Innovate UK is going through some changes, but what can they get better at? And how does it compare to funding agencies in other EU countries? Dr. Caroline Elston, Head of Grants at Ayming UK, explores the pros and cons of our national innovation funding agency, Innovate UK, in the second of our two-part series.
Missed the first article? Take a look here.
In part one of this review we focused on areas in which Innovate UK excels. For example, where other national funding agencies focus solely on typically ‘innovative’ sectors (such as health, life sciences, emerging technologies, materials etc.), Innovate UK offers ‘open’ programmes to encourage businesses of ALL sectors. Alongside these, Innovate UK also recently offered two funding streams, innovative in and of themselves – the first saw fledgling, innovative companies paired with leading UK R&D institutions to take on board their expertise; the second consisted of a joint competition with a Seed funder to fund innovative but potentially high-risk projects.
Innovate UK vs the E.U.
Innovate UK is a forward-thinking agency with some fantastic ideas. But there are also some simple improvements that could make their delivery plan even better.
So, here are two key areas where Innovate UK could make improvements, and become more competitive with its European cousins.
#1 – Visibility on funding competitions
In a world where product development cycles are short, and markets move fast, innovation funding can be a bewildering journey for regulars and newcomers alike. If Innovate UK wants to fund the best companies and the most innovative ideas, it should give good visibility on the details of its funding competitions, when they will open and when the deadline is. This is a minimum requirement.
Benchmark: Lagging behind
The European Commission has just published full H2020 Work Programs for 2018 and 2019, meaning that partnerships can anticipate and start building up their strategies and partnerships in plenty of time. BPI France typically publishes funding competitions a good 4 to 6 months before the deadline. Innovate UK tends to publish competition details around 6 to 12 weeks before the submission deadline – take a look at their current open innovation competitions here.
Turning a collaborative Grants application around in that tight timeframe is tricky, time consuming and sometimes impossible for micro SMEs and large companies alike. Preparation time to deadline is critical. You may argue that another funding opportunity will open a few months later, but this can be the difference between a company surfing on the funding wave when their business is at a critical technical risk or challenge, or missing the wave altogether.
#2 – Visibility on success rates
Grants fundamentally touch on the R&D strategy and future competitiveness of a company. What do you do when you want to position a new product? You analyse the market place. It seems logical then that when pitching a grants proposal, companies want to better understand the ecosystem they are entering in to.
Benchmark: Lagging behind
Innovate UK is very hit and miss at releasing a full range of statistics on their competitions. The European Commission regularly publishes information on the number of proposals it received for each and every competition, and subsequently, the number of projects it selects for funding. This is important for companies to properly understand their financing environment and to evaluate risk.
With some kind of Brexit looming, Innovate UK’s role and remit actually becomes even more important. This is because there is a direct link between the money the UK spends on boosting R&D outcomes, and how attractive we are to companies wanting to maintain investment in R&D and manufacturing here. In turn, these are the companies who will employ skilled people, coming from UK or EU Universities, nurturing future talent to work on the big challenges affecting our society.
Innovate UK is doing a great job, as we discussed in the first article. However, when you look at this bigger picture of Innovate UK’s broadening landscape and remit, even small improvements can make a big difference. And the two areas for improvement we’ve discussed here would be a great place to start.