Innovate UK funding: Top tips for a stand-out application

James Cortis
Content Producer | Business West
16th September 2020

Applying for an Innovate UK grant will take time, effort and thought, however the rewards are clear. 

To be successful, you will need a first-class pass, scoring 80% or above. Traditionally, only 7-8% of applicants achieve this feat and secure funding but do not be put off; only 30% of applications are typically considered truly competitive. By following the guidelines carefully and taking time to understand what the assessors are looking for, you will be on your way towards these competitive positions. 

The application process is designed to challenge your understanding of your technology and market, and will ask you to demonstrate why your proposition is an unmissable opportunity. Those who can communicate this clearly and persuasively will be vying for funding, although the margin for error will be tight. 

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of ten things you can do to create a stand-out application: 

1. Check the fit and start early

First things first; make sure you’re not wasting your time. The scope is clear on what it will and won’t consider, and there may be other funding options out there better suited to you. 

Innovate UK is looking for ground breaking, disruptive innovations (not refinements of existing solutions) that are, in the case of September’s Sustainable Innovation Fund, resilient and sensitive to the issues of Covid-19 and climate change. See the full scope here

Once you’re sure your product fits the bill, begin your application as soon as possible. We recommend giving yourself 4-6 weeks; enough time to understand the requirements, collect the necessary information and create a draft with two weeks to spare. These final weeks will give you time to set aside your application before returning with a fresh, critical eye. 

2. Set the Scene 

Innovate UK wants to see a clear route to market for technology. You should therefore detail current connections with end users, your current market share and how the funding will improve your position, opening new opportunities. 

It’s also important to describe the size of your target market, the UK’s current standing within it and how your business intends to improve that standing. Global ambitions described in realistic terms will elevate your bid. 

3. Back up assertions… but don’t link 

It’s never enough to say, “we believe there is a strong market for our services”. Instead, cite impactful market data, stating, for example, that it’s a global market worth £10bn per annum, growing at 8% per year. Next, describe your route to market in detail, explaining how you will engage customers and see the fruits of this global growth. 

Referencing statistics is essential but be warned, the assessors do not want to see links. Rather, reference the report and the year in brackets after the statistic.

4. Consider the assessors  

It seems fair to assume that your application will be read alongside many other compelling and competitive propositions. The remedy is to make the assessor’s ‘yes’ decision as easy as possible.  

Be bold, confident and simple in your writing, using headings and short paragraphs. Your assessor is unlikely to have heard of your company so consider the message you want to convey, avoid jargon and stick to a narrative, telling a compelling story of where you are today and where you could be tomorrow. 

Also bear in mind that your application should be designed to accumulate points in the scoring criteria, requiring a minimum of 80% or above to be considered for funding, so don’t skim over some questions and obsess over others. Every question has equal weighting and you need to score highly in each section to be considered.

5. Sell your risks 

This one sounds counterintuitive but it’s important to understand that if it’s not risky, it may not be innovative. That said, you need to identify potential hazards, rank them by severity and outline mitigation strategies. 

Can you protect your IP in new markets? Can you withstand losing key members of the team or subcontractors? Can you guarantee access to equipment, components and key data sets? Also consider Covid-related hurdles i.e. can you sell without attending conferences or having face to face meetings? Answer these and more, detailing how you will navigate current challenges and bring your product to market.

6. Be a stickler for the rules

Particularly the rules on the appendix section; be sure to use it for additional information only such as Gantt charts and diagrams. 400 words can be tight for some questions but resist the urge to ‘overspill’ into the appendix section; rather, use it as ‘an addition to’. 

7. Face up to the obvious stuff 

We might like to think we’re past the point of being told to ‘read the question properly’, but for a nation of skim readers, it really is stellar advice. Taking some time to understand exactly what they’re asking for can save you from barking up the wrong tree and drastically improve your chances of success. 

A grammatically perfect entry will also boost your credibility; trusted friends, colleagues and other proof-readers should all be standing by. It is also imperative that all calculations are correct and that figures add up and are accurate. 

8. Understand Innovate UK’s goals 

Ultimately, Innovate UK is funded by the taxpayer and needs to see a significant return on investment in terms of jobs, revenue and the UK’s standing in the global economy. As part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, Innovate UK also has a clear interest in clean energy and other socially beneficial technologies and solutions, including sustainable Covid recovery. 

Your proposition should therefore come across as an unmissable opportunity for the country, and one that can meet the challenges of the age.  

9. Ask for the right amount 

Now to the nitty gritty; how much will the project cost and why? If you’re asking for a Ford Fiesta budget to build a Ferrari, eyebrows will be raised. The reverse is, of course, also true.

Be transparent with your finances and break down the costs by work packages. Once you’ve done this, answer the questions a bank manager might ask: why are you coming to me for money? Where’s your contribution coming from? Why don’t you fund it yourself? 

10. Speak to us

Business West, through its Enterprise Europe Network team, is on hand to discuss your eligibility and suitability for funding and either point you in the right direction or guide you through the application process. Our fully subsidised team of advisers know this process inside out and in such a competitive field, their constructive advice and critical eye is available to support your application and help boost your chances of success. 


To summarise, if you can be bold, ground breaking and thorough with realistic, global ambitions, then you should be easy to say yes to. However the competition will be fierce; more than 8,600 businesses applied for Innovate UK’s fast-track competition in May, with only 800 securing the £50,000 funding. 

More deadlines are now on the horizon and time is of the essence so pick up the phone, speak to our advisors and let’s discuss how we can help improve your chances of success.  


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