Government guarantee means now is a great time to apply for Horizon 2020 funding

Thousands of British organisations will be pleased to learn that the government has confirmed it will guarantee to fulfil funds due on any Horizon 2020 grants won before the UK leaves the European Union.

This statement will provide a degree of reassurance to businesses at what has become a very uncertain time for the UK economic landscape. Following the announcement of the referendum results many businesses have been reluctant to embark on European funding bids as it was unclear how they would be effected once the exit process began. For this reason, applications from UK companies are likely to have fallen giving the latest applicants the best chance of making the cut.

This commitment gives businesses the opportunity to continue accessing this valuable resource for research and innovation funding. It is particularly good news for small companies who can apply for SME instrument grant of up to €2.5million for early stage proof of concept through to bringing products to market. We encourage all tech companies to take advantage of this opportunity while it is still accessible and would be happy to chat to anyone wanting to know more information about the opportunities available. Get in touch with us at

Some interesting stats from the EU prior to H2020

We often get asked about the success rates and number of companies that get funding from the EU grant programs such as Horizon 2020. The EU has recently released some interesting statistics regarding their previous programme FP7.

European funding prior to Horizon 2020 was done in a series of framework programmes, starting in 1984 with a budget of just 3.8 billion euros to spend over 5 years. The framework programmes grew steadily from then on with the biggest increases coming in FP7 (07–13) where available funding grew to over 50 billion euros.

Horizon 2020 took the reins from 2013 onwards with a new structure and a further 80+ billion euro budget.

During FP7, Germany and the UK got by far the most funding, but funding was provided to a broad range of companies with 134k people participating in the programme from 170 countries. Statistics also show a good gender balance, 38% of project participants were female. Of the 136k eligible applications, 18% received funding, resulting in twenty-five thousand supported businesses.

A second statistic released was €6.4 billion in funding going to SME’s via the still active Eurostars programme.

Eurostars has been running since 2007 and was developed to meet the specific needs of SMEs. It was the first European funding and support programme to be specifically dedicated to niche market of research-performing SMEs in their innovative R&D projects. Eurostars is a joint programme between EUREKA and the European Commission.



Horizon 2020 2016-17 Programme Announced

This week the second work programme of Horizon 2020 has been announced, which details the grants that are available through 2016-2017.

As with the 2014-15 work programme, the ‘Open Disruptive Innovation’ topic is the most likely avenue for games/digital/creative companies to apply through, as this has a broad scope.

Full details on the 2016-2017 SME instrument (section of H2020 relevant to SMEs) are available here.


 The ‘Open Disruptive Innovation’ topic has €126m allocated for the next two years. This topic has the largest budget allocated to it, from the total €739m available for the SME Instrument in 2016-17.

Submission dates

Phase 1:

24 Feb 2016

03 May 2016

07 Sep 2016

09 Nov 2016

15 Feb 2017

03 May 2017

Phase 2:

03 Feb 2016

14 Apr 2016

15 Jun 2016

13 Oct 2016

18 Jan 2017

06 Apr 2017

01 Jun 2017

18 Oct 2017

Projects Funded to date

Horizon 2020 has released details of all grants awarded to date, include the company and amount of funding awarded. Under the ‘Open Disruptive Innovation’ topic, which is where most digital/creative/games companies would look to apply, there have been 210 grants awarded in 2014-2015. Of these, 171 were phase 1 €50k feasibility study grants, and the remaining 39 were phase 2 innovation projects (€500k-€2.5m).

Some of the projects include:

‘Advanced Back end of a Service Engine’

A framework providing back end functionality for mobile app developers. More details here.

This Phase 1 grant (€50k) was awarded to Italian company Apps Builder in September 2014.

‘Big Data using Second Screen and Content Recognition’

A tool to help TV broadcasters to gather data on their users and personalise the experience accordingly. More details here.

This Phase 1 grant (€50k) was awarded to Spanish company Bridge Mediatech in December 2014.

‘Automatic creation of interactive video to double video advertising revenues whilst decreasing inconvenience for viewers‘

A solution that creates interactive video to enhance advertising monetisation. More details here.

