If you’re not entering Government-backed innovation competitions you’re missing a trick


The Government needs innovative businesses, which is why it literally gives money away to those who can make a compelling case.

In fact, innovation is one of the few areas in which government grants are relatively freely available – beyond extraordinary measures put in place for COVID-19, that is. If you talk to people in the art and creative sectors, for example, they’ll tell you the well has very much run dry in recent years.

We won’t get into a debate on the economic value of theatres or galleries here but the point is that when it comes to innovation-led businesses, the benefits don’t warrant debate. They’re obvious.

First, there’s the contribution firms such as Dyson have made to both the UK economy and ‘brand Britain’ – we still make things, we’re still a nation of inventors.

Secondly, maintaining our edge when it comes to technology makes the nation fit to withstand challenges such as climate change and, yes, global pandemics.

The Oxford vaccine trial currently under way, generally reckoned to be the world leader and built on a totally new approach, is a great example of how innovation builds resilience

Current opportunities

The Smart Grants competition is a scheme through which Innovate UK, a spin-off from central government, is investing up to £25 million in “the best game-changing and commercially viable innovative or disruptive ideas”.

The current round opened in August and closes for applications on 25 November 2020.

Applications can come from any tech sector and contribute to any part of the economy, though Innovate UK specifically mentions the creative industries and science and engineering in the scheme prospectus.

The 2020/21 Women in Innovation Awards offers a prize rather than a grant. It opened for applications on 1 September and is accepting applications until 14 October 2020.

The competition aims to find women in leadership roles with “exciting, innovative ideas and ambitious plans that will inspire others”. Your entry will have to make clear how a £50,000 award would help your project to tackle a pressing problem in society, the environment or the economy.

The SBRI competition - Modernising Energy Data Applications phase 1 is due to open shortly (12 October 2020) with a closing date of 18 November 2020.

Organisations can apply for a share of £750,000, inclusive of VAT, to develop data applications that help to address core challenges faced in the UK.

Themes mentioned in the prospectus give you an idea of the kind of projects they’re interested in e.g. working towards net zero local energy systems whilst improving people’s lives, by combining energy data with data from other sectors.

The outputs of which should benefit the users of local energy systems and provide scalable commercial opportunities to the funded organisation.

Can you solve this problem?

Some grants have different drivers: the Government has a specific problem and is hoping an innovative business will step up and solve it.

For example, there are currently grants on offer, funded by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, for organisations with proposals for how to build “an autonomous, integrated toolkit to sort and segregate nuclear waste”.

That’s a pretty precise ask but, clearly, important.

If your team has know-how but you’re looking for somewhere to direct that expertise, it’s worth keeping an eye on this kind of competition in particular.

Get in touch for support with business planning and grant applications.

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