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Funding innovative and disruptive ideas: Open funding programme

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Open programme, open scope

I took on a new role at Innovate UK just before Christmas.  It’s a really exciting one, heading up the strategic development of our open scope programmes.  We welcome project ideas from single companies and collaborations on any topic, from any sector and any size of company.  Because the scope is open, the ideas getting funded are disruptive, exciting, innovative and business led. The companies we are funding are inspiring to meet, as they have the ambition and potential to grow, as well as a focus on global markets.

Open scope opens possibilities

I believe in open scope competitions. Early in my career I worked for EPSRC engineering responsive funding. We were aiming to fund the best ideas that academics could come up and we certainly did. The competitions were responsive, meaning that academics were applying for funding on challenges they had identified themselves and were passionate about. While there, I internalised a core belief that not telling people what we’re looking can be highly successful in finding truly innovative, high potential ideas. Now, in my current role we’re funding business led ideas.

For example, we funded Lontra, the 10 year old compressor design company, through proof of their concept and development of their prototype for a highly energy efficient compressor, used first in sewage treatment by Severn Water.  Now they have grown to 20 staff and are looking at growing further by manufacturing their highly efficient compressors in their Midlands headquarters and expanding into other applications.

New ideas can be so new no one else is doing them

Our open funding enables businesses to address high-growth opportunities when their concept or idea might not fit one of the Innovate UK sectors or is at the interface of multiple themes with differing scopes.  Some ideas are so new no one anywhere is doing them and the open competition is your route to funding.

An example is Magic Pony Technology, a company that uses machine-learning to improve images and video, which was acquired by Twitter only two years after starting up. Founder Rob Bishop, now product lead at Cortex Vx, Twitter, said:

“Innovate UK has been a fantastic partner to us and I strongly encourage any UK technology entrepreneur to make the most of this brilliant agency.”

“We were fortunate to gain a development of prototype grant from Innovate UK’s Smart grant scheme in 2015, which provided us with essential funding to help turn our research ideas into a functioning product – ultimately leading to Magic Pony Technology being acquired by Twitter in 2016.”

Designed for game changing proposals

The Open competition funding is specifically designed for game-changing, cutting edge innovation proposals. Successful ones can articulate (based on evidence) a potential for significant return on investment, a robust and deliverable business plan, coming from companies with high ambition and potential for growth. It is highly competitive, and only those that manage to score higher than the rest through a transparent and independent assessment process will be funded.

A badge of honour

So, winning this funding is a badge of honour and success, which can be used to leverage other funding. It also requires an investment of time by companies themselves to develop and write their proposal. In order to raise the chances of success, potential applicants do need to consider whether this funding is right for what they have in mind, as well as whether the project and the company have the skills and resources needed to deliver.
Sometimes companies can grow more quickly when they work in collaboration with others and that is why the open R&D competition now welcomes collaborative projects as well as single companies and longer, larger projects as well as short, sharp ones.

The Open funding competition provides considerable R&D funding for cutting-edge and disruptive business led Innovation. Projects can cover any part of the journey leading up to, but not including, commercialisation, and the amount of funding depends on the type of project as well as the size of the company, as set out by rules on State Aid.  Potential applicants must be UK-based, as our aim through this funding is to positively impact the UK economy within a reasonable timeframe.

open sign

Open is open now

There is a current competition open now, with a deadline for registration of 1st Feb and final application documents must be uploaded by the 8th Feb.  Open funding competitions run every 6 months on a predictable schedule so you can apply when it suits you and your business.

I hope that having read these examples you will be inspired to apply for funding for your own fledgling ideas. Our funding can help you give them the time and energy they need to grow strong.  We can continue to help you develop winning business models or improve your manufacturing processes even after initial product launch until they are proven products capable of migrating overseas and growing UK exports.  The new start to the year sees me looking forward to the spring and funding many more new projects.

You can follow me on Twitter: @FionnualaCostel

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