Guidance

Business innovation: what funding you can get and how to apply

Guidance for organisations applying for Innovate UK's funding opportunities to test ideas and develop innovative products and services.

Overview

Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). We support innovative ideas and business growth through grant funding, loans or procurements.

Organisations can apply for a funding opportunity. Each opportunity has its own eligibility criteria and scope. Opportunities are available through the Innovation Funding Service, where you can find out more about funding opportunities and which ones may be right for you.

Find out more about what we do.

Funding opportunities

Throughout the year we offer various types of funding opportunities. You can find a full list of open or soon to open opportunities.

The government also offers other opportunities for businesses to get finance and support.

Other finance and business support.

Before you start an application

You need to read the full eligibility, scope and guidance for the funding opportunity you wish to apply for. All information about how to complete the application is made clear in the opportunity guidance.

We strongly advise you not to leave your submission to the last minute before the deadline. If you experience technical difficulties there will be no extension. Late submissions are not considered and Innovate UK is not able to enter into any discussion regarding this.

Your previous projects

Before you start your application you must make sure that any previous projects have been completed fully.

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole organisation and were awarded funding by Innovate UK or UK Research and Innovation, but did not make a substantial effort to exploit that award, we will award no more funding to you, in this or any other competition. You will not be able to contest our decision.

We will:

  • assess your efforts in the previous competition against your exploitation plan for that project
  • review the monitoring officers’ reports and any other relevant sources for evidence
  • document our decision, which will be made by 3 team members, and communicate it to you in writing

Under the terms of Innovate UK funding, you must submit an independent accountant’s report (IAR) with your final claim. If you or any organisation in your consortium failed to submit an IAR on a previous project, we will not award funding to you in any other competition until we have received the documents.

Your application

We will not send your application for assessment:

  • if you:

    • deliberately increase word count using punctuation
    • use unprofessional, aggressive or threatening language
    • submit with a notable lack of content
    • apply with no clear innovation
  • if the application:

    • is the same as, or very similar to, a project that has received public funds previously
    • is the same as, or very similar to, another application
    • has already been submitted for assessment in 2 other competitions
  • if the competition does not allow a previously submitted application

You can submit an application that was unsuccessful in one previous competition. You can improve your application based on the assessors’ feedback and the scope of the competition.

If you submit a new application this time you can only submit the updated application into one future competition that allows this.

Contact us

If you need more information, email us at support@innovateuk.ukri.org or call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357. Our phone lines are open from 9am to 11:30am and 2pm to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

We will not tolerate abusive language in any written or verbal correspondence, applications, social media or any other form that might affect staff.

To make a complaint please follow the Innovate UK complaints procedure. For information on whistleblowing, see the UKRI whistleblowing policy.

The application process

Innovate UK typically runs 2 types of application process for funding awards. These are:

  1. An online application process through our digital Innovation Funding Service.
  2. A document-based file transfer protocol (FTP) application process.

The following sections outline the differences in the 2 processes.

Apply on the Innovation Funding Service

The Innovation Funding Service is an online application process. You need to create an account in the service to start an application, or sign in to your existing account.

Applications are separated into sections, which all need to be completed to submit your application. You cannot submit an application unless you have correctly completed each section. Applications not submitted via the Innovation Funding Service or which are sent by email will not be accepted.

Please note that once you submit your application, the process cannot be reversed.

Full guidance for completing each section is found within the service.

Collaborating in the Innovation Funding Service

Many Innovate UK competitions require organisations to work with others on collaborative research and development projects.

The collaboration rules are stated in the eligibility section of the guidance for each funding opportunity. This section outlines the different roles of organisations who intend to work collaboratively in completing an application and setting up a project on the service.

Lead applicants

The lead applicant represents the lead organisation for the application. As the lead applicant you will be responsible for:

  • starting an application
  • adding people from your organisation to the application and removing them
  • adding partner organisations you wish to collaborate with, where applicable, and removing them
  • assigning questions
  • answering questions relevant to you
  • reviewing answers given by team members
  • submitting the application before the deadline
  • accepting the terms and conditions on behalf of your organisation
  • uploading permitted appendices

You should only add people who are directly involved in the project. If your project wants to change who is leading the application, the new person will need to start a new application.