This Phase 2 grant (€946k) was awarded to French company Adways in October 2014

Platform Universal Self Hosting, a hybrid-cloud Platform as a Service reducing web application development cost by 40% for SMEs ‘PLUSH’

Next generation self-hosted Platform as a Service, which can run multiple applications, in multiple languages using multiple data backends on a hybrid-cloud infrastructure.

This Phase 2 grant (€1.9m) was awarded to French company Commerce Guys in October 2014.

Full listing of all grants awarded is available here.



Tips on Horizon 2020 Funding

This post summarises the key things that you need to be aware of when considering applying to Horizon 2020.

‘SME Instrument – Open Disruptive Scheme’ is the section of Horizon 2020 relevant to smaller companies in creative industries

Most of Horizon 2020 is not suitable for SMEs (small to medium size businesses), but the ‘SME Instrument’ section is specifically there to provide funding to smaller businesses. Within SME Instrument is the ‘Open Disruptive Scheme’ which is relevant for creative businesses.

How much money do they have?

Horizon 2020 as a whole has huge amount of funding.

For the SME Instrument – Open Disruptive Scheme specifically in 2015 they planned to fund 90 phase 1 projects (up to €50k) in 2015 and up to 26 phase 2 projects (up to €2.5million).

When does the fund end?

The fund runs until 2020 (started 2014) but they announce details including themes and submission dates in 2 year sections.

How much money can I apply for?

There are 3 phases you can apply for:

Phase 1 – feasibility study, €50k (70% match funding)

Phase 2 – Innovation project, between €500k-€2.5m (70% match funding)

Phase 2 – Commercialisation & Coaching, no funding, provides support to projects funded through Phase 2

What Phase should I apply for?

It depends on your project, however there is a very strong link between companies who undertake a Phase 1 before applying for Phase 2. The success rate of companies applying straight for Phase 2 is very low.

How long should my project be?

Phase 1 – usually around 6-9 months

Phase 2 – 1-2 years

Phase 3 – On-going

You need to have the potential to grow to a very large company on a global scale

They are looking for companies who could provide benefit to the European Union, so you have to have plans that include scaling significantly.

You have to be doing something genuinely innovative

There has to be something new, for example a new technology, in what you are doing.

You need a solid business plan that focuses on the EU

You must be market ready, so need a solid business plan. Phase 1 is designed to fund you to develop this, so that going into Phase 2 you have it ready. Horizon 2020 is an EU program so your plan must focus on the EU, not just the UK.

You have to already have proven that your idea works

You need to have already developed the project to a point where it works.

You need customers

You need to be able to show strong demonstrable market interest, which ideally means having customers already.

What is match-funding and how does it work?

Most grants, including InnovateUK SMART and Horizon 2020 grants are ‘match funded’.

This means that they will pay a percentage of your overall project costs.

In the case of SMART, InnovateUK will provide either 60% or 45% of the total project cost, depending on the level of funding you apply for.

For Horizon 2020 however, they will match 70% of your total project cost.

The rest of the project costs will have to covered from another source. This could be from:

  1. money you already have in your company bank account
  2. cashflow from existing revenue streams
  3. private investment
  4. other grant funds
  5. ‘in-kind’ contributions such as equipment, materials, unpaid work based on time spent

Depending on the grant, you may be limited as to where this money can come from. For example, some grants cannot be matched against other grants. Many grants also do not allow certain kinds of (or any) ‘in-kind contributions’, and most grant funds require a least a significant amount of the funding to come in actual cash rather than in-kind contributions.

In the case of InnovateUK SMART grants, in-kind contributions are not accepted. Horizon 2020 however does allow some in-kind contributions to be included.

Also dependant on the grant fund is whether you need to have your match funding already confirmed before you apply for the grant. In some cases, you can apply for the grant and use your success in that to raise the match funding (although in those cases you wouldn’t actually receive any of the grant money until you had raised the match funding). In other cases you need to have the match funding already in place (or confirmed on the condition of you receiving the grant).

