General guidance for grant applicants: Innovate UK

An overview of applying for a business innovation grant, including funding rules, categories and participation levels.


Innovate UK has 2 competition application processes:

  • online through our Innovation Funding Service
  • document-based through our secure upload site

When you start an application you will be taken to either the Innovation Funding Service or our secure upload site.

Applying for a competition on the Innovation Funding Service

If you start the application

You will need to create an Innovation Funding Service account. You then become the ‘lead applicant’. If your project wants to change who is leading the application, the new person will need to start a new application.

You are responsible for:

  • making sure all the project details, application questions and finances get completed
  • submitting the application before the deadline

Your organisation is the ‘lead organisation’, and it:

  • will become the main partner in the project if your application is successful
  • cannot be removed from the application

In some competitions your project must have partner organisations (sometimes called ‘collaborators’ during the application stage) directly involved in the project. Read the eligibility rules for the competition to see what types of organisations they must be. Each partner organisation is responsible for completing its own project costs and finances.

You can invite other people (sometimes called ‘contributors’) and assign questions to them. They can invite more people from their organisation.

If you are invited to take part in an application

You will receive an email from the Innovation Funding Service and need to create an account.

You must complete:

  • your organisation’s project costs and finances
  • any questions the lead applicant assigns to you

You can invite people from your organisation to help. You cannot:

  • invite other organisations
  • invite people from other organisations
  • assign questions to other people
  • see the other organisations’ detailed finances and they cannot see yours

Applying for a document-based competition

If the competition you are applying for takes you to our secure upload site, follow the process below.

Competitions using the document based application process will prompt you to register to apply online. If you are the lead or sole applicant, you will need to register.

Registration closes at midday 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
  • password
  • 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 the question number and application number as stated in the specific competition guidance. For example: AppendixQ7(application number)
  • 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 services on 0300 321 4357 or email

What happens after you have submitted your application

Applications must be submitted before midday 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. The portfolio will be spread across a range of:

This is to fit the spend profile of the competition. It will 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.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) competition assessment

  1. ISCF competitions run by Innovate UK will follow the standard Innovate UK assessment process. This part of the process may include an interview panel, which will be explained in the competition brief.
  2. Projects that score above the agreed quality threshold will be reviewed by a panel of industry experts against the portfolio criteria set out in the competition details. The panel will make written recommendations of which projects to fund, to the ISCF Challenge Director. The outcomes of the competition will be confirmed by UK Research and Innovation senior management through the agreed ISCF approvals process.

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.

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

If you have made an application through the Innovation Funding Service

If you have made an application through the Innovation Funding Service and are successful you will be prompted to submit the necessary information required for project setup. You will not require a conditional offer letter.

You will need to complete the following steps in your online project setup:

Project details

  • the target start date
  • the project location
  • the name of the project manager

Finance contact

You must provide a finance contact. This contact is responsible for supplying any additional information we may require to complete our finance checks on your organisation. This is also the person who will submit the grant claims once your project is live.

Bank details

You must supply your organisation’s bank details so that we can validate them.

Finance checks

We will perform viability checks on your organisation and check the eligibility of your project costs. If we have any queries around your finances we can use this section to contact you.

Spend profile

Once we have confirmed your project is eligible, we will ask you to profile your costs across the duration of the project.

If you have made an application through the document-based application process

If you have applied to a competition that uses a document-based application process 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.

Once you’ve submitted all documentation

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 toolkit.

We may choose to promote your project as part of our competition communications. If you have any queries about public relations or media coverage email

Monitoring Officer

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 and are directly attributable to the project. Claims may be subject to an independent audit.

All participants must provide evidence to support each claim made.

Grants should be claimed quarterly in arrears. Once audits and reports are complete, the grants will be paid to each participant.

If you require further information please contact customer support service on 0300 321 4357 or email

State aid

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.

We try to ensure that the information published in this guidance is up-to-date and accurate. However, the information given is not a substitute for taking legal or professional advice, which is the responsibility of the applicant. We cannot accept any liability for actions arising from the use of our guidance. Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, cannot be held responsible for the contents of any pages referenced by an external link.

It is important to note that state aid policy is currently the responsibility of the European Union. The European Court of Justice holds sole competence over the presence of state aid or otherwise.

What is state aid?

State aid is a term used by the European Commission. It describes assistance given by a public body or publicly-funded body to organisations on a selective basis that take part in commercial activity which could distort competition and trade within the European Union.

The state aid rules are designed to prevent unfair subsidies.

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..

You can also read Innovate UK’s state aid notification: Innovate UK (Technology Strategy Board) Research, Development and Innovation Scheme.

The General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) covers a range of types of state aid that, provided certain conditions are met, do not require individual approval from the European Commission in advance of being granted. Examples include aid for:

  • small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
  • research and development
  • innovation
  • regional development
  • training
  • employment for disadvantaged and disabled workers
  • risk capital
  • environmental protection

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 European Commission.