Partner organisations

Partner organisations are invited to join an application by the lead applicant. They will receive an email invitation from the Innovation Funding Service and will need to accept the invitation and create an account, or sign in to an existing account.

As a partner you are responsible for:

  • completing project costs and finance details for your organisation
  • inviting other people from your organisation to help with the application
  • answering questions assigned to you by the lead applicant
  • accepting the terms and conditions for your organisation

Partners can see:

  • all application questions and answers
  • their own organisation’s finance details
  • the application finance summary

Neither the lead applicant nor partners can view the financial details of any of the other organisations involved in the application. They can only view their own.

Partners are not able to:

  • start an application
  • invite people from other organisations
  • assign questions
  • submit the application

Apply for an FTP funding opportunity

A few funding opportunities, such as some of the international competitions, are not yet able to use the Innovation Funding Service. These will use a secure file transfer site (FTP).

Funding opportunities using the FTP application process will prompt you to register to apply online. If you are the lead or sole applicant, you will need to register using the link on the competition guidance page. Registration closes at midday one week before the submission deadline. Registrations are not accepted after this time.

Your username and password

When you register you will receive an email from Innovate UK containing your:

  • username
  • password
  • unique application form
  • secure FTP site URL

As applications contain sensitive information they must be submitted using the process below. Applications submitted by email or after the competition deadline are not accepted.

When you click on the URL (or paste it into your address bar) you will be taken to the public download area of the secure FTP site. This area will include downloadable documents for the competition. To submit your application you need to sign in to the site with your username and password.

If you cannot see the log in tab, you must zoom out. You can do this by holding down the ctrl key and either scrolling with the mouse wheel or pressing the minus (-) key.

If you want to apply more than once, you must ask for more application forms by emailing support@innovateuk.ukri.org before the registration deadline. You must provide your application number in your email. Late applications will not be considered.

Uploading your documents

The funding opportunity you are applying for will provide guidance on uploading documents and file naming conventions.

For submissions through FTP, 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.

If you need additional help or support

Innovate UK is committed to making the support we have accessible to all. We can provide assistance to applicants that face barriers in making an application (for example, as a result of a disability, neurodiversity or any other accessibility issue). If you need additional support, it is important that you contact us as early as possible so we can discuss your needs and work together on a solution.

What happens after you have submitted your application

How your application is assessed

The assessment process listed here is the standard approach. Some assessments may vary and some funding may not go through a standard assessment process, but this will be made clear in the guidance for the funding opportunity you are applying for.

After the deadline, applications that meet the eligibility, scope and overall guidance of the funding opportunity are sent for assessment. You will be notified if your application is ineligible with full reasons as to why. Innovate UK has the right to declare applications as ineligible.

Applications are assessed by up to 5 independent assessors. The assessors are experts from both business and academia and are allocated based on the skills and expertise in the area relevant to your project.

Standard assessment process

The standard assessment process applied to most full stage applications is as follows:

  • applications are allocated to assessors in a secure and confidential manner, taking into account conflicts of interest and expertise that best match the funding opportunity
  • each application is marked by a minimum of 3 assessors
  • applications are assessed against the same set of questions within a funding category
  • each assessor must complete and submit a score-sheet with comments for each application they assess. This will form your application feedback
  • a report is compiled to identify a ranked order of all applications based on the average of all assessor scores. This is known as the panel sheet
  • the panel sheet is reviewed and moderated
  • the highest ranking applications, subject to a minimum quality threshold, are recommended to Innovate UK for funding
  • moderation involves checking for any outlying assessor scores, for instance, if one of the scores varies considerably from the other scores provided
  • the final recommended panel list is presented to the Funder’s Panel of Innovate UK to obtain final approval for funding
  • resubmissions are assessed by different assessors who do not have access to your previous application or assessment

Please note that while Innovate UK engages assessors to act on its behalf, we keep the right of decision over scope and to whether a proposal is in or out of scope absolutely. Projects considered out of scope will not be funded.