With InnovateUK SMART grants you can apply without your funding confirmed, although at least some progress on knowing where that funding is coming from is recommended. With Horizon 2020 you should plan to have the funding in place before you apply.

If you would like to discuss match funding, or grants in general, please get in touch.

InnovateUK SMART Grant Submissions to Pause after January 2016

SMART Grant applications are usually every 2 months, however due to the budget announcemeqnt, InnovateUK has cancelled their March submission deadline.

This means that currently 21st January 2016 is the last confirmed SMART Grant submission date.

It is unknown as yet how SMART grants (and other InnovateUK funds) will change, but we hope to know more in early 2016.

We recommend that any company wishing to apply for a SMART Grant does so in January 2016.

 Get in touch before 6th January to discuss your application.

Case Study – Portal Entertainment take storytelling into the 21st Century

How would Alfred Hitchcock tell a story today?

This was the apparently simple question that started Portal Entertainment managing director Julian McCrea on his journey to Hollywood, with support from Innovate UK.

“Alfred Hitchcock, son of a greengrocer, started off in theatre and moved into film, the new medium of his age, changing how we told stories. In November 2010, we asked ourselves the question: How would Alfred Hitchcock tell a story today?” Portal Entertainment explains on its Facebook page.

Their answer? “We don’t think it would be a film. We think it would be a story that used all the devices we had available to us today to tell that story. And we would take part in them.”

The last “we”, here, is important. It stands for Portal Entertainment, of course. But it also includes you, the viewer. What the company envisages, in other words, is the audience taking part in these stories via the mobile phones, tablets and laptops that surround us.

They call it “immersive entertainment”: “Stories where the audience take part in them. Stories that put the audience at the heart of the story; stories that leave you with emotional, empathetic experiences that maximise the tension and suspense inherent in great storytelling.”

Portal Entertainment was formed in November 2010. In 2012, using research on human-computer interaction funded by The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, McCrea won an IC tomorrow Innovation in Film and TV competition, using the £30,000 prize to develop a prototype product called Thrill Me, which measures the anxiety on people’s faces.

Later that year, Portal entered an Innovate UK Digital Convergence competition and was awarded

£54,000 towards a £74,000 feasibility study. The company used this 12-month project to develop a prototype for Immersion Go, their first proper product.

Immersion Go is, according to Portal, “the storytelling platform for the digital age”. It allows users to tell stories over multiple platforms (web, mobile and tablet), changing the direction of those stories based on the audience’s anxiety level, which it can gauge by reading the viewer’s face using their device camera.

The 12-month project also allowed Portal to develop its first immersive story, The Craftsman, for iPad, a part-book, part-film, part-game experience that turns the reader into the main character. “No two people will get the same experience,” McCrea told The Guardian.

The Guardian, in fact, was one of several media to cover the launch, comparing The Craftsman to a massively extended take on the choose-your-own-adventure books of the 1980s.

“‘You’, as a fully paid-up character in the drama, can sign online petitions on fictitious websites and receive cryptic messages on your mobile phone from other characters, while the events you attend in the story pop up in your real-life calendar, as the app’s creators attempt to ‘bleed’ the story into your everyday life,” The Guardian said, clearly impressed.

Portal has since agreed deals with Warner, to develop a horror digital series for mobiles and a five-minute horror attraction for virtual-reality devices; Fox, for the use of the Immersion Go platform; and Disney / Pixar.

This last deal may be the most commercially significant of all the three, opening up the world of advertising, with Portal’s technology being used to measure “purchasing intent” for the 3D film Inside Out.

“Facial recognition is just the first step. Now we’re trying to pick up what the eye is looking at on screen and how attentive you are,” McCrea said. To this end Innovate UK has awarded Portal £88,000 towards a cognitive vision feasibility project to add to the company’s mood data.

Portal has now opened a Los Angeles office to handle these US deals, the end of a remarkable five-year journey that has seen McCrea go from working on the BBC’s Doctor Who Facebook page to striking deals with the Hollywood elite. The company also employs seven staff in offices in Birmingham and London.

