Thanh Quan-Nicholls, our Digital Innovation Lead says that there has been a meteoric rise in the availability of grants for business innovation but they can be difficult to navigate. She has spoken to many companies this year because we provided 121 support for companies looking to apply for grants to schemes such as the Digital Innovation Fund. There are common themes that come up so, here are her top tips:
1. Make sure you have an innovative idea
For lean disruptive start-ups, embedding innovation is natural, but for others, it requires a change in mindset or culture. Make sure you explore future technologies, new business models and innovative design. With customer needs changing fast, it’s a great time to be looking at new ways to apply existing technologies, creating new services or products, and developing disruptive business ideas. Innovation funding provided by the public sector is intended to widen knowledge, further capabilities and bring economic growth.
2. Explain your innovation
If you are close to your project, it can be hard to explain why your idea is novel. Get help to apply a critical eye to your application. To be credible, you should become an expert in your field. The bid will be reviewed by industry experts, so there is no shortcut to doing your research: identify competitors and similar products, know your market or sector, understand your technology and why you are breaking new ground.
3. Be positive
Remember that this is an exercise in persuasive writing to convince your audience of your great idea. You want to excite them and get them to support your project. For grant funding, this is not just about the end user or customer, the funder wants to know that you are delivering wider impacts. There is no room for doubt – be bold, be optimistic and describe your innovation idea in a way that excites your reader.
4. Demonstrate your capabilities
To demonstrate that you can deliver, get your financial information ready, have a team with the right skills, and show that you understand your route to market. Gaps here will seriously jeopardise your chances of being funded. Increase your chances of success by assessing your capabilities objectively and mitigate any weaknesses.
5. Read the guidance & answer the questions
Some people fail to answer the specifics of the questions being asked. Avoid this pitfall by reading the guidance closely. Your application will be read and scored by reviewers who are working to an assessment criteria. Targeting your answer will ensure that you will maximise your score.
6. Give yourself enough time
Quality applications benefit from time and effort. Remember to give yourself enough time to fine tune your bid. Get team members with differing strengths involved at different stages.
If you don’t understand the jargon or processes, most funders will be happy to talk to you. It might not be obvious, but funders want to give away their money! They are keen to get applications that are innovative, exciting, impactful and deliverable.
7. Find the right fund for your project
There are many funds out there – nationally and locally.
The chances of succeeding can vary depending on how many applications are submitted and how high the standards are across the board. As a rule, there is more competition for national or larger funds than smaller, local funds. Assess your chances wisely. There is no single list because these funds are short-lived and change constantly. You need to sign up to bulletins and newsletters, and be ready to take advantage of the next opportunity.
And finally, it’s important to recognise that receiving funding takes time and energy. In most cases, companies are signing up to a reporting back process beyond the life of their project. But the recipe for success is about matching the right project with the right fund, taking time to prepare a strong application and avoid the common pitfalls.
Win or lose, there are intangible benefits of bid writing – businesses say that going through an application process helps them to clarify their own proposition. And often companies who get funding once, go on to receive more. Many will use the same skills to attract further investment.
So, if you are thinking about delivering innovative projects, don’t miss out. Have a look at what support you can get – there is plenty out there!
Thanh Quan-Nicholls is lead for UWE Bristol’s Digital Innovation Fund. Round 2 is now open, closing to applications on 18 November 2020. For more information and to register for an application pack visit: www.digitalinnovationfund.co.uk.