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 funding opportunity. Successful applications are all required to meet a quality threshold.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) competition assessment process

  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 guidance.
  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 and receive feedback

Once all applications are assessed, you are informed of the final decision by email. If you are the lead applicant you should ensure any application partners know of the decision. This decision is final and there is no right of appeal.

Assessor feedback is provided to successful and unsuccessful applicants and is made up of the comments provided by the assessors. This can take up to 4 weeks after you are notified of the decision. You will receive an email which will let you know when feedback is ready to view.

The assessor feedback is intended to be constructive. Contradiction in your feedback may suggest that your proposal could be clearer or better justified, as well as reflecting the different views of assessors. Your feedback may contain points or comments that you may disagree with. The comments provided will be based on the individual assessors’ interpretation of your project idea.

No additional feedback will be provided and addressing feedback with Innovate UK or the assessors in question is not permitted.

You may wish to address the assessor feedback in a resubmitted application should you be eligible. Please note: resubmissions will be reviewed by different assessors who will have no prior knowledge of the original application or its feedback.

Addressing assessor feedback in a resubmission does not guarantee success and the onus is on you to act on the suggestions made.

There is no right of appeal against the feedback provided and you should not use the complaints procedure should you disagree with a scientific or technical decision Innovate UK makes regarding your application.

Assessor confidentiality and potential conflicts of interest

All assessors have to sign confidentiality agreements and declare any potential conflicts of interest. They must treat applications in the strictest of confidence and adhere to information protection rules.

Assessors working for Innovate UK are engaged as individuals, not as representatives of their employment. They must carry out an assessment of the applications themselves. They cannot ask anyone else to review an application in their place nor ask anyone to give another opinion of their assessment. All assessors will be briefed by Innovate UK to undertake assessments according to our requirements.

Innovate UK preserves the anonymity of the assessors and their names will not be provided under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

What happens if you are successful

If you applied through the Innovation Funding Service

If you have made an application through the Innovation Funding Service and are successful, you need to complete project setup before your project can start.

Your project and bank details must be complete within 30 days of our notification to you. Project setup, including any requested agreements or documentation, must be complete within 90 days or funding could be withdrawn.

Your project must not start until you have receipt of a signed and approved offer letter.

You will receive full instructions and guidance for project setup in the Innovation Funding Service.

If you applied through the FTP site

If you applied for a funding opportunity that uses the FTP process you will be sent a conditional 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 have submitted all documentation

We will review your total eligible project costs to check that they meet our funding criteria. You may be asked to provide further information on the detail in your finance forms.

Financial viability checks are made on all industry partner organisations, also known as an undertaking in difficulty test.

If your project is a collaboration you will be asked to provide a collaboration agreement. An example of this is in the Lambert toolkit.

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

If you are a UK SME and successful in receiving an award, you will be contacted by your local Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) Innovation Adviser. They act on behalf of Innovate UK to discuss the growth opportunities for your business. They offer bespoke business support services to help you maximise your project and business potential. This service forms part of your Innovate UK offer under our commitment to help UK SMEs grow and scale.

Monitoring officer

You will be assigned a monitoring officer who will work with you throughout the project. 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. You must to submit an independent accountant’s report (IAR) with your final claim.

As standard, funding should be claimed quarterly in arrears. Once audits and reports are complete and approved, the claims are released.

All participants must provide evidence to support each claim made.

Claims must be paid in to an account in the name you have applied to be able to receive grant payments.

Your banking provider must have a clearing facility and must be authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

If your bank provider does not have a clearing facility, we can accept it if there are no sanctions and it is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

If Innovate UK has not paid grant payments to you before, we will request details in the form of a redacted bank statement in a PDF format.

If you need further information please contact our customer support service on 0300 321 4357 or email support@innovateuk.ukri.org.

State aid

Innovate UK supports UK based businesses to invest in research, development and innovation. Most 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) funding opportunities such as Innovate UK’s Smart grants.

