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Business Basics 3: SME technology use (non-business led trials EoI)


Organisations can apply for a share of up to £2million to run trials in England to test ways to encourage SMEs to adopt existing productivity-boosting technologies.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will work with Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, to invest up to £2million in projects.

In this competition Innovate UK will fund trials which test different approaches to encouraging micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to adopt existing technologies. These must support business and administrative functions, such as payment practices, accountancy and human resources.

This first phase is for expressions of interest (EoI). EoI submissions will be assessed by a panel consisting of BEIS, the Innovation Growth Lab (IGL) based at Nesta, and Innovate UK.

If your EoI is successful, you will be invited to submit an application for the full phase.

Open Date:


Close Date:


The aim of the Business Basics Fund is to test the most effective ways of encouraging SMEs to adopt existing technologies that are proven to boost productivity.

In this competition Innovate UK will fund trials which test different approaches to encouraging SMEs to adopt existing technologies that are associated with productivity improvements.

Your proposal must focus on technologies which support business and administrative functions, such as payment practices, accountancy and human resources. Examples of the types of technologies in scope include one or more of the following:

  • Accountancy software
  • E-commerce transactions
  • Payment technologies, such as e-invoicing
  • Cloud based computing?
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software
  • Supply chain management (SCM) software
  • HR management systems (HRM) software
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software (which can include CRM, SCM, HRM, finance, purchasing and so on)

Your proposal must demonstrate:

  • How your approach intends encourage more SMEs to use the technologies
  • That your project has potential to be effectively scaled
  • That your project is innovative and will add to the evidence base

Innovate UK are looking to fund a portfolio of projects, across a variety of technologies, markets, technological maturities and research categories.

You must evaluate your project and demonstrate that the approaches you are testing have the potential to deliver the required outcomes and impacts. Your project must use one of the following methods for evaluation:

  • Randomised controlled trial (RCT), which randomises participants into treatment and control groups, collecting data before and after the intervention for both the treatment and control groups, and achieving five on the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale (SMS)
  • Quasi-experimental methods, such as regression discontinuity design (RDD), where randomisation is not possible, and achieving four on the Maryland SCS)

Project results will be independently evaluated and published. In applying for this competition, you agree to share all data collected as part of the trial with BEIS (the data controller), including permitting BEIS to share with any potential appointed contractor. This is for further research and evaluation purposes. You must act in accordance with the GDPR and ensure the appropriate data privacy notice is given prior to any data collection.

Innovate UK welcome proposals that focus one or more of the following:

  • Adoption of technologies to tackle late payments
  • Improving awareness of relevant technologies
  • Employee engagement to build firms’ confidence of how technology can be applied in their business, such as digital skills
  • Management practices as enablers in encouraging technology adoption
  • Facilitation of advice and ways to encourage adoption through trusted advisors, supply chains, informal peer-to-peer networks and so on
  • Comparison of lower cost interventions can deliver similar benefits to more intensive support, particularly current business support activities
  • Exploring issues facing firms with specific characteristics, such as family run firms

To lead a project or work alone, your organisation must:

  • Be a UK-registered public sector organisation, university or research and technology organisation (RTO), charity or not for profit company
  • Claim funding

If your organisation is a for-profit business, see the Business Basics 3 SME technology use (business led trials EoI) competition.

Innovate UK welcome projects involving diverse organisations. To work with the lead organisation and receive funding you must:

  • Be a UK-registered business, academic institution, charity, not for profit company, public sector organisation or RTO
  • Have a legal entity

Your project can include partners that do not receive any of this competition’s funding, for example non-UK businesses. Their costs will count towards the total eligible project costs.

Your project’s total eligible costs can be up to £400,000.

You must carry out your project work in England only.

Projects must start on 1 June 2020 and end by 28 February 2022 and can last up to 20 months. Your final report must be submitted before the end of your project. You must share project data with BEIS at the end of your project so it can carry out evaluation activity, such as an evaluation of the longer-term impact.

EoI applications will be shortlisted according to how well they meet the scope and aims of this competition. If you are successful in this phase you must attend a trial development workshop before submitting an application to the full phase. The workshop will help you develop and refine your full phase proposals particularly in relation to evaluation.

If you are invited to apply for the full phase you are required to work with our independent expert advisors at IGL, to refine the design of your evaluation plans. This guidance and support is free of charge.

If you are successful in receiving funding in the full phase competition you must agree at the start of your project to undertake a start-up period of up to three months. This will be to carry out activities such as completing:-

  • A registered protocol and getting it agreed and signed off by IGL and BEIS
  • An SME recruitment plan
  • Baseline data activities

You must:

  • Have an independent evaluation partner in place before the start of the project, and ideally before applying for this EoI
  • Follow the principles outlined in the BEIS Business Support Evaluation Framework
  • Agree to have your project’s results independently evaluated and published

Any organisation claiming funding must be eligible to receive state aid at the time Innovate UK confirm you will be awarded funding or must explain why this is not applicable. If you are unsure, please take legal advice.

If you are carrying out economic activity in the project, you must be eligible to receive de minimis funding and each partner must complete the de minimis declaration.

Any organisation can be involved in any number of applications.

Innovate UK have allocated up to £2million to fund projects in this competition.

You can apply for a total of up to £400,000 grant funding for a project.

You can receive funding of 100% of your eligible project costs. For universities, this equates to 80% of full economic costs (FEC).

All activities must be in line with state aid rules. In this competition Innovate UK will accept applications for grants:

  1. Where the applicant is not acting as an undertaking and therefore the grant is not considered to be state aid. This means you do not intend to engage in economic activity as the result of your proposed project. You must provide a legally binding statement to this effect if we offer you a grant.
  2. Which would be provided under the “de minimis” level of state aid. This is defined as a single undertaking funded less than 200,000 euros over three consecutive fiscal years. See pages 20 to 21 of the state aid manual for further guidance. Successful applicants who are claiming de minimis funding will need to complete a self-declaration form confirming their eligibility to receive de minimis funding.

If you choose either the non-state aid option or the de minimis option you will be responsible for ensuring you are, and remain, eligible to receive funding. If you are later found to be ineligible, you will be liable to full recovery of grant by Innovate UK, potentially with interest charges.

You must clearly specify in your application how your proposal meets state-aid funding rules, including the conditions above. Each project partner must use the option appropriate for them.

Innovate UK are not authorised to provide advice on state aid, and you should seek independent guidance.

Further details will be provided in the briefing events.

Innovate UK will not fund projects that:

  • Focus on developing new technology or software
  • Do not focus on areas that are applicable to the majority of SMEs
  • Do not address the target audience of mid to low productivity SMEs
  • Do not generate robust evidence
  • Do not align with the Business Basics Fund objectives

Cresco Innovation works with companies to develop and implement innovation strategies. We help client companies identify opportunities to develop new products and services, and then create a package of support to ensure that the idea is turned into a commercial reality.

Our services include securing grants (as a team we have raised around £40million over three years), business planning, IP advice, access to finance and funders, project management and IP commercialisation support.

We regularly act as the interface with the funding bodies and help clients ensure that their projects are properly managed to ensure the best outcome for all.

Call to find out more

If you’d like to know more about this competition, please give us a call on 01509 261182 and one of our team will be delighted to help you access this funding opportunity for your business.