Some of the greatest commercial advancements in history have been made through joint ventures – bringing together small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), researchers and major corporations to accelerate innovation, generate growth and address major industry challenges.

Take the Coronavirus vaccine, which saw the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, scientists and government bodies coming together in an unprecedented display of intense work towards a united goal. The result? The fastest vaccine developed on record, and a vital step closer to a way out from the pandemic.


MyWorld: collaborative, creative excellence

At Digital Catapult, we bring organisations together to do applied research and provide a framework for innovation to get to the market – and, in the last year, have generated £27 million of collaborative R&D and commercial impact.

Here, I’ve witnessed first hand how collaborating with startups, researchers and industrial partners can solve complex problems that need collaboration of multidisciplinary teams with different capabilities and access to resources with the aim to maximise the impact of a project. Now, we’re involved in the MyWorld project to supercharge the development of creative technologies in the West of England. With the upcoming launch of its first collaborative research and development (CR&D) call, it will pinpoint local expertise, forge vital connections and provide financial support.


What is CR&D funding?

CR&D funding is public funding that is won competitively, via a grant application. Funding pots are aligned with government strategy to advance the development of a research base – or address a market failure.

CR&D projects usually involve collaborative work between at least two organisations – although sometimes SMEs can apply on their own.

As a general rule of thumb, there’s always an innovation element that needs to be aligned with a commercial need.


What do I need to know?

Organisations applying for CR&D funding will typically be facing a 5-step process.

Here are my top tips for each of the application stages:


1 Identifying funding: don’t miss an opportunity

In the UK, several government bodies – from Innovate UK to BEIS to DCMS, to AHRC – provide CR&D funding opportunities across various technology readiness levels. Internationally, Horizon Europe, the European Institute of Technology and Eureka are worth exploring. To keep up to date, visit websites like the Innovation Funding Service UK and the Funding and Tenders Portal and sign up to handy newsletters like Innovate UK’s and the Knowledge Transfer Network’s.


2 Defining scope & getting internal buy-in: ensure commercial relevance

Firstly, think about the criteria associated with the funding and whether the project associated with the call aligns closely enough with your business strategy, as well as your research and innovation portfolio. Having this crystal clear in the minds of internal stakeholders is crucial to the success of any bid.

You then might wish to consider whether you have a client with a suitable use case that you can invite to apply – someone who might wish to offer a use case and trial a prototyping or pilot.

Finally, you need to think carefully about your resources, both timewise and financially. Do you have enough time and resources during the bid development process? Are you able to recover the remaining portion not covered by the grant?

Remember, balance and grant rates differ for businesses according to your size, while RTOs, Universities and Charities get 100% funded. All research grant proposals submitted are costed on the basis of something called ‘full economic costs’ (fEC); find out more about this here.


3 Looking for partners: choose carefully

As mentioned, CR&D projects are usually a collaborative effort and organisations will typically look to apply as part of a group.

It’s critical that you ensure you collate the right group of partners who are well-placed to make your project a success. For example, if partnering with a tech organisation or researcher, ensure they have a legacy of relevant projects, or consider partnering with someone that can provide access to important resources – from testbeds, to laboratories and technical experts. It’s also worth thinking early on about Intellectual Property (IP): how will it be generated and properly exploited by the partners?

Make sure to also include a partner that can help amplify the outputs of the project and give you access to a target market – these partners are your marketing and commercial buddies.

Meanwhile, make sure the technologies and innovations proposed are relevant to your selected ‘use case owner,’ and that they are willing to showcase the results to the wider world.


4 Bid writing: be punchy, pithy and powerful

Sometimes, even the basics can be overlooked by some of the highest calibre candidates. It sounds obvious, but you must make sure you answer the questions being asked in the application.

To ensure your bid packs a punch, structure the information in your application really clearly – using paragraphs, white space and headings to structure information – as well as bold and italics to highlight key aspects.

Avoid long blocks of text, pictures and diagrams in the main bodies, and crucially, hyperlinks – as assessors are forbidden from following them altogether. Diagrams are best kept for the annexes of your bid.


5 Review and submit: don’t rush

Check, check and check again! You won’t be able to edit your bid once submitted. It’s also worth given a partner a chance to peer review your application, for a second pair of eyes.

Submitting a CR&D bid is not something to be taken lightly. It’s a huge amount of planning and coordination, as well as a significant dedication of time and capacity – but by applying, you could just be on the cusp of changing the world.

To find out more, visit Innovate UK’s website.


by Andreas Alexiou, CR&D Funding Lead, Digital Catapult