August 17, 2018

How to Win Funding and Influence People

We gathered a team of funding experts in our (cough) studio in Haymarket in Edinburgh. We talked about how to ensure your funding application for innovation and commercialisation funding is as good a shape as possible.

It turns out the same things apply no matter what kind of funding you apply for (who knew?) whether is be Horizon 2020, Innovate UK or local funding.
Listen to hear top tips on the best ways to win funding for collaboration and innovation. Our distinguished panel of experts comprising Mat Wasley, the photonics lead for the KTN, Liam Angus the EEN Scotland funding coordinator, Craig Moir EEN Scotland lead for maritime oil gas and Ken Gordon EEN Scotland lead for Space and Creative Industries.
Our top tips :
  • Get the admin out of the way early. Read all relevant guidance documents that you can find. Take advice from KTN and/or any relevant Scottish Enterprise advisers. Make sure you register on the relevant application system or portal. So for example for any Horizon 2020 project make sure you've got your PIC number. Innovate UK applications use the Innovation Funding Service.
  • Don’t try and fit a square peg in round holes. You’ve read the scope you know when the deadline is. Don’t waste effort and shoehorn an application into the wrong Call. If you find you have to work hard to justify the fit of your application to the Call. It will fail straight away.
  • Submit early. Most submissions come in within the last hour before the deadline. Two or three weeks before the deadline, check you are registered. Check you have done the admin and submit before the deadline. System crashes happen. If they do, you've wasted all your efforts in writing the application.
  • Know the deadline. Deadlines are final. So if it's 5 p.m. Brussels time or 12 pm for the Innovate UK calls submit early. If you miss the deadline by a minute or the system crashes you have wasted all your work. Make sure you know the correct time zones you are applying to.
  • Test your own application by imagining that it's your money that you're giving away. As taxpayers, we are funding Innovate UK projects. Would you spend your own money on it? In particular focus on the explanation, you have given to your description of the route to market. Does it all hang together?
  • Ask yourself why you are asking for public money. Is this because there is a risk and you need the money to mitigate the risk and there is nowhere else to get funds?
  • The right kind of risk would not win commercial support. The right kind of risk should be described as "technically risky but doable". Having no risk or no technical risk in your project is a bad thing for most of the innovation funding sources.
  • If you are finding it difficult to describe your innovation within the word limits on the application form, consider that the person evaluating your application is unlikely to be a specialist in the what you are proposing. They also might not have English as a first language. Don’t make it difficult for them. The application should be written such that it can be understood by an 11-year-old. Avoid any jargon.
  • Make sure your spelling and grammar are correct. Bad spelling and grammar show that you have not paid attention to your application. Free tools to correct spelling and grammar are available. A poorly prepared application impacts badly on the quality of the project and the project team. There are free tools to correct grammar and readability. Some are built into Microsoft Word. Some others are Grammarly and HemmingwayApp.
  • A lot of applications have got a public abstract. People sometimes ignore that but if you are a company, you may be looking for investors or customers. If they google you they might come across the public abstract. If you’ve got a good public abstract public summary of your project it could help your public profile.
  • Echo the words that are in the scope. If the scope mentions game-changing technology, use the phrase game-changing technology. This will signpost that aspect of your project to the evaluator.
  • Use compelling language demonstrating your belief in your application. Show you are confident in your project and back it up with evidence. Back up all your assertions and use any third party reports if they are available. Show don’t tell ((c) Bruce Ainsley).
  • Get the best team for your project. Only have project partners that are essential for success. In your description, make sure everyone's got a clear role. The proposal writing team must include many disciplines and inputs. One person must have an overview to ensure the application is a consistent and cohesive read. The KTN Guide: How to prepare the best application for grant competitions 
  • Make sure your project partners are committed to the project. Get them to contribute early on.
  • Use infographics and tables to display information. It will save space. If appendices are allowed, use them. If it says you may insert an optional Gantt chart, insert a Gantt chart.
  • Application feedback is a gift. Get as many people in your company or outside to read over your application to make sure it is coherent and in scope. Speak to anyone you know that has been successful in similar projects. Get their advice on how to strengthen your application structure. Take their advice on board if you know what’s good for you.
  • Innovation competitions are very competitive. Remember you're competing against a lot of other people submitting very good applications. Very good applications (that are better than yours) often do not get funded.
  • Don't focus on the technology. Show the route to market and exploitation plans in detail. Speak to your customers Get third support (named if possible) in your application.
  • All proposal are equal but some are more equal than others. The average success rate for the funding competition you apply for might be small. A well-written proposal could have a 50% chance of success. Make the effort and write a good proposal.
  • If you your application narrowly fails, act on the feedback you get. You usually get one chance at re-submission. If you submit the failed project to a different Call, take the time to rewrite your proposal for that Call. Don't just change the filename and submit it. Remember the square pegs tip above.
 New funding sources :
KET for clean production. Micro-grants for projects on integrating key enabling technologies (KET) to solve clean production challenges
The Brexit statement Liam referred to.
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Looking for international commercial or technical partner? Or to access EU funding for innovation? Speak to us. The Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) is an international network spanning more than 60 countries. We can find you collaborative partners for your commercial, technical or research projects within your definition of abroad.

Find your local Enterprise Europe Network office here. In Scotland and want to contact us? Our website is here and you can email us using

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