McCrea says none of this would have been possible without Innovate UK. “What Innovate UK allows you to do is innovate and experiment with really risky ideas,” he says. “I’m just super-excited that Innovate UK exists. I love the fact that it gives me the opportunity to have crazy ideas that then become reality.”

Portal Entertainment’s mission, as laid out on its Facebook page is “To create Vertigo for the digital age”. It’s a bold statement, referencing one of Hitchcock’s most-loved films, and it is going to take a lot of doing.

And yet in 2015 the media environment is ripe for this kind of innovation. We are watching more content than ever on smartphones and tablets – in China, for example, 25% of all video is viewed on tablet and smartphone, according to the Ooyala Q2 2014 Global Video Index Report – and we increasingly expect to be involved in what we are watching, whether it is by voting on the outcome, submitting our own photos and videos or taking part in the Twitter conversation around live programming.

At the same time, the idea of interactive storytelling is starting to gain serious traction. The New York Times is one notable media company to experiment with the concept, using multimedia tools and interactive features on acclaimed online features like Snow Fall. (There is, incidentally, a whole page on rounding up its adventures in Interactive Storytelling, Graphics and Multimedia from 2014.) Gaming, too, is becoming ever more lifelike and story based, with the worlds of cinema and games edging ever closer.

The idea that the next Vertigo could be designed for tablets and smartphones with viewer interaction driving the story is not so farfetched, then, and Portal could be at the heart of it.




Written by Ben Cardew

The differences between Proof of Concept and Development of Prototype duringa SMART application

There are three types InnovateUK SMART grants you can apply for. The smallest (up to £25k) is for Proof of Market, and then you have Proof of Concept (up to £100K) and Development of Prototype (up to £250k).

One of the common challenges is understanding the difference between what is required for Proof of Concept vs Development of Prototype. This post breaks down the key differences based on our experience…

Proof of Concept

For a Proof of Concept you should:

  1. Have theorised a technology solution to a problem.
  2. Have reasonable basis (i.e. data) that there is market opportunity (which may or may not have been found through a Proof of Market grant)
  3. Be ready to test your theory by building something that is only advanced enough to prove the concept can work.

Development of Prototype

For a Development of Prototype you should:

  1. Have proven the concept already.
  2. Now be ready for a more advanced demonstrator that is somewhat representative of what your full commercial offering may be, in order to test the market.

Some examples:

  1. You are looking to build software that compresses data 10% better than the current best in market.
    1. Your Proof of Concept will be to create the software that compresses the data, but with no user friendly UI.
    2. Your Development of Prototype will be throw-away code, but have a decent UI and some other features such as ability to upload a file.
  1. You are looking to build a new car that is more aerodynamic that any currently on the market.
    1. Your Proof of Concept might be made out of solid clay, designed to see if it is aerodynamic and whether people like how it looks.
    2. Your Development of Prototype will be a prototype of the actual car, used to find the best manufacturing techniques and test how it drives, but will be scrapped afterwards.

Therefore, both projects involve roughly the same people and skills, and both require engineering. However a Proof of Concept is about creating some software to answer ‘is it even possible to solve my problem that way?’, whereas a Development of Prototype involved building software to test, to validate the market fit and work out how to go about building the full commercial product afterwards.


Company Spotlight: Snap Fashion.

Our latest blog post heralds the arrival of a new feature on the Tenshi grants blog, the Company Spotlight. We would like to thank writer Ben Cardew for giving us a great insight into Snap Fashion.

“Has mobile penetration plateaued?” So ran the headline from online retail association the IMRG in August as it released the latest figures for shopping via mobile devices, which showed that 42% of UK online sales were via mobile and tablet devices in Q2 2015-16, a figure unchanged from Q1.

These figures do not, of course, tell the full story. Tina Spooner, chief information officer at IMRG, explains that sales via mobile phones are actually still growing, but this has been offset by the slowing tablet market. “It may be that the next mobile growth spurt will be purely driven by increasing consumer confidence in using smartphones for online shopping,” she adds.

