06 Jul 2014

Funding to release the brake on your innovation

Matt Symonds

Science Parks, universities and business incubators across the UK are brimming with medical device ideas to tackle current and future healthcare needs. The problem is that many remain on the drawing board or in the lab for want of funding. In this article Matt Symonds of consultants TBAT Innovation suggests ways in which you can improve your chances in your bid for finance.

I’ve just come out of a meeting with the director of a university spin-out company. He has spent the past three years in the well-resourced comfort of an academic institution and is ready to move from drawing board to prototype on a new medical device. Although the company has enjoyed the early support of a university environment, the time has come to scale-up the research and development, and to do this they need money.

Mind the gap

If we want Britain to innovate its way out of recession and into economic growth, we need to give confidence to those of you with the market insight and determination to bring new products to market. The gap between fundamental research and commercialisation will not be bridged by traditional business lenders; it’s too early for them to see a return on investment. Instead, we invariably turn to public-sector or charitable sources whose remit is to bring projects to the point at which they are eligible for follow-on funding or attractive to investors and high street lenders.

No funding shortage

Contrary to popular opinion, there is no shortage of funding but a shortage of quality, well-constructed and validated applications for those funds. Just a few minutes of online research into the big lenders and grant-giving bodies will show that most are interested in market-changers and disruptive technologies which are scalable. That’s not to say that your research is insignificant; it might be that the realisable value comes from a collaborative approach with another company, the appointment of a strong management board or a change of direction which needs further investigation.

Where do I go for funds?

Once you have established the need for funding, it is important to get the right package of finance in place to meet those needs. The main funding body in the UK is the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). The TSB is an arm of government which releases numerous grant funding schemes throughout the year. The main funding stream for small and medium enterprises (SME) employing 1-249 is the Smart scheme. The TSB also releases targeted calls throughout the year with the aim of increasing the UKs skills and competitiveness in selected industries. The health and medical industry is currently supported to do this through the Biomedical Catalyst scheme. Funding is available to companies from new start-ups through to large multinational companies and the majority of the funding is for R&D covering such project costs as labour, overheads, materials and subcontractor costs. Other, typically locally administered, grant funds can support capital investment as well as R&D costs. We recently assisted a new start company in accessing funds for the novel treatment of lazy eye treatment in children where it is targeted that patient success rates would more than double.
Release the brake

It can be a time-consuming and often confusing process to identify and then apply for funds, which is why so many innovators turn to consultants for guidance. Grant funding is about applying to the right fund at the right time and you might not hear about many of these funding opportunities. When you do, my guess is that you will be too busy running your business to give the funding application the attention it deserves. We receive daily updates on the latest round of funding from major public bodies and any changes to legislation on the treatment of tax exemptions. A significant proportion of innovative med tech ideas come from small and medium enterprises (SME) but left to cope on tiny budgets, these ideas would be far slower to develop and therefore later into the marketplace, or might never complete at all.

Read the small print

Grant funding assessors are looking for two things when reading an application; one is a high level of innovation which is bringing something better, faster, smaller, cheaper to the market and secondly a high level of technical risk for the company. Without these two factors grant funding bodies will often reject the application. A grant funding application consists of a set of questions, supporting appendices, business/project plans and financial information. As the size of the grant fund increases the complexity of these sections also increases.

I advise anyone applying for grant funding to read the guidance notes carefully as these give a good indication of what the assessors are looking for. Then answer the questions concisely. We recommend starting the application process at least 4 weeks prior to submission deadline to be sure you have enough time to gather all the required information and supporting documents. Ask a colleague who is not involved with the project to review the application, and give you honest, practical feedback.

Typically, a consultant can help you to scope out an appropriate project, write the grant funding application and its associated forms and then submit all documents to the awarding body for review. TBAT Innovation has over 12 years of accessing grant funding for clients across a range of schemes and industries and last year raised over £20 million in grant funding for promising client projects.

To discuss your project with TBAT, and discover the best funding option for your business, simply get in touch.

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