24 May 2024

Innovate UK Smart Grant – Consistent but Competitive 

Emma Lumley
Grant Consultant

What is a Smart Grant?

Innovate UK Smart Grants are funding opportunities provided by Innovate UK, which is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). These grants aim to support game-changing and commercially viable research and development innovations that can significantly impact the UK economy.  

Only UK registered organisations can apply with a total funding pot of £25 million available each round. 

Typically having an open call at any time, Innovate UK Smart Grants have long been a popular source of funding. With relatively open scope, Smart Grants will fund the very best game-changing and world-leading ideas, designed for swift, successful commercialisation. With relatively open eligibility criteria fitting a large number of projects, Smart Grant funding is a consistent go-to for businesses of all sizes.  

Projects span various innovation areas and often involve collaborations with partners, including universities and research institutions. 

How easy is it to win a Smart Grant?

The relatively open scope and suitability for many projects means that applying for a Smart Grant has become a hugely competitive process. There are high numbers of applications received each round. High scores are needed, and overall, low success rates are seen.  

Here at TBAT, we track the applications of funding calls, with Innovate UK publishing a breakdown of scores and applications funded. We use this to guide and inform potential applicants, giving them the best chance to submit a successful application.  

Smart Grants are arguably one of the most in-demand sources of funding so applicants should always consider if there are any more niche funding streams available that may be less competitive. TBAT team will review funding opportunities to identify any alternative calls you may wish to apply to; this could include sector or region specific opportunities.  

With the numbers and detail on projects funded now available for Smart Grants 2023, let’s delve into the details: 

Stream 1 (6-18 Months):

  • Number of Applications: 1259 
  • Number of Successful Applications: 62 
  • Success Rate: 5.5% 
  • Average Grant Fund Value per Project: £301,728 
  • Minimum Successful Score: 84.4% 
  • Maximum Successful Score: 92.8% 

Stream 2 (19-36 Months):

  • Number of Applications: 284 
  • Number of Successful Applications: 6 
  • Success Rate: 4.8% 
  • Average Grant Fund Value per Project: £797,203 
  • Minimum Successful Score: 86.1% 
  • Maximum Successful Score: 87.8% 

Why wouldn’t a great innovation receive funding?

With Smart Grants only funding very high scoring projects, many great innovations are failing to receive funding because of poor scoring applications. Assessors have a strict marking criteria, meaning however good a project sounds, it will not be funded if the application does not tick all the boxes.  

With no room to lose marks, each question must be polished and refined to include each and every detail needed by assessors, convincing them that your project, out of many options, is one worthy of funding. With the assessment process recently changing, applications will now only be assessed by 3 assessors rather than the previous 5; it is absolutely critical that each assessor is in complete support of your project being funded.  

The key errors we see applicants make are: 

Underestimating the time needed to make a quality submission – crafting a high scoring application is not a case of filling in the blanks. Starting early is critical, leaving time to build an impactful case to assessors. 

Neglecting commercialisation – Smart Grants are tailored for “commercially viable R&D innovations that can significantly impact the UK economy” so it is critical to get into the nitty gritty surrounding your route to market and ROI, whilst giving realistic timelines. 

Not getting into the detail – Applications will be assessed by experts in the specific sector you target. It’s important to get into the detail of why your innovation is novel and game-changing and why it will have a significant impact on the market vs your competitors. 

Leaving word counts unutilised – Delivering all the information needed within the wordcounts available is very challenging. Applications which do not utilise the available wordcounts are likely missing information or clarity, meaning that they will not be scored highly, this being unsuccessful. 

What to do if you want to apply for a Smart Grant?

If you are considering applying for a Smart Grant, contact the TBAT team as early as possible. We will be able to discuss your project and how best to frame your proposal for success.  

Smart Grants are open to resubmissions, so if you have applied previously, consider approaching TBAT to support your application; a fresh pair of eyes, and an experienced perspective, can make all the difference. 

Utilising the experienced TBAT team will optimise your chances of success, discussing with you the intricacies of your innovation and tailoring each question to maximise your score. 

Contact the TBAT team and we can discuss you project, eligibility and suitability for the Smart Grant, getting the ball rolling early is crucial to ensure you score well and set your innovation up for success. 

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