For this to come true, though, mobile retail is going to have to pull its socks up. We may use our mobile phones for almost everything these days but shopping by them remains a pretty horrible experience, all tiny screens, titchy boxes and 1,001 conflicting apps.

Into this field comes Snap Fashion, a fashion retail app that was developed by 27-year old Computer Science graduate Jenny Griffiths after attracting Innovate UK funding and matching private investment in a Launchpad competition. Leading magazine publisher Time Inc – home to Marie Claire, InStyle and Look – has since invested in the company.

The company’s aim, essentially, is to make shopping for clothes online a great deal easier, more natural and fun, whether it be by smartphone app or via your browser.  “We want to put the fun back into online shopping, making it fast, fulfilling, and the best way of discovering new brands,” the company says.

It does this by allowing users to upload (or “snap”) pictures of clothes they love to Snap Fashion, which will then search for similar clothes on sale via 250 high-street and online retailers.

If you find something that takes your fancy you can view it in more detail, add it to you Wishlist, share it with friends, “re-snap” it and search for a new set of similar results or – crucially – buy it in just a couple of clicks.

The company’s iOS app goes even further, building “a unique colour palette” based on an individual snap. “We don’t just find similar items… we make putting together the perfect outfit a breeze, for men and for women,” Snap Fashion explains. “Take a photo of a colour or pattern that you love, and you can decide whether to match it, clash it or complement it from our Snap Colour Palette; a world first.”

Other features include sales alerts, which let you know when items on your Wishlist drop in price, and “browse” and “trending” pages on the Snap Fashion website, which let you browse clothes in a more traditional manner and check out the most loved items on Snap Fashion, giving a social media tinge to the company’s offer.

Snap Fashion is nothing if not bold. “Snap Fashion is changing the way that the world shops online,” the company claims – slightly prematurely – on its website. And yet this is undoubtedly a very clever product, one that aims to solve the eternal problem of matching the outfit you have in your head with retail reality.

It is hard to argue, in fact, with the logic of Snap Fashion’s mission: “Snap Fashion believe that men and women create their own styles, select their own looks and shop their wardrobes, based on the things they see and like,” it says. “It seemed obvious to us that if people are shopping in the real world using their eyes, we should really be shopping online using pictures.”

The reaction among media has been warm too. The Sunday Times said that “Snap Fashion will change the way we shop”, while Cosmopolitan reckoned, “It’s so good you’re probably downloading it as we speak.”

More importantly, fashion retailers have been quick to get on board. In total, Snap Fashion has more than 250 retail partners, including high-street chains such as French Connection, Gap, Topshop, Topman and Uniqlo, online retailers including Net-A-Porter and Mr Porter, and department stores such as Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis and Selfridges.

These partnerships have helped to bring the number of products in the Snap Fashion catalogue to “hundreds of thousands”. But herein lies the company’s main difficulty: hundreds of thousands of items is impressive. But compared to the hundreds of millions of different items of clothing that are out there in the world, it is still peanuts.

What’s more, as Snap Fashion acknowledges, “Visual search is a strange beast, and it’s not 100% accurate all of the time”. So users may be faced with the odd strange search result, particularly if the photo they have uploaded is taken at a strange angle or in difficult lighting.  As you might imagine, in the irascible world of the internet this has got some people quite annoyed.

Generally, though, the reaction from users has been positive. Helen Watt, commenting on the Snap Fashion app’s Google Play listing – admittedly not the most reliable place for reviews – says, “Really cool app. Very stylish and easy to use. Have found some great buys already.”  Luke Francis, writing in the same place, claims to have used the app to find “the perfect birthday present for my girlfriend… a dress to match her favorite bag.”

Get its offer right and Snap Fashion could be onto something very lucrative indeed. eMarketer claims that global commerce was worth $1.3 trillion in 2014 – 5.9% of the total retail market worldwide – led by China and the US. Meanwhile, online fashion sales in the UK were said to have reached £10.7bn last year, up 14.5% on 2013, according to Mintel.

If Snap Fashion can improve the experience of shopping online – and in particular on the ever-present smartphone – then it could claim an important part of this booming industry and re-pay Time Inc’s investment in spades.

