Is it worth entering Innovate UK competitions?

We, at All about the Product, consider ourselves blessed to have won a grant from Innovate UK in the Open March 2018 competition along with our collaborators at the University of Surrey. Thus we are have now embarked on our “Pollution Guardian” Startup project. To help others considering such a bid we thought it might be useful to write this blog.

Why should you do it?

  • Investment: Quite simply the grants from Innovate can be the difference between properly exploring a business idea and letting it wither on the vine. We have found that the grant we received has made it possible not only to buy materials and hire specialist contractors but also to spend the time to unlock the potential of our own competences and experience.
  • Collaboration with academia: This benefit was not immediately obvious to us when we started our journey but has become a key component our activities as we execute our project. The good thing is that universities can attract 100% funding as a collaborator and with that you can get not only world class know-how in a certain field but also a different world view which will enrich your project no end.
  • Support from Innovate: You have a Monitoring Officer appointed who will review your project every quarter. While some may regard this as an examination to pass in order to get your funding released, we have found this discipline useful to keep structure in the project and facilitate periods of reflection on progress. Of course having the backing of ‘Supported by Innovate UK’ also opens doors and helps convey immediately that this project already has gone through a lot of scrutiny.

How do you win?

The simple answer is that we do not know. We had more than one attempt for different applications and through those attempts we did change our proposition significantly. So you could argue immediately that the application process in itself forces you to improve your idea and so is a worthwhile exercise in its own right.

Choosing the right competition to enter is often cited as very important with the idea that you should enter the most specific competition to your idea as possible. Since we won the Open Competition after failing in the Emerging and Enabling competition we cannot perhaps be considered a typical case.

Learning from previous bids and listening to feedback is important – you do get scored feedback on any bid you make. However winning is not simply getting the highest score since Innovate do consider the portfolio of investments they are making. You are only allowed to make the same application twice so do learn from previous feedback but do not give up too easily.


 What happens if you do win?

You get the email and read “We are pleased to inform you that your application has been successful” – so what now? In our case this was 3 months after we submitted our application and 5 months after the competition opened. You are not able to start the project immediately and there are quite a few more hoops you need to jump through before you get your all-important offer letter – in our case this took another two and a half months.

So you find yourself starting a project which you planned at least 6 months ago and in this time you may find contractors you had identified are no longer available so you will probably need to do some re-planning – things change after all.

Is it all worth it?

Our experience is that it is for the reasons outlined above. It is not necessarily a fast process for a start-up eager to get moving but if you hang in there it can be very rewarding.