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GCRF demonstrate impact in developing countries


Organisations can apply for a share of up to £9.3million to demonstrate market-creating innovations in lower income countries and emerging economies.

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) will invest up to £9.3million in prototype stage projects. The projects must have the potential to transform lives in developing countries, through appropriately designed innovation that responds to real market demand.

Innovate UK will support projects that address one of the 10 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through the development of innovative processes, products and services. These projects must lead to the deployment of those innovations within one OECD DAC list recipient country in scope for this competition.

This funding is split into 2 phases:

  1. Discovery: enabling businesses to gain insights into local market feasibility for the innovation prior to prototyping.
  2. Prototype phase: to test, validate and improve a prototype of the innovation in a developing country market.

This competition is to secure funding for phase 1 projects. Only successful phase 1 applicants will be eligible to apply for the phase 2 funding.

Your phase 1 discovery project:

  • Must include human-centred research and design to make sure your idea meets the needs of customers and users, and your prototype plans reflect realistic use cases
  • Can include activities to ensure that your prototype will be technically feasible in the local context of a developing country
  • Must determine how the innovation could be effectively prototyped in that country during phase 2

Open Date:


Close Date:


The aim of this competition is to find transformative commercial solutions in developing countries that address societal challenges recognised by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

It will enable businesses to collaborate with end users and other stakeholders. Together they can demonstrate the potential of new processes, products and services and their associated business models in transforming the lives of people and economies in developing countries.

The innovation must be ready to prototype in market but not yet launched in the target developing country. These are innovations which, before they can become commercially available, need further research and development to make sure they:

  • Respond to real market demand, not just a perceived need
  • Are affordable, appropriate and attractive from the perspective of users, customers and other stakeholders, in the developing country
  • Are technically feasible in the developing country

The innovation must focus on addressing challenges facing disadvantaged communities in developing countries. These are people who are unable to afford or access existing commercially available solutions. Cultures, attitudes and other context specific factors may also present challenges and opportunities relevant to the successful adoption of innovation. Technology alone is only ever one part of a solution and it is vital to put people at the heart of innovation to ensure successful adoption and commercialisation.

In your application, you will be asked to provide information on:

  • Gender equality
  • Social inclusion
  • How your innovation and your project may impact people differently
  • How you would mitigate any negative effects

Projects must show how the innovation is responding to a demand or gap in the market (a pull factor) rather than pushing pre-prepared, unwanted and untenable technology solutions. There must be equitable collaboration between project partners.

The competition also aims to support those ideas that are:

  • Likely to lead to the creation of markets
  • Boost the related infrastructure and value chains attached to those markets
  • Create jobs, all within the partner developing country

Your phase 1 project team should build partnerships and gain confidence in the feasibility, viability and desirability of your innovation. This includes considering alternative solutions if necessary. Your team must plan how to prototype their innovation effectively in order to apply for Phase 2 funding which will involve a competitive process.

Successful Phase 1 applicants must attend a workshop run by Innovate UK on gender equality and social inclusion to discuss good practice and share experiences. Innovate UK will separately reimburse standard or economy class travel expenses or mileage for attending this workshop. Innovate UK will also pay for hotel accommodation and meals taken in association with attending. One person from your UK project team must attend.

Phase 1 output

By the end of phase 1, your project must:

  • Produce a validation of demand for your innovative product, process or service in the developing country
  • Identify all phase 2 project partners and their roles
  • Identify other main stakeholders
  • Outline the business case for the innovation in that country
  • Outline the anticipated social and economic impact from your innovation

You must produce a report at the end of phase 1. In particular, the end of phase 1 report must detail:

  1. The activities undertaken during phase 1, and the outputs and outcomes compared to the original objectives.
  2. A business plan that addresses market potential and demand. It should include an understanding of the end user insights and consumer needs in the developing country and the route to commercialisation, identifying any market barriers. Innovate UK note that this is likely to be further refined as a result of a potential phase 2 project. You must understand that societal challenges are often highly complex, and technology is only one part of the solution. Your business plan must also reflect the need to raise awareness about, and encourage adoption of, the innovation.
  3. An implementation and execution plan for a potential prototype phase, including a stakeholder engagement plan.
  4. The roles and responsibilities of all proposed partners during the demonstration phase.
  5. A results framework for the prototype project on how it will positively affect the social and economic welfare of the developing country population, in line with the specific SDG it is targeting. This includes the likelihood of contributing to poverty reduction in a way which can reduce inequality between different genders within the developing country.

