Between 7-15% of SMART Grant applications are successful

It’s only too true that preparing and submitting a high quality application to InnovateUK for your innovative or technology-based project takes an inordinate amount of time, care and very possibly frustration. But if you want to win a slice of what is at the end of the day public money your bid needs to meet specific criteria and answer some very searching questions. Here are some pointers that might help you decide whether this is the right route for you to secure some much needed funds.

First, some general points. You MUST know…

What you are doing (the project) – this is the equivalent of your 20 second elevator pitch, should you ever find yourself in the lift with Richard Branson.

Why you are doing it – you will probably have a host of reasons for developing this project, some business, some personal. Make sure you can explain your rationale is for the best of reasons and that the effort of time and money will be worth it. There will be difficult, frustrating times ahead and you will need to keep you ‘eyes on the prize’ to continue to motivate yourself and others. 

Why grant funding will make a difference – securing grant funding is hard work, and always comes with strings, especially if you are applying for public funds. You will need to convince prospective funders of the value of your project and why you need a grant to help make it happen. Set out the potential benefits, not just for you and your company, but wider community benefits as well. This is critical.

What outcomes there will be – in your project plan you will need to be very precise about the outcomes of the work such that they are understood and appeal to your prospective funder.

REMEMBER – it’s a competition, only the strongest bids will win.

Some Dos and Don’ts

DO

  • Keep it simple – tell a compelling story, with a common thread running throughout. Put yourself in the assessors’ shoes, make it easy for them to understand your project. You need to get on the right side of the assessor, get them into the mindset of ‘this sounds like a good project, let’s look for the positives’, rather than ‘I find this difficult to understand (and I’m an expert in this field!), let’s give this one a pasting.’ 
  • Ensure accuracy – your project will (hopefully!) have been designed to address a problem, a gap in the market or otherwise meet a need for a target group. You will need to back up your claims with robust evidence, facts and figures. This is a task that needs to be undertaken early as, depending on the type of project, this may take some time to assemble, edit and present. If there is limited evidence to support your project, you may even need to conduct some primary research, which can add months to your bid preparation lead time.
  • Be realistic and truthful – make sure your project is believable, especially if it is highly technical. Your application will be assessed by people who have some expertise in your field, and they will certainly be expert in knowing what is possible and what is frankly fanciful. Here in particular, the structure of your response and the language that you use when answering the various bid questions is very important. Make sure answer you all the questions honestly and declare everything.
  • Allow enough time – to do your application justice, especially when you’ve had little or no previous experience of writing funding applications, give yourself a minimum of two months lead time and 12-15 days to work on your application. It always takes longer than you think or would wish, especially for more complex, collaborative bids.
  • CHECK – and check again – Get someone else to proofread your application before you submit it. It doesn’t matter whether they understand the project, they are checking for good grammar and correct spelling.

DON’T

Leave any questions unanswered – read each question very carefully, including the sub-questions, treat it like an ‘exam’. For instance, if you are asked ‘how your project will impact on the economy, social and environment’, make sure you respond to each of these points. The most common reason for rejecting funding applications is for an incomplete / inconsistent / hurried response.

Forget to include all the documents that are being requested – make a list of every supporting document you need to submit, business plan, Gantt charts, organograms, budget breakdown, cvs, letters of support, etc. Check each one off when you have prepared and collated them, and then make a final check before you send them off.

Leave it until the last minute to submit your application – PLEASE DON’T!!! It is a fact that 90% of grant funding applications are submitted in the last two days, with most on the last day itself. This is when mistakes can easily happen and all that quality thinking time over the preceding weeks can fly out the window. Make sure you know exactly the date and time of the submission deadline. These days when electronic submissions are de rigueur, it is easy to become complacent and rely on servers and communications working properly for instant processing and confirmation.

What the Assessor is Looking for

This guidance is based on what an assessor for Innovate UK competitions is looking for, but the fundamentals are transferable for most other innovation, R&D funding programmes as well as private investors. All of the Innovate UK funding programmes follow a similar pattern and you should bear in mind that the questions are designed to help rather than trip you up. It is important that you answer the questions asked and cover all aspects the Guidance for Applicants describes. You should try to mirror the same language and style in your application – the easier you make it for the assessor to understand and check off the information they seek, the more likely the proposal will score highly. 

Typically three to five assessors review each application. These assessors are chosen from diverse professional backgrounds and expertise, and each application can be reviewed by both academic and business leaders who inevitably will have different viewpoints. 

You should avoid starting off by trying to explain how great your idea is or how clever the technology is. The first step is about setting the context for the market need and how that will be addressed. This must be set out in as compelling and logical a way as possible. 

The assessors are expecting to see concise, well-written answers to five fundamental questions for any Innovate UK investment: 

  • Is the project within the scope of the funding programme? Does it meet the eligibility criteria as set out in the guidance?
  • Is it a big enough market? Does it represent value for money compared to the investment requested? 
  • Can the innovation be world leading? Is the idea sufficiently distinctive and strong to be successfully exploited in the UK? 
  • Is it at the right stage of development? It must be market driven, rather than predominantly a research project?
  • Why should we use public money to help? What additionality over and above the normal course of business will be achieved? 

We hope these tips have helped you to decide if and how to apply to InnovateUK for grant funding. As you can imagine, there is much more to consider if you decide to take the next step. If it helps, we offer a free initial appraisal service of your project with further hints and tips. If you would like to find out more, simply click here to get in touch. Good luck!

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