State aid eligibility

The majority of support Innovate UK provides through its research, development and innovation scheme falls within the General Block Exemption Regulations (GBER).

Innovate UK is unable to award grant funding to organisations meeting the condition known as undertakings in difficulty.

State aid rules consider an undertaking to be in difficulty in a number of circumstances, as defined by GBER regulations. You should pay particular attention to the situation where more than half of an undertaking’s subscribed share capital has disappeared as a result of accumulated losses. This is the case when deduction of accumulated losses from reserves (and all other elements generally considered to be part of the funds owned by the company) leads to a negative cumulative amount that exceeds half the value of subscribed share capital. For the purposes of this provision, ‘limited liability company’ refers in particular to the types of company mentioned in annex I of Directive 2013/34/EU (1) and ‘share capital’ includes, where relevant, any share premium. This rule applies to all limited liability undertakings except an SME less than 3 years old. For more detail read about undertakings in difficulty.

Before submitting an application for funding to Innovate UK, you must accept the terms and conditions of the grant. If you are in any doubt, you should seek independent professional advice about your eligibility.

If the European Commission considers a business or any undertaking to have been in receipt of state aid due to ineligibility for exemption under GBER, that undertaking is likely to be required to repay any aid received to the value of the gross grant equivalent.

The Innovate UK website provides information on state aid but should not be seen as a substitute for taking legal advice, which remains the responsibility of the applicant.

Undertakings in difficulty

An ‘undertaking in difficulty’ is defined by GBER (2014) as an undertaking in which at least one of the following circumstances occurs:

a. In the case of a limited liability company (other than an SME that has been in existence for less than three years or, for the purposes of eligibility for risk finance aid, an SME within 7 years from its first commercial sale that qualifies for risk finance investments following due diligence by the selected financial intermediary), where more than half of its subscribed share capital has disappeared as a result of accumulated losses. This is the case when deduction of accumulated losses from reserves (and all other elements generally considered as part of the own funds of the company) leads to a negative cumulative amount that exceeds half of the subscribed share capital. For the purposes of this provision, ‘limited liability company’ refers in particular to the types of company mentioned in Annex I of Directive 2013/34/EU (1) and ‘share capital’ includes, where relevant, any share premium.

b. In the case of a company where at least some members have unlimited liability for the debt of the company (other than an SME that has been in existence for less than three years or, for the purposes of eligibility for risk finance aid, an SME within 7 years from its first commercial sale that qualifies for risk finance investments following due diligence by the selected financial intermediary), where more than half of its capital as shown in the company accounts has disappeared as a result of accumulated losses. For the purposes of this provision, ‘a company where at least some members have unlimited liability for the debt of the company’ refers in particular to the types of company mentioned in Annex II of Directive 2013/34/EU.

c. Where the undertaking is subject to collective insolvency proceedings or fulfils the criteria under its domestic law for being placed in collective insolvency proceedings at the request of its creditors.

d. Where the undertaking has received rescue aid and has not yet reimbursed the loan or terminated the guarantee, or has received restructuring aid and is still subject to a restructuring plan.

e. In the case of an undertaking that is not an SME, where, for the past two years:

1) The undertaking’s book debt to equity ratio has been greater than 7.5 and

2) The undertaking’s EBITDA interest coverage ratio has been below 1.0.

De minimis aid

De minimis aid is a term used to describe small amounts of state aid that the European Commission expects will have a negligible impact on trade and competition. These do not require Commission approval.

The total de minimis aid which can be given to each organisation is €200,000 over a 3-year fiscal period. This is for all project types and for most purposes, including operating aid. You can learn more from page 20 of the BEIS state aid manual and from the De Minimis Regulation.

De minimis aid cannot be used for:

  • purchase of road freight transport vehicles
  • undertakings in fishery and aquaculture
  • undertakings in the processing and marketing of agricultural products where:
    • the amount of aid is fixed to the price or quantity of products purchased from primary producers or put on the market by the undertaking
    • the aid is conditional on being partly or entirely passed on to primary producers
  • aid for export to third countries or EU member states, meaning the establishment and operation of a distribution network or expenditure linked to the export activity

Funding rules

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. We largely require that projects are led by businesses. Other types of organisation can apply in collaboration with a business partner.

Innovation is never easy, especially if it involves multiple organisations or is in the early stages of taking a new idea to market. Sometimes numerous businesses might need to be brought together with the help of a Research and Technology Organisation (RTO) leading the project. This can happen if:

  • no business in the consortium has the capacity to lead the project
  • collaborative research is to be undertaken by businesses who are at the same point in the value chain. In this instance the work must be essential to lay the foundations for the growth of an early stage industry. This type of project might lead to the development of new industry procedures or measurement standards

Innovate UK recognises the opportunity for innovation projects to be led by RTOs. This is subject to them being in collaboration with 2 or more companies. They need to have been developed to make sure that those with the right skills are doing the right work at the right time. This means that those in the consortium that are best placed to lead and deliver the overall project can do so. This will allow businesses (and especially SMEs) to focus on their contribution, route-to-market and exploitation.

