Su Weeks is a Project Manager for hardware Accelerator and coworking space, Central Research Laboratory. A project management specialist, Su has been managing grant funded projects for many years across the innovation and education sector. Su has extensive knowledge of the innovation grant funding landscape, developing and writing compelling project applications, and the ins and outs of applying for and managing grant funding.
Applying for innovation grant funding can be a labyrinthine task. From seeking the right opportunity, through developing your project plan, finding partners, understanding all the resources you require and match funding. After all this, you have the actual writing to do – no small task.
Here are some top tips on how to grease the wheels on your ride to success.
Keep your eyes on the prize
Be crystal clear about what you need and why you need it. Argue your points passionately, but think about counter-arguments that the assessor could use as to why the project should not be funded. Address these in your application.
1 + 1 = 2
The principle of additionality requires that public money be given to projects that would not otherwise go ahead without it, and you need to be able to explain why public money is the only option to take your project forward. Your project may be viewed as a high-risk investment and therefore not suitable for traditional investment methods. You might want to also consider whether your project will have a multiplying impact on the funds, allowing you to increase your investment in R&D (in addition to the match funding) before, during or after the project.
What can you bring to the table?
Most organisations that offer grants are tasked with specific strategic objectives. For example, Innovate UK have the following responsibilities:
With a strong business focus, we drive growth by working with companies to de-risk, enable and support innovation.
We connect businesses to the partners, customers and investors that can help them turn ideas into commercially successful products and services and business growth.
We fund business and research collaborations to accelerate innovation and drive business investment into research and development.”
When you approach an organisation for grant funding, be honest with yourself – does your proposition support the objectives of the organisation? Is the market big enough to make a real impact?
- What’s your dream?
Sell, sell, SELL the project to the assessor. Be passionate about the motivation for the project and necessity for the funding, show awareness of the closest tech on the market and convince the assessor that the output of your project is differentiated from that already in the marketplace. The same way you would with an investor.
- Love thy neighbour
Think outside of the direct project team and consider potential benefits and impacts on wider stakeholders (customers, supply chain partners, broader industry, etc). Think in broad terms; products to market, jobs, new technology that can benefit the economy. Show awareness of environmental, societal and economic impacts and show how negative impacts could be mitigated. Projects that could have negative implications on the environment will not be funded.
- Coherence is key
Present your project logically and consistently, so that it is described comprehensively, and assessors are able to understand it. Inevitably, some content will be complex and will require the use of technical language, but it should not be used to the detriment of the application. Don’t obscure the purpose of the project with fancy words!
- If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t waste time trying it on
Grant funding opportunities tend to have strict criteria, be they in industries such as defence or finance, or technologies like quantum or the circular economy. Don’t be tempted to shoehorn an inappropriate project into a grant funding call – if the call doesn’t fit you’ll be wasting your time. To keep up-to-date make sure you are signed up to relevant newsletters.
- The course of collaboration rarely runs smooth
Be pragmatic when it comes to partnerships. Be clear about collaborations, stating in absolute terms who will do what, how you ensure it gets done, and who has ownership and/or usage of the intellectual property. If funded, your project will usually be required to submit a collaboration agreement. These can be complex and so it’s a good idea to have open discussions early on with your partners.
Beware of dead-weight
Assessors will be looking for reassurance that project plans are realistic. They’ll be looking at whether your project has sufficient resources and that tasks are assigned to partners with relevant skills and experience, so make sure all project partners have something to offer that has been clearly outlined in the application.
Call in a favour
The beauty of being part of a collaborative community of like-minded entrepreneurs like Barclays Eagle Labs, is that favour swaps are happening all over the place. Ask someone to read your application before you submit, buy them a pint, ask them to be brutally honest, and make sure you return the favour later.
Remember those grammar lessons
Check your spelling and keep your language professional. Don’t ask rhetorical questions, use exclamation marks or capital letters for emphasis. It won’t make or break your application, it just makes better sense. Like your Grandma used to say, ‘if something’s worth doing… ’.