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The Sustainable Innovation Fund: SBRI phase 1


Organisations can apply for a share of up to £10million, including VAT, to help UK businesses and the public sector recover from COVID 19 in a sustainable manner.

Innovate UK will fund organisations to develop and demonstrate new products or services. Your solution must help businesses and/or the public sector in the UK recover from the coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic in a sustainable manner, demonstrating the impact and potential of a clean growth-led recovery and transition to net zero.

The overall programme will be delivered in two phases. This is phase 1 and will focus on exploring the feasibility of proposals. Phase 2 will concentrate on continued research, development and testing. A decision to proceed with phase 2 will depend on the outcomes from phase 1. Only successful applicants from phase 1 will be able to apply to take part in phase 2.

This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition. SBRI programmes fund organisations to conduct challenge-based research and development (R&D) to develop products or services that address a specific unmet public sector need. The intellectual property (IP) for these products and services remains with the applicant and therefore can be commercialised across the UK and internationally.

Open Date:


Close Date:


Your organisation must work with identified potential future customers to:

To be successful by the end of phase 2 you must develop and demonstrate new products or services which do both of the following:

  • Help businesses and/or the public sector in the UK recover from the pandemic
  • Protect the climate and environment upon which we and future generations depend

Your proposed solution must:

  • Be innovative
  • Be practical and deliverable
  • Take affordability into consideration
  • Result in sustainable innovation which, in phase 2, can act as a showcase approach to delivering net zero

Your application must:

  • Demonstrate a clear plan for commercialisation and a route to market for affordable, developed solutions
  • Set out clearly how solutions might be tested in a representative or real world setting as part of phase 2
  • Address how any potentially negative outcomes (such as on the environment or society) would be managed
  • Explain how a positive impact on climate change and/or environmental sustainability will be achieved, maintained and measured
  • Work throughout with at least one potential future customer who might use your solution when it comes to market

The potential customer can be a public, private or third sector organisation that is looking to tackle such a challenge. They should also help you understand their requirements and explore the feasibility of your proposal. During phase 1 you must make plans with them for phase 2, to build a prototype and test it in real world scenarios.

Innovate UK have launched a virtual marketplace website to help innovators, potential customers and other sub-contractors find each other, communicate and develop project ideas. The website will be available until the application deadline.

Innovate UK will be interested to see proposals that:

  • Look at relevant aspects of behaviour change
  • Link proposed activities and solutions to current academic research
  • Demonstrate scalability and replicability
  • Recognise and explore the potential international impact of the products or services developed
  • Consider, and address where necessary, equality, diversity and inclusion aspects across your project, your sector (or sectors) and society
  • Consider the impact on productivity and jobs across the country and any future international expansion opportunities

You must also consider user experience throughout the design and development process.

At this stage contracts will be given for phase 1 only. You must define your goals and outline your plan for phase 2. This is part of the full commercial implementation in your phase 1 proposal.

Specific themes

Your project must address one or more of the following themes, which are informed by the government’s Clean Growth Strategy:

  • Decarbonising energy, business and industry
  • Improving business and industry efficiency
  • Improving the energy efficiency, heating and cooling of our homes and other buildings
  • Accelerating the shift to low carbon transport
  • Enhancing the benefits and value of our natural resources
  • Innovating for a more sustainable public sector
  • Climate change adaptation and mitigation

In your application, you must select the main theme you are focusing on, but your work can also address other themes.

Projects must start on 1 October 2020 and can last up to three months. You must be able to carry out project work under the prevailing restrictions of the pandemic.


To lead a project, you can be an organisation of any size. Academic institutions and registered charities can apply but must demonstrate a route to market, including a plan to commercialise the results.

Contracts will be awarded only to individual organisations but you can sub-contract specific tasks if they benefit the overall project. Ideally, subcontractors will have particular insight into the identified challenge area or clean growth agenda or be sector specialists or relevant academic institutions. Any subcontracted work is the responsibility of the main contractor.

The total funding available for the competition can change. The funders have the right to:

  • Adjust the provisional funding allocations between the phases
  • Apply a ‘portfolio’ approach across the specific themes identified in ‘Scope’

Funders sometimes use a portfolio approach to fit the competition’s spend profile and allocate funds across the strategic areas. To be successful applications must meet a quality threshold.

Phase 1. Research and development contracts, feasibility study

The first phase involves research and development (R&D) contracts being awarded to demonstrate technical feasibility of the proposed solution. A total of up to £10million including VAT, is allocated to support successful projects in this phase.

It is anticipated that the feasibility study R&D contracts will be up to £60,000, including VAT. This is for each project for up to three months. The assessors will consider fair value in making their evaluation.

In phase 1, to simplify payment processing and make it easier for your project to adapt around the constraints of coronavirus (COVID 19), Innovate UK plan to make two payments against milestones. The first payment (25% of the funding) will be related to the successful completion of the project kick off meeting and the second (75%) on the submission of the project end-of-phase report.

Phase 2 (only open to phase 1 participants). Research and development contracts, prototype development and testing

The second phase will award R&D contracts to organisations competitively selected from the successful phase 1 applicants. A total