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 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.

During the transition period up to 31 December 2020, the European Commission (EC) maintains supervisory powers. For up to 4 years after the transition period the EC will be able to review any approved measures.

What is State aid?

State aid is a term used by the European Commission to describe any assistance or subsidy given by a member state that confers an advantage on a selective basis to organisations that take part in economic activity, which distorts or threatens to distort competition.

The State aid rules are designed to prevent unfair advantages.

Any State aid given is subject to notification to the European Commission.

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. At Innovate UK we also have our own State aid policy.

The General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) covers a range of types of State aid that, provided certain conditions are met, do not require individual notification and 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 by reducing the frequency of notification or approval.

State aid eligibility

The majority of the support Innovate UK provides through its research, development and innovation scheme falls within the General Block Exemption Regulations (GBER). Funding opportunities can be run under different State aid articles as defined by GBER which can affect the eligibility of certain project costs.

Innovate UK is unable to award 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.

Before submitting an application for funding to Innovate UK, you must accept the terms and conditions of the funding. 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 – EU definition

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.

The following are not typically funded by Innovate UK under de minimis aid but this is made clear on an individual competition basis:

  • 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
  • top up awards made under approved State aid schemes, resulting in a circumvention of the aid intensities set out in the rules attached to such schemes. In these cases it can only be awarded towards separate eligible costs

For undertakings active in the road freight transport sector, the de minimis ceiling is €100,000.

The undertakings in difficulty test does not apply under de minimis rules.

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

Business

A business is defined as an organisation undertaking economic activities.

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, this means:

  • universities (higher education institutions)
  • non-profit research and technology organisations (RTOs), including catapults
  • public sector organisations (PSO)
  • public sector research establishments (PSRE)
  • research council institutes
  • research organisations (RO)
  • charities

This list is not comprehensive and is subject to change and exceptions. 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 Je-S system

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.

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 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 funding towards costs which are already being paid by the public purse such as labour and overheads

Third sector

Third sector organisations are primarily voluntary and community, such as associations, self-help groups, mutuals and cooperatives. Third sector organisations can be non-funding partners in a project.

If you need help with any of these definitions please contact customer support service support@innovateuk.ukri.org or telephone 0300 321 4357.

Categories of research and development

The competition scope will specify the category of R&D activity for that particular funding opportunity.

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 the 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

In your application enter the research category that reflects the majority of your work. If your work is going to be evenly split across categories, please email support@innovateuk.ukri.org.

Other funding opportunities

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

Through this fund, the government is bringing world-class research and businesses together to take on the major industrial and societal challenges of our time.

The challenges are aligned with the 4 grand challenges named in the Industrial Strategy. New challenges and funding opportunities are announced intermittently.

Innovate UK Smart grants

Innovate UK Smart grants support the very best, game-changing and disruptive ideas that have the potential to change the world.

Funding is available for projects at various stages, from feasibility studies through to developing and testing a prototype, coming from any industry and anywhere in the UK.

Projects should either:

  • develop a brand new product, service or process
  • take an existing technology or service above and beyond what’s currently available in the field

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

You can get funding to bring in new knowledge and expertise through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership. Taking part will allow you to work with an academic organisation and a highly-qualified graduate to innovate within your business.

You can apply if you are a business, public or third sector organisation.

The Knowledge Transfer Network

KTN is a network partner of Innovate UK. It links new ideas and opportunities with expertise, markets and finance through our network of businesses, universities, funders and investors. From agri-food to autonomous systems and from energy to design, KTN combines in-depth knowledge in all sectors with the ability to cross boundaries.

Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI)

Through SBRI, you can apply for funded contracts with government organisations to develop their innovative ideas. Public sector organisations that have successfully run SBRIs include the NHS, Ministry of Defence and the former Department of Energy & Climate Change.

Innovation loans

Innovate UK’s pilot loans programme has up to £50 million available in innovation loans. These are low interest, flexible, patient loans for SMEs that want to carry out late-stage experimental development projects in the UK.

