reserves the right to adjust the grant percentage accordingly.
Participation in a project
Innovate UK provides funding to support and stimulate innovation in the UK economy. We do this by encouraging businesses to work with other commercial and research organisations. As such we have the following requirements:
- at least 70% of total eligible project costs should be incurred by commercial organisations
- a maximum of 30% of total eligible project costs are available to research participants. If there is more than one research participant, this amount will be shared between them.
If businesses choose to directly fund higher levels of involvement in research organisations then those additional costs:
- will be considered to be outside the project
- should not be included as eligible costs in the project
- should not appear on any finance forms
- will not be funded by a grant
The project consortium should agree to the level of involvement any research organisations have in the project. The involvement should however, fit with the business share of eligible costs that are detailed above.
Where funding levels are more specific, these will be detailed in the competition scope.
As with business, the level of research participation is a maximum of 30% of total eligible costs. Where there is more than one research organisation the eligible costs will be shared between them. Eligible costs for Je-S registered applicants means 80% of FEC.
Research done by charities and public sector organisations should have a work and dissemination plan. This plan should be included in the application. Eligible costs should be counted towards the participation levels of the research organisation. These will be set by the competition.
Innovate UK plans to help industry, research communities and other organisations to work together on R&D projects. This is primarily in science, engineering and technology. Within a collaborative project there must be:
- at least 2 collaborators
- a business-led consortium which can involve business and research participants
- evidence of effective collaboration
- the lead partner of the project must be a grant recipient
This would mean that no single partner has more than 70% of the eligible costs. We would also expect to see the workings of the collaboration that you have described in the application.
Information security and confidentiality
Innovate UK uses secure sites such as https for you to upload your application and documents safely. Secure sites enable information between your browser and our server to be encrypted and decrypted.
Assessor confidentiality and potential conflicts of interest
Assessors must accept confidentiality agreements and declare any potential conflicts of interest. All applications must be treated in the strictest of confidence. Independent assessors must assess all applications themselves and should not allow any other person to assess the application on their behalf. Assessor identities are kept confidential including under any Freedom of Information request.
Published: 9 May 2016
Updated: 14 September 2016
- In 'Your files and their formats' under 'The Application Process' we have updated the guidance on submitting appendices to make this clearer following queries from competition applicants.
- Wording to clarify: "all other research organisations: 100% of eligible costs"
- Changed the page title to "General guidance for applicants: Innovate UK"
- First published.