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:

  • businesses
  • 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
Micro/Small 100% 70% 70% 45%
Medium 100% 60% 60% 35%
Large 100% 50% 50% 25%

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.

Research organisation

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.

Academic institution

Universities, higher education institutions (HEIs) and other research organisations which are registered on the Je-S system should submit their costs there. Submitted and approved costs should then be added to the specific application. These will then be submitted into the competition.

Only 80% of the full economic cost (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 R&D activity for that particular competition.

Innovate UK supports the following R&D categories:

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

Fundamental research

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.

Feasibility studies

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.

Industrial research

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.

Experimental development

‘Experimental development’ means acquiring, combining, shaping and using existing scientific, technological, business and other relevant knowledge and skills with the aim of developing new or improved products, processes or services. This may also include, for example, activities aimed at the conceptual definition, planning and documentation of new products, processes or services.

Experimental development may comprise prototyping, demonstrating, piloting, testing and validation of new or improved products, processes or services in environments representative of real life operating conditions. The primary objective is to make further technical improvements on products, processes or services that are not substantially set. This may include the development of a commercially usable prototype or pilot which is not necessarily the final commercial product and which is too expensive to produce for it to be used only for demonstration and validation purposes.

Experimental development does not include routine or periodic changes made to existing products, production lines, manufacturing processes, services and other operations in progress, even if those changes may represent improvements.

Projects that span more than one category of research

Enter the research category that reflects the majority of your work. If your work is going to be evenly split across categories, please email

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 and at least one other partner 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.

Additional information

Information security and confidentiality

For submissions through the document-based application process, Innovate UK uses secure sites such as https for you to upload your application and appendices 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
Last updated 20 April 2020 + show all updates
  1. We have corrected the process for changing the lead role at application stage: the new lead will need to start a new application.

  2. Have added text to claims and auditing section: All participants must provide evidence to support each claim made.

  3. Adding in the assessor process for ISCF competitions.

  4. Clearer guidance on the definition of a limited liability company.

  5. Added State aid notification - Innovate UK (Technology Strategy Board) Research, Development and Innovation Scheme with a link to the whole document in the state aid section.

  6. We have added a new section on de minimis aid, explaining what it is and how you can learn more.

  7. We have renamed the ‘Full economic cost (FEC) and Je-S system’ section to 'Academic institutions' and added a link to the guidance on applying through the J-eS system.

  8. We have added a disclaimer to confirm the European Union are responsible for the State Aid policy and the information provided within the guidance is not a substitute for taking legal or professional advice.

  9. We have removed this from the funding rules: For a trial period for sector foundation competitions opening between 1 January 2017 and 31 December 2018, Innovate UK will allow project proposals to be led by an RTO. This is subject to defined criteria which aim to encourage the conditions above. Criteria will be defined in the eligibility rules for the competition. The trial period has now ended.

  10. In the state aid section we have added the GBER definition of an undertaking in difficulty.

  11. Clarifying the position of state aid in relation to 'undertakings in difficulty'.

  12. Explanation of how we deal with 'undertakings in difficulty' as defined by GBER.

  13. We have updated the section defining experimental development. The new wording is in line with the EU framework for state aid for research and development and innovation.

  14. In the section 'Categories of research and development' we have simplified the guidance on applying for more than one category of research. If you wish to do this you will need to email Also clarified that we are unable to fund, under state aid, organisations that meet the condition 'undertakings in difficulty', which is defined.

  15. We have clarified the guidance on state aid issues and provided an updated link to GBER definitions.

  16. Change of title to make it clear that this guidance is for those applying for an innovation grant.

  17. Under 'funding rules', extended the trial period for which an RTO may lead a project in a sector competition to 31 December 2018.

  18. Have clearly defined the portfolio approach in the section on what happens after you have submitted your application.

  19. Section on 'What happens if you are successful' is expanded to include details about project setup requirements for Innovation Funding Service applications and what information we need you to fill in online.

  20. Added section on collaborating in the Innovation Funding Service with advice for lead applicants and collaborators. Removed paragraph on quarterly claims for grants over £2 million in claims and auditing, which is no longer applicable.

  21. Updated the guidance to explain the 2 types of application process: the Innovation Funding Service and document-based application process.

  22. Change in the naming convention of Appendices

  23. More clarity in the funding rules around research and technology collaborations.

  24. 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.

  25. Wording to clarify: "all other research organisations: 100% of eligible costs"

  26. Changed the page title to "General guidance for applicants: Innovate UK"

  27. First published.