Future Space Guest Blog: Alan Gould, Independent Grants Specialist
“Don’t be put off by the competition and uncertainty, but ensure you have an understanding of how the grant process works so that you are well placed to exploit the right opportunity when it arrives.”
Alan joined the advisory_space programme earlier this year as our virtual in-residence grant specialist, providing expert advice and support to the Future Space community. We asked Alan how the events of 2020 have changed the grants landscape for Future Space members and other similar businesses.
Grants provide a non-diluting contribution to product development costs, and can provide a helpful boost for innovative start-ups and established small companies. According to UKRI, businesses that participated in research projects saw 28% faster growth in turnover and employment over six years, compared to their sector average.
The events of 2020 have seen a rapid increase in the grant funding available, and a pivot towards those innovations most relevant to the post-pandemic recovery, however it has inevitably seen unprecedented demand. At the beginning of the year Innovate UK were directly supporting 2,500 SME's. As Covid-19 took hold in March there was a rapid implementation of a range of measures to help companies to continue their grant-funded projects through lockdown, and to focus further grant funding on those most able to assist the recovery. More than 8,000 applications were received for the first in a series of Covid recovery related competitions - a higher number than all the applications received across all competitions in 2019.
There is also a huge rise in demand for traditional grant programmes, like SMART, which has experienced a 3 to 4-fold increase in applications, with win rates for some categories of funding down to just a few percent.
Looking ahead, there are some uncertainties. Government support to companies is covered by State Aid rules, and the post-Brexit arrangements for State Aid rules are, at time of writing, not known.
However, support for innovative small companies will continue to be a priority, and £1.59bn is allocated to Wave 3 of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund which is getting underway now. The priority areas for this funding include "AI and Data", Ageing Society", Clean Growth" and Future Mobility" providing huge opportunities for Future Space's community of innovators. My advice would be: don't be put off by the competition and uncertainty, but ensure you have an understanding of how the grant process works so that you are well placed to exploit the right opportunity when it arrives.
For anyone wanting to get to grips with what’s on offer, my top tips are:
- Grants come in different flavours - not just traditional R&D for product development, but also research contracts, business development, consulting support and low-interest loans.
- The term "innovation" is a vague term, but in this context broadly refers to a market offering that is differentiated in its target market by its technical characteristics, and can include the use of established technology in one sector being deployed for the first time another.
- Because of the uncertainty in timings and win rates, don't build grants into your business plan. Grants should be seen as an opportunity to accelerate a viable investment and revenue strategy.
- Take time to plan a grant application, and pay particular attention to the scope definition and the applicant briefings for a given competition to ensure you are well placed to win.
Speaking about the advisory_space programme, Alan commented: "The advisory_space programme is a great initiative from Future Space and Oxford Innovation - giving our start-ups access to advice and support from Bristol's world-class business growth experts at the right time and tailored to their needs."
Alan can be contacted via LinkedIn
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