With debt and equity funding harder to come by in the current economic climate, grant funding is becoming an increasingly attractive option for technology and knowledge-based businesses. However, for many small and micro-business owners, it can also be a confusing space to navigate.

It might seem like grant funding is only an option for larger and more established SMEs, but there are plenty of opportunities if you know how to position yourself to capitalise on them. There are many different types of grant funding available to SMEs, with the government providing £172 billion for grants in the last two years alone.

At July’s Knowledge Hub event on Securing Grant Funding, we heard from Innovate UK EDGE Advisor Les Gill and Sussex Innovation member Gary Kendall, director of CDO2. Both shared invaluable advice based on their experience of applying for and winning grants. Here are five key takeaways we learned:

  1. Know what you want to achieve: writing a funding bid takes a lot of work, and it’s wasted effort unless you are sure that it is a good fit for your business. Be clear about your ambitions and don’t just chase the money. If you are going to spend a significant length of time delivering against a bid, it should be one that takes your business in the direction you want it to go in.
  2. Do your research: there are hundreds of different grant funding sources from across the public and private sector. Take the time to understand what funding is available and look for a good fit, whether it’s a small pot of money designed to support SMEs with the introduction of new technology, or a major competition that addresses a national policy challenge like decarbonisation, social care or waste management.
  3. Answer the brief: many bids fall at the first hurdle, simply because they don’t address the specific challenge that the funding is designed for. Every question within the application process is there for a reason. If you’re finding it hard to provide a satisfactory answer, that might be a sign that your underlying plan needs more work.
  4. Build partnerships: funding bodies – much like private investors – are looking at the qualities of the team and their ability to deliver the project they are planning. If you can demonstrate that several different partners are involved in your bid, and that they each bring relevant experience and skills, you will be in a much stronger position. Collaborating with academic researchers can be a particularly valuable addition; universities are adept at working with public funding and know how to frame proposals effectively.
  5. Present a united front: although partnerships are valuable, a bid with multiple partners can be a double-edged sword. As well as demonstrating a breadth of experience, you will need to show a capacity to work well together when required. Spending time working closely on your pitch and agreeing each of your roles and responsibilities is essential.

Find out more about the Innovate UK EDGE programme and access your local advisors here, or investigate the upcoming national innovation funding opportunities here. If you’re looking to work with an academic partner or set up a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, you can get in touch with the University of Sussex’s Innovation and Business Partnerships team here.