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Innovate UK Smart: for disruptive or game-changing ideas

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We live in a fast paced world where our business and consumer needs are driving technological advancements to accelerate at a faster rate than ever before.

So we need a constant stream of new ideas that seek to resolve these emerging challenges.

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For businesses looking at research and development (R&D) innovation as a way to tackle commercial and societal challenges, it can be hard to keep up the pace with this acceleration and to remain competitive.

Innovate UK has evolved its funding to ensure we respond to these challenges by offering different funding programmes for different business and technological needs.

We have programmes that seek to address specific challenges, but how do we go about supporting ideas that are truly cutting-edge, disruptive, or game-changing in areas that we have yet to even consider?

This is where Innovate UK Smart funding comes in.

 So what is Innovate UK Smart funding?

Innovate UK Smart is all about ideas, business and growth. It offers a grant funding opportunity where it is you and your idea which is most important, rather than us telling you what the next big thing should be.

So this is a responsive funding programme that caters to those ideas that have the potential for significant economic impact and do not necessarily fall into any of our other current programmes.

Through Innovate UK Smart we are looking to fund UK-based businesses of all sizes from any region in the UK that want to carry out ambitious and high-risk R&D innovations in any area of industry and/or technology.

It is also about giving businesses the chance to apply for funding when it suits them the most, with greater flexibility in scope, timeframe, and opportunities for larger grants for single company applicants.

Investing for future growth

Imagine you are pitching your idea to potential private investors, what they look for is what we are looking to invest in too.

We are looking to fund and de-risk incredible new ideas that also have robust business plans which highlight the right skills and resources to deliver what is being proposed.

Ideas that will help grow the economy through return on investment and open up significant global opportunities and markets.

To collaborate or not to collaborate?

Under the Innovate UK Smart programme, we are looking to fund ambitious businesses and enable them to grow or scale up. Sometimes businesses can grow more quickly when they work in collaboration with others, so we aim to provide funding for collaborative projects as well as proposals from single company applicants.

There are opportunities for large and small projects, depending on what is most appropriate for the type of R&D that is being proposed. So it’s up to you to decide if a consortium works best for your innovation.

Person holding up a piece of white paper with three question marks.

Smart? Open? what is the difference?

The idea of Innovate UK Smart is simplicity and ease of access, so as we evolve our funding we evolved our branding too.

Smart is simply the new name for our Open grant funding programme and our eligibility criteria is still very similar – but please do read it all in full so you are not caught out by any surprises.

The name change also gave us the opportunity to stop saying Open is now open!

Top Tips

Successful applications into this competition are of exceptionally high quality with the potential to have a lasting impact, so to be able to stay competitive amongst our cohort of applicants and increase your chances of success we suggest the following:

  • Attention to detail – An easily overlooked but important tip is making sure to read and understand our eligibility criteria in full and refer back to our competition brief when filling out your application if you need to; successful projects also answer the application questions directly
  • Clarity in your proposal – The easier a fantastic idea is to grasp and understand the better the chances of success, so we recommend that you articulate your exciting proposal with clarity and conciseness
  • Great understanding of the market and end-user needs – Successfully articulating the impact your innovation will have on the market and end-user as this will help present your proposal as a viable opportunity for growth
  • Strong and deliverable business plan – Justifying why public funding will make a real difference to the development of your idea, and having a strong, realistic and deliverable business plan will help evidence this. A proposal that demonstrates that the project team has the right people, with the right skills and the right approach to run the project successfully and exploit the results, is likely to stand out
  • Awareness of all the main risks – a lot of proposals demonstrate a good awareness of the main risks their projects will face, but our most successful applicants not only demonstrate these but also present realistic management and mitigation plans for each one

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Want to know more about previous winners?

Why not take a look at the projects below that are from previous grant recipients into our Open style competitions:


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