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Lessons from panel pitches

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Given the year we have had in 2020, I hope this new year brings in a lot of opportunities and successes for all of us.

A number of months ago, I had the privilege of sitting in as an observer on 30 panel interviews to identify winning bids for our Transforming Food Production (TFP)  programme: Future Food Production Systems and STiP Demonstration competitions.

Watching how a panel of smart experts viewed and analysed various proposals and team pitches was an eye opener.  A written application can be crafted and refined over time, but a panel interview requires an immediate response that either provides the assurances needed or opens up areas of doubt.

With such strong competition for funding even small issues resulted in scoring downgrades. As result a number of exciting projects did not secure funding.

So below I have listed seven factors that in my view will make a successful bid and give our applicants the chance to succeed in 2021:

Meeting the competition objectives

The TFP programme has received government funding based on its promise of delivering a number of objectives such as helping the industry achieve net zero emissions by 2040.  Applications really needed to show how they could deliver the objectives of the TFP program.

A number of applications included highly interesting projects but their ability to deliver substantial progress towards the core goal of net zero emissions was estimated by the panel to be very small. Other projects neglected to even mention some of the TFP objectives in their pitches, let alone demonstrate how they would be delivered.

Know your product

Interview panels typically include a number of technical experts for each project area. They are looking for the applicants to display a detailed knowledge of the product and how it will operate.

In one interview applicants were hoping to scale up a new technology to produce proteins for the animal feed sector yet they had no idea of the amino acid composition of the product. This is a key criteria for any customer and something that could have easily be quantified via a low cost analytical test.

Know your product, inside out, is the way to success.

Realistic objectives

As with any proposal there is a fine line between being ambitious and unrealistic regarding timelines and achievement of objectives.  Being overly optimistic can easily undermine the credibility of a proposal.

One applicant looking to commercialise a novel food production system stated that they planned to go from £0 to £1 million revenue within two years, while at the same time designing and building a completely new production facility and conducting product trials.  This was not seen as being at all credible by the panel members.

Realistic and prudent costings

A number of projects looked at utilising current industry by-products as feedstocks for a novel food production process.  Some projects assumed in their costings that these feedstocks would continue to cost zero to procure – something that most panel members disagreed with.

Other applications included management salaries of over £300,000 a year and travel costs that stood out as being particularly high.

Successful applications will avoid unrealistic or excessive costings.

Customer focus

For early stage research there may be a very wide potential customer base, however for CR&D projects and later stage research panel members are looking for a clear view of who will be using the product or service.

In a number of interviews applicants stated that their products would be sold to large-scale commercial uses as well as small users and even a third market such as the charity sector.  This lack of understanding of the ‘core’ customer often undermined confidence in the overall application.

Projects that had undertaken a rigorous customer analysis and focused on the largest, most viable sector tended to score better.

Route to market

Having a clear view of the who the customer is and how the product will meet the needs of those specific customers is key.

Projects that included end users or companies with very close links to the end user usually scored better.

Having end users involved, particularly large end users, demonstrated to the panel that the product had market potential and a plausible route to market.


Innovate UK and TFP competitions often encourage collaboration and the formation of new partnerships.  Effective collaborations can provide a compelling business case, but poorly thought out or weak collaborations easily become evident during a panel interview.  Collaborations need to be based on a tight fit between all project partners with complementary objectives and a clear vision.


In summary, the successful bids made the process look easy – they had well thought out, robust and cohesive project that hit the key objectives of the TFP programme.   They demonstrated a deep knowledge of their product, the route to market and their future core customers.  They also displayed enthusiasm and provided confidence to the panel that this team would deliver what they promised.


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1 comment

  1. Comment by Matthew Bleasdale posted on

    To what degree did the companies presenting their innovations get to quiz the panel? A lot of the feedback to our applications has been inaccurate, with factual errors in relation to technology as well as the market. Some feedback has even shown the scoring hasn't been in accordance with the funding call!

    Just because InnovateUK has these "experts" identified as such does not mean that they are - and that's not to even touch on the conflict of interest issues, where Innovate UK checks there is no conflict of interest with their business, but not with the innovators' businesses!