Innovate UK will supply a report format to successful applicants.

Specific themes

Your project must be relevant to one of the following 10 Sustainable Development Goals within an OECD DAC list recipient country (please see ‘Projects Innovate UK will not fund’ for country exclusions).

  • SDG 3: Good health and well-being
  • SDG 4: Quality education
  • SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation
  • SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth
  • SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities
  • SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production
  • SDG 13: Climate action
  • SDG 14: Life below water
  • SDG 15: Life on land
  • SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Your application must clearly detail which SDG they are focused on. You can have a maximum of two. You must also state which of the targets under each SDG the project is relevant to in the developing country. Please be realistic in terms of which and how many SDG targets your project is focusing on and the impact it is expected to make. Innovate UK welcome ambitious yet realistic applications.

Innovate UK are looking to fund a portfolio of projects across the 10 SDGs in focus for this competition. This portfolio will include a range of technology-based solutions based on the type of feasibility study they set out to do. A number of OECD DAC list countries will be included.

Innovate UK encourage applicants interested in working on SDG 2 (zero hunger) and SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) in developing countries to consider applying for the Agri-Tech Catalyst and Energy Catalyst programmes respectively. The next competitions for these are expected to launch later this year on the Innovation Funding Service.

Your project’s maximum grant can be no more than £60,000 for phase 1 and your total eligible costs must be between £85,000 and £120,000. If you request more than the maximum grant award, your application will be ineligible.

Projects must start by 1 October 2020, finish by 31 March 2021 and last no more than 6 months.

You must comply with Official Development Assistance requirements throughout the lifetime of the project.

Lead organisations

The technical project work can be led by an organisation from any country. The administrative work must be led by a business from the UK.

The administrative lead:

  • Must be a UK-registered business, of any size
  • Will be the recipient of the award
  • Will distribute any funding to the international (non-UK) partners
  • Will manage and be accountable for the project’s finances in accordance with the terms and conditions of the award
  • Must claim funding through this competition

The technical lead:

  • Can be from any country
  • Can be a business of any size, research organisation, public sector organisation, research and technology organisation or not for profit organisation
  • Will lead on the development of the scope, work packages within the project and other work from a technical perspective
  • Must claim funding through this competition

If your organisation is a UK registered business it can be both the administrative and technical lead.

Academic institutions cannot lead or work alone.

Project team

The technical and administrative leads can work in collaboration with others, including international partners. You do not have to include international partners in this phase 1 competition but you must include them in phase 2.

To collaborate with the lead organisation, you must:

  • Be a business of any size, research organisation, public sector organisation, research and technology organisation (RTO), or a charity or other not for profit organisation
  • Be invited to take part by the administrative lead

International partners will be funded through the administrative lead, on the same grant percentage terms as UK organisations of the same category. The leads and funded partners must all enter their costs in the application.

Your project can include partners that do not receive any of this competition’s funding. Their costs will count towards the total eligible project costs.

Work in a developing country

Phase 1 is to help project teams investigate and improve the market feasibility of launching an innovative prototype in one OECD DAC list recipient country within the scope for this competition. It should determine how the innovation could be effectively prototyped in that country during phase 2.

To ensure that your innovation has the highest chance of being successfully adopted, you will need to understand diverse cultural expectations, attitudes and local context in the developing country. In order to deliver the desired economic and societal impacts, you must take into account gender equality and social inclusion issues.

During phase 1, your project must involve work in the chosen developing country. This can be done by any partner in the project, but you must name the partner or partners in your application.

If you are invited to phase 2, your project must focus on research and development (R&D), testing and prototyping work within the developing country. You must collaborate with at least one partner with a legal entity in that country during phase 2.

Multiple applications

Any one UK business can be the administrative and/or technical lead on one application and collaborate as a partner in a further two applications.

A research organisation, public sector organisation, RTO, charity or other not for profit organisation can collaborate on any number of applications.

