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

Guidance for business and academic organisations on Innovate UK's funding competitions to test ideas and develop innovative products and services.


If you want to develop an innovative product, process or service, you may be able to get funding of between £25,000 and £10 million.

Innovate UK runs grant funding competitions that can help you develop your idea and make it successful. They are open to innovation projects led by a UK-based business or research and technology organisation, with funding awarded to the winners.

We also offer other forms of funding, including a pilot programme of innovation loans. Eligible small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that want to carry out late-stage innovation projects could borrow between £100,000 and £1 million.

Innovate UK - Application Process

Find out if you are eligible to apply

The organisations we fund

You can apply for funding if you are a UK-based business. All kinds of businesses are eligible for funding - from start ups and new micro companies to large multi-nationals.

The specific criteria and eligibility will be outlined in the scope of the competition for which you want to apply.

The projects we fund

Innovate UK funding is for the advancement of innovative ideas only.

You can apply for funding if you want to do one or more of the following:

  • to test the feasibility of your idea and make sure it will work
  • create a new product, process or service, or improve an existing one, through research and development
  • work with other businesses or research organisations on collaborative innovation projects

Depending on the competition, you may work alone on your project, or form a consortium.

Find out about 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.

Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI)

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

Before you apply

To get funding you have to apply through one of Innovate UK’s funding competitions.

Details about each competition and the technical scope are published on the Innovation Funding Service.

You should read the full scope and competition guidance before you apply. You can also attend a briefing event or webinar to find out more about the competition.

Eligibility rules vary for each competition and should also be read carefully to understand if a competition is right for your business and innovation project. For example, some competitions need projects to be collaborative with a business partner as the lead applicant, or may be open only to SMEs.

Find and apply into a competition

There are a number of ways you can find out about new and upcoming funding opportunities.

Help in applying

You will need to read the full scope and competition guidance for the competition you wish to apply into.

General competition guidance

You should read the general guidance for applicants to get advice on completing your application. This guidance includes help on:

State aid, for example, when it’s applied and where to get more information.

There is specific guidance for people who wish to apply for an innovation loan. You should read this guidance if you are interested in applying into a loan competition.

Project costs guidance

As part of your application we will ask for a breakdown of your eligible project costs as part of the application.

Our project costs guidance can help you understand the process. You should read this to help you understand what funding you can get.

If you’re not eligible for Innovate UK funding

If you are not eligible for innovation funding, the government offers other opportunities for non-innovating businesses to get finance and support.

Published 22 October 2014
Last updated 18 February 2019 + show all updates
  1. Updated information to include Innovate UK Smart grants, the new name for the Open programme, and linked to the guidance page:

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

  3. 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.

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

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

  6. 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.

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

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

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

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

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

  15. Added content about our new SME growth support.

  16. First published.