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.

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.


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.

Case Study – James Henderson from Brightbook

As part of our new series of blog posts, we have asked some of our previous clients to answer a few questions about the grant application process, working with Tenshi Grants and to pass on some advice and insight to others who may be looking to apply for grants. First in our series is James Henderson from Brightbook, a book keeping solution for small business owners, freelancers and contractors.

Q1. What challenges or needs did you face that led you to search for a solution?

We needed funding to take our startup to the next stage (it had been entirely bootstrapped until that point). The money we required was too small for VC’s and too large for Angel Investors so that made things challenging. I discovered InnovateUK and their Smart awards but felt that we’d struggle to apply successfully without help.

Q2. What attracted you to working with the Tenshi Grants team to assist in your application writing process?

I was introduced to Tenshi by a colleague with a great deal of knowledge of the InnovateUK application process.
I knew that Tenshi partners had experience having been through the process themselves as well as then helping entrepreneurs with their applications. Knowing they had huge experience on both sides of the fence was really attractive as I knew they’d add value.
At first we had a call where our concept was interrogated in detail. Following a few emails and another call Tenshi said that they would take our project on. (Being ‘chosen’ by Tenshi felt like an endorsement of the idea even before we’d applied for the grant).

Q3. What has been the most valuable part of the Tenshi Grants service for you?

By far, extensively testing the validity of what we wanted to do. The whole process forced us to articulate our thinking. They’ve been so easy to work with, they felt like part of our team and did the majority of the heavy lifting.

Q4. What sort of companies would you recommend Tenshi Grants to after working with us and seeing first-hand how we can help?

Obviously any business involved in SaaS Fintech. Though actually, I’d recommend any technology business; any business that is doing something novel but needs help articulating it in the simplest terms.

Q5. Throughout the process of searching for relevant grants through to the application process, what did you learn that you feel would be useful for others applying?

Grants are not easy; most of them are massively complex and not suitable or attractive to startups. They’re very hard work and take up a significant amount of time, just to apply. Even applying you have a very small chance of being successful so you need to be absolutely sure your idea is valid and that it is truly innovative. Tenshi helps bring you that insight and clarity (and importantly, reassurance)

Q6. What advice would you give to others thinking of applying for grants?

Winning a grant will help you get a step closer to your goal. Applying for a grant is not simply about filling in a form. Yes, they’re complicated and it requires hard work, but don’t be put off because that’s exactly where Tenshi specialise.

Q7. What have you been able to achieve after your successful grants application?

It just adds fuel to our already burning motivation. It’s helped generate some traction. We’ve been chosen to join the Open Data Institute’s Start Up program and Web Summit have just selected us to participate and exhibit on the ALPHA startup track in Dublin. All of these things put us on people’s radars and helps instill confidence.

Q8. What advice would you give to individuals/companies who are unsure if the right type of funding exists for them?

On thing is certain, there is funding out there that is an ideal fit for your business. You just need to do some research to find it, and understand what it entails.