To get a loan you need to apply and be successful in a loan competition.

Read our introduction to innovation loans to find out if they are right for you and how to apply.

Investment accelerator

The investment accelerator programme provides simultaneous grant funding and venture capital investment in early-stage innovation projects. This joint public and private investment stops UK businesses having to chase additional capital and gives them a clearer route to commercialisation.

Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe)

The ICURe pilot programme funds research teams to accelerate the time it takes to get ideas out of the lab and to commercialisation. If your organisation is a start-up that has emerged through the programme, you could get funding to help you establish your business and support future growth.

Biomedical Catalyst

The Biomedical Catalyst funds businesses and researchers to test and develop innovative health and care projects.

It supports the acceleration and scale up of ideas that prevent and manage diseases, support better detection and diagnosis and create tailored treatments that improve patient outcomes.

The programme is run by Innovate UK and the Medical Research Council.

Energy Catalyst

This programme offers funding to UK businesses and researchers to develop ideas for tackling the global need for clean, affordable and secure energy. It funds projects from early-stage through to commercialisation to quickly bring innovative new energy solutions to market.

The programme is run by Innovate UK with co-funding from partners including the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Department for International Development and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

International programmes

We run a number of initiatives that can help you get access to international opportunities and partners. This includes Horizon 2020, EUREKA Eurostars and the Newton Fund. These are open to a range of organisation types and size.

Managed programmes

Innovate UK also runs funding competitions on behalf of other organisations. Details and how to apply are published as new competitions are announced.

Published 22 October 2014
Last updated 22 September 2020 + show all updates
  1. Edited the 'Before you start an application' section to explain: - how previous projects may affect a new application - when an application will not be sent for assessment - how to contact us

  2. We have combined the information about the programmes of funding Innovate UK offers with our general guidance for applicants. We have also added or improved guidance on anti-harassment, applying through the Innovation Funding Service, accessibility needs, third sector organisations, the assessment process, the Enterprise Europe Network, claims and auditing, the transition period for the UK leaving the EU, state aid and de minimis.

  3. Updated information to include Innovate UK Smart grants, the new name for the Open programme, and linked to the guidance page: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/smart-innovation-funding-for-game-changing-ideas-from-business

  4. Added information on the Biomedical Catalyst and Energy Catalyst and links to guidance with more information on these funding programmes.

  5. Updated the types of funding opportunities that are available to UK businesses to include the innovation loans and investment accelerator pilot programmes. Changed the focus to reflect Innovate UK's reorganisation towards 'open' and challenge-themed opportunities. Slightly edited the subheadings to better reflect the user journey in applying for funding.

  6. Added the ATI competition under 'Other funding opportunities for businesses'.

  7. Updated sections for general guidance for applicants and project costs guidance.

  8. Defined and added links to the relevant sections in the guidance for applicants. Added links to the Innovation Funding Service, project cost guidance and all European funding opportunities. Removed section on how to register and what happens after you apply as this is covered in the general guidance for applicants.

  9. Duplication of information which is contained in guidance for applicants.

  10. Link and information on project costs guidance for Innovate UK.

  11. Changes made on 'How to apply for an innovation grant'. Eligibility rules now vary with each competition. Updated guide on what happens if you are successful. We no longer hold new project workshops.

  12. Innovate UK has simplified the way it offers funding opportunities. Our competitions now come under one of 4 sector groups or are 'open' to any idea. The Innovate UK open programme invites applications for any cutting-edge innovative idea regardless of industry or sector. This competition covers applications that may previously have been made into Innovate UK's Smart programme (which is no longer available in its previous form). All Innovate UK funding competitions will continue to be published on the Innovate UK website with news announcements when they are opening for applications.

  13. Removed out of date references to 2014-15 action plans. Clarified information on Innovation Vouchers and Smart. These are not open all the time but have opening and closing dates for applications.

  14. Removed information about SME support as this is now closed for new applicants

  15. Factual update to funding offered all the time to any business

  16. New videos to find out about our funding rules and application process.

  17. Added content about our new SME growth support.

  18. First published.