Net Zero Living: User focused design

Key Features

UK registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £3.8 million to support them in developing their net zero products or services. This funding is from Innovate UK.

Programme:     Innovate UK

Award:     Share of up to £3.8 million

Opens: 1st Aug 2023

Closes: 4th Oct 2023

! This scheme is now closed


Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will work with micro, small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to invest up to £3.8 million in innovation projects. These will be to support the net zero agenda.

The Design Council will support the implementation of this competition by providing bespoke support to your project.


The aim of this competition is to support ambitious early-stage growth businesses in developing net zero products or services.

This competition will support you to utilise design thinking methods to link your innovations with the market. Behaviour changes in both places and businesses will focus on finding a market for a solution and support the uptake to create a valid business model. This includes access to living laboratories and other activities to test consumer response to products or services.

This competition will require a user focus, meaning that you will have to demonstrate how you will take into account the user needs and requirements and include them in your product or service development. This can include testing or demonstrations in a living laboratory. The living laboratory user focus expertise and cost must be justified.

The Design Council will offer bespoke support to each business, assisting the understanding and reception of those products or services to users and those with a significant interest in the supply chain.

This competition will not support the generation of novel propositions based on design research aimed at understanding the needs and challenges of users.

As such, the nature of design contributions in this space will be in assisting companies repeat, refine and importantly pivot if need be, from existing concepts and projections for how the product or service might be commercialised.

We want to fund a variety of projects across different themes. We call this a portfolio approach.

Specific Themes

Your project can focus on one or more of the following:

  • power
  • heat
  • mobility
  • product manufacture and usage


Your project must:

  • have a total grant funding request between £50,000 and £100,000
  • start by 1 February 2024
  • end by 31 January 2025
  • last between 6 and 12 months
  • carry out all of its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

Projects must always start on the first of the month and this must be stated within your application. Your project start date will be reflected in your grant offer letter if you are successful.

You must only include eligible project costs in your application.

Under current restrictions, this competition will not fund any procurement, commercial, business development or supply chain activity with any Russian or Belarusian entity as lead, partner or subcontractor. This includes any goods or services originating from a Russian or Belarusian source.

To lead a project your organisation must be a micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME).

Subcontractors are allowed in this competition.

Living laboratories can be added as subcontractors in this competition. You must justify the relevant expertise required for the project and the user focus role. The living laboratories role and budget must be justified in your application.

Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK and you must select them through your usual procurement process.

You can use subcontractors from overseas but must make the case in your application as to why you could not use suppliers from the UK.

You must provide a detailed rationale, evidence of the potential UK contractors you approached and the reasons why they were unable to work with you. We will not accept a cheaper cost as a sufficient reason to use an overseas subcontractor.

All subcontractor costs must be justified and appropriate to the total project costs.

An SME can only lead on one application in this competition.


This competition will not fund projects that are at discovery and definition stage of a product or a service to answer a specific problem, as this stage should already have been reached. This competition will only focus on supporting projects that have a product or service that needs to be tested and developed with a user focused design.

Innovate UK are not funding projects that are:

  • generating novel propositions based on design research aimed at understanding the needs and challenges of users
  • not focusing on net zero themes
  • not able to explain how the user focus will support the development, testing and demonstration of their product or service

We cannot fund projects that are:

  • dependent on export performance, for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it exports a certain quantity of bread to another country
  • dependent on domestic inputs usage, for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it uses 50% UK flour in their product

Funding Costs

Up to £3.8 million has been allocated to fund innovation projects in this competition. Funding will be in the form of a grant.

If the majority of your organisation’s work on the project is commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically.

For industrial research projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 70% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • up to 60% if you are a medium sized organisation

For more information on company sizes, please refer to the company accounts guidance.

If you are applying for an award funded under State aid Regulations, the definitions are set out in the European Commission Recommendation of 6 May 2003.

Interested in applying for this competition?

Book an appointment to speak to one of our advisors to discuss your eligibility to apply for this Grant Funding opportunity.