I recently agreed to assist a startup with an R&D grant funding application where they had failed on their first attempt. The Grant Starter team often work with clients making their second attempt at an Innovate UK grant funding application. When I spoke with the CEO, the first thing that hit me was how disruptive their idea is. My second thought was “why on earth has a great idea like that failed to draw R&D funding?”
I am no stranger to making assumptions (not that it’s helpful to do so) and jumped to the conclusion that the company had likely failed because the assessors identified weaknesses in their market awareness or proposed route to market. As with most assumptions I make, I was wrong. They failed because their project team was weak. Having talked this point through in detail, I am fully aware that their team is the very opposite of weak and is well equipped to deliver a great project. They just didn’t show it.
Everyone has a role to play
If you’re applying to Innovate UK, you must make every effort to convey:
1) What each team member will do during the project;
2) Why they are perfect to carry out that role, based on experience and skills.
Remember - if you know the team members well, don’t allow your subjectivity to get in the way. When writing about the skills of colleagues, or using their CVs to extrapolate their information, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of not evidencing e.g. “Jim Smith ran a successful SEO consultancy from 2012 – 2018.” A good assessor should ask, “Where is the evidence? Revenue? Turnover? Profit?” Without an attempt to quantify the assertion, it’s just an opinion.
Beyond the idea
One of the most frustrating errors I see in R&D grant funding submissions is that the applicants forget some of the most basic skills required to make a product a success – business development, marketing and sales. When describing their delivery team, applicants so often talk about the amazing ability of their Chief Engineer or CTO but don’t even mention which member of their team will hold responsibility for leading the creation of a business development pipeline. If I assessed an application that did not indicate a named team member responsible for this kind of activity, I would be inclined to mark the application down.
I’m not entirely sure if there’s a helpful lesson here. Perhaps it is as simple as saying don’t leave the assessors in a position where they need to guess anything. If you do, you’re going to lose marks (unless of course your assessor is feeling particularly chipper that day…). I am sure that assessors are advised to take a position of, “if it’s not in the application, it doesn’t exist.” That applies to market knowledge, team strength and skills, project milestones and so on. After all, how can you mark something that isn’t there to be marked?
If you’re considering authoring a submission to one of Innovate UK’s funding calls, get in touch with Grant Starter for an informal, no obligation discussion about how we can help you obtain R&D funding.