Innovate UK have allocated up to £9.3million for both phases. In phase 1, up to £1.8million is allocated to fund feasibility studies.

Your project’s maximum grant can be no more than £60,000 for phase 1 and your total eligible costs must be between £85,000 and £120,000. If you request more than the maximum grant award, your application will be ineligible.

If your organisation is primarily engaged in commercial or economic activity (known as selective advantage) as part of the project you must ensure your request for funding does not exceed the limits defined below.

This includes organisations that typically act non-economically but for the purpose of this project will be undertaking commercial or economic activity.

For industrial research projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • Up to 70% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • Up to 60% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • Up to 50% if you are a large organisation

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • Up to 45% if you are a micro or small organisation
  • Up to 35% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • Up to 25% if you are a large organisation

The research organisations undertaking non-economic activity in your consortium can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation undertaking non-economic activity, this maximum is shared between them.

UK academic partners undertaking non-economic activity will be funded through Je-S at 80% of full economic cost (FEC).

If you are sub-contracting:

  • Sub-contracting costs must not be more than 50% of the total project costs
  • Sub-contractors can be businesses, research organisations, public sector organisations or charities from any country
  • You can work with multiple sub-contractors on a single project
  • Sub-contractors can work for both the administrative and technical lead
  • All sub-contractors must be named on the application form, and each must have a unique and clearly defined role within the project

Phase 2 will focus on demonstrators that have reached the industrial research or experimental development stages of R&D. Innovate UK have allocated up to £7.5million for phase 2.

State aid

This competition provides state aid funding under article 25, ‘Aid for research and development projects’, of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). It is your responsibility to make sure that your organisation is eligible to receive state aid.

Capital usage

Only capital usage on equipment, not purchase of equipment, is eligible for funding through this competition. All materials must be directly related and essential to the goals of the project.

Payment of grant

Overseas partners will receive their grants through a hub and spoke model. This means grant claims and payments to overseas partners are submitted through the UK-based business acting as administrative lead.

Additional assurances

In view of the overseas nature of this funding, Innovate UK is imposing some additional assurance requirements. These will be accompanied by Innovate UK’s standard assurance processes that relate to giving funding to UK registered organisations:

  • Successful UK applicants must demonstrate they have proper and transparent arrangements for passing grant funding to overseas participants
  • Innovate UK may carry out initial due diligence and final audit checks on international partners
  • Successful UK participants must provide documented evidence that international partners agree to such checks
  • Grant funding will be withdrawn if Innovate UK does not receive these additional assurances

Innovate UK has the right to refuse funding to projects where they find something that could potentially damage Official Development Assistance, the Global Challenges Research Fund or Innovate UK.

Innovate UK also has the right to refuse funding to projects where the cost of due diligence and monitoring requirements outweigh the potential benefits of funding. This decision will be made as part of their risk-based considerations.

Suspension, termination and repayment of grant

You must adhere to the full terms in the award terms and conditions that will be available to you once you register to apply for this competition.

Innovate UK will not fund projects that:

  • Focus on a theme or SDG that is not listed in the ‘Specific themes’ section
  • Involve innovations in energy and agriculture as these are supported by other Innovate UK funding programmes
  • Do not focus on a country on the OECD DAC List of ODA recipient countries
  • Focus on a country ineligible for this competition (Argentina, Antigua and Barbuda, Panama, Palau and the People’s Republic of China)
  • Do not meet Official Development Assistance (ODA) eligibility requirements
  • Are likely to increase inequality between different parts of society, within communities and between persons of different gender
  • Are likely to have negative environmental and social impacts
  • Do not include human-centred design activities as part of phase 1
  • Do not have human-centred design expertise or professionals as part of their project teams
  • Do not plan to validate the desirability of the innovation to customers in their local context.
  • Have not identified potential commercial demand or markets in the target developing country
  • Do not have an innovation at a prototype-ready stage
  • Have entirely non-civilian applications
  • Have an unrealistic set of activities that will not fit within a six-month timeframe
  • Request more than the maximum grant amount of £60,000 as part of the application
  • Do not have the capacity to complete the project due to other commitments

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.