Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI)

The Innovator's Guide to Small Business Research Initiative

The Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) connects government organisations in need of technology solutions with small- and medium-sized businesses who can provide them. 

The SBRI is not a grant program or a tax rebate, it’s a business arrangement. Government organisations request proposals in a competitive process, companies submit project proposals and the winning companies get a contract to do the work. Participating companies retain the intellectual property rights for the tech they develop, while government procurers keep some usage and licensing rights to use the resulting technology in the future. While the SBRI can fund the development of prototypes and some first, finished products, the SBRI does not cover large scale commercialisation.

Contracts are issued to businesses offering the most promising solutions to a specific problem. The SBRI programme offers an opportunity for businesses, especially early-stage companies, to develop and demonstrate their new ideas, supported by a solid lead customer. Participating businesses can get funding of up to £100,000 or more to explore an idea and up to £1 million or more to develop a prototype. More than 80 public sector organisations have already used the program with well over £0.5b invested in SBRI development contracts.

The Short Version

  • The SBRI programme offers an opportunity for businesses, especially early-stage companies, to develop and demonstrate their new ideas, supported by a solid lead customer.

  • The SBRI is not a grant program or a tax rebate, it’s a business arrangement.

  • Participating businesses can get funding of up to £100,000 or more to explore an idea and up to £1 million or more to develop a prototype.

How does SBRI work?

The program works in two phases. Phase 1 focuses on proving the scientific, technical and commercial feasibility of the project. Multiple companies may be chosen to undertake Phase 1, but not all projects are selected to continue to the next phase.

In Phase 2, a project prototype is created. If the prototype is successful, the company is then able to commercialise the solution and offer it to government departments and other public sector organisations through the normal procurement process. Here’s the whole process, step by step:

  1. The government organisation identifies a particular challenge

  2. The government organisation works with Innovate UK to define the competition scope and desired outcomes

  3. The SBRI competition opens

  4. Applicants submit proposals

  5. The most promising proposals are selected

  6. Phase 1 – feasibility is demonstrated; typically, this phase is worth £50,000 to £100,000 and lasts up to six months 

  7. Projects are assessed for Phase 2 funding

  8. Phase 2 – prototypes are developed; typically, this phase lasts up to two years and is worth £250,000 to £1 million

  9. Applicants commercialise their technologies

  10. The new technology is ready to be deployed with customers

  11. Applicants are free to further develop and sell the solution

Project Eligibility

Energy & Climate Change participate in the SBRI, and they are looking for different kinds of solutions, the eligibility criteria can vary. When browsing the open Innovation competitions, be sure to read the eligibility requirements carefully. Here are some key components:

Time and cost

Projects have defined start and end dates, but can vary in duration from three months to a number of years. Total eligible costs vary by project, anywhere from £10,000 to millions of pounds. 

Lead organisation or applicant

Usually, the applicant must be a UK registered business, research organisation, charity or public sector organisation. Some projects will only be awarded to a single legal entity, but depending on the project, other organisations can be included as part of a project team and subcontractors may be used. Pre-startups or other unestablished businesses are often eligible to apply. Applications may be denied if the company didn’t exploit a previous project award or failed to comply with grant terms and conditions for a previous project. 

Funding

The level of funding and the types of costs that are eligible vary by competition. Public bodies will contract R&D projects from several competing suppliers in parallel to compare alternative solution approaches and find the best value-for-money solutions. The ‘Funding’ section of each competition lists the total amount of funding allocated for a particular competition.

How to Apply

Again, because of the diversity of public bodies using the SBRI, the application process may vary according to the competition. In all cases, Innovate UK suggests that applicants read the guidance on applying for a competition on the Innovation Funding Service. 

However, the application process usually has three sections in common:

1) Project Details
  • The particulars of the application team
  • Project title, start date and duration
  • Effect on trade between UK and Northern Ireland or the EU  
  • Equality, diversity and inclusion details
  • Project summary that briefly describes what makes it innovative
  • Project scope relative to the scope of the competition
2) Application Questions

Application questions can vary for each competition and the questions may or may not be scored by the project assessors. These questions get into more depth about the applicant and the proposed solution such as the immediate and long-term benefits, route to market, project planning and the expertise of the project team. 

3) Finances Section

The Finances section requires more detail on how the funding award will be spent on labour and overhead. Innovate UK also publishes guidance on filling out this section

To get a better idea of the kinds of companies and technologies that have been funded through the SBRI, this brochure offers a number of success stories.

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