Add to this Snap Fashion’s own designs on the high street – it was recently awarded a  £1m contract under Innovate UK’s ‘re-imagining the High Street’ SBRI programme, which will fund development of Snap InStore, a search tool for use in physical fitting rooms – and you have a company well worth keeping a fashionable eye on.


Public grants: What are technology innovation grants?

Public grants are a popular route for companies to get funding to develop products or services. Development of own IP can sometimes be challenging to fund, particularly during the early stages before you can prove the potential of your idea. Public grants are often the best way to find that early stage funding.

An important consideration when applying for a public grant should be that grant funds have a greater reason for existing than just to benefit your company. Often that purpose is to generate economic growth either through job creation, or through technology innovation.

This article is going to look at technology innovation grants, and what types of projects they are designed for.

Grants for technology innovation can often be substantial amounts of money, sometimes up to £100k, but often higher up to £250k and in some cases into the millions. In the UK, these grants are mainly available through InnovateUK ( (Technology Strategy Board) and the EU Horizon 2020 program (

So, what is technology innovation and how does it apply to games?

Technology innovation is defined as the research and development of new or improved technology, developed for widespread use. What this means in practice is that:You need to be developing technology, not a game and not content.

Some examples of what this might be are a new game engine, a Unity plugin that you will sell on the asset store, a specific algorithm, or a standalone tool for part of the production pipeline, for example animation or lighting.

You can develop this technology as part of a bigger project.

For example, you may develop the tool during the production of your game as part of the process. In fact, this is a good thing because the game enables you to prototype and proves that the technology works. The funding is only available however to cover the time spent on technology development, but if part of that is developing a prototype game to prove it, you may be able to get some funding for part of that too.

The technology you are developing does not exist.

You cannot recreate something that already exists. Whatever you are doing must be new, or a significant step forward based on some existing technology.

It must be something that will benefit your industry (or others) as a whole and not just your company.

So you must be intending to, and demonstrate commercial potential, to be able to sell this technology to other companies, to help them as well as help yourself. What this means is that if you are developing something that you only plan to use in-house, to make your games better than your competitors, you will not be able to get technology innovation funding because you are not creating something that can have widespread use.

You need to be developing the technology innovation yourself.

Essentially, you cannot be outsourcing or contracting the development of the technology. You need to show that you have the skills in-house to create the technology; otherwise, it will be perceived that it’s not your team that should be getting the funding, as you are not the ones with the skills to create it.

You should be able to demonstrate why this technology is relevant right now.

Being able to show that there is a need for this technology in your target industry right now is crucial. This usually means that there is a step change in your industry that gives your technology significant potential value, or a problem that your industry has been struggling with for a long time.

There must be significant technical uncertainty that you can deliver the project.

This is the complete opposite of most types of funding, but if you know exactly how you are going to developing the technology and it is just a matter of doing it, then you will not be eligible for technology innovation funding. There needs to be a significant element of research & development, with key risks that may stop you from succeeding. You must have a plan to mitigate those risks, but those risks and unknowns must exist.

Many technology innovation grants are not about getting to market, they are about proving the technology.

This does not apply to all technology innovation funding, however many including InnovateUK Smart Grants (one of the most popular grants for technology innovation) are specifically not funding you to get your technology to market. They are funding the R&D of the technology, after which you can then look to turn it into a full product to take to market.

If your project does have technology innovation, then you should consider applying for grant funding from InnovateUK or Horizon 2020, although be aware that there are other criteria to meet, such as being able to cashflow the project, being able to match fund and proving that you have the team in place to effectively project manage the process.

If you are looking to raise grant funding for technology innovation projects, then you can either write the grant application yourself, or work with a company such as Tenshi Grants who will write the application for you.

Technology innovation grants are not suitable for everyone, many games companies now use 3rd party technologies such as game engines or tools to enable them to focus on building games and content as efficiently as possible. However, some companies focus on building technology and others find that they come across a problem that cannot be solved with existing technology so have to build it themselves. In those scenarios, you are potentially eligible for significant grant funding and should be consider this as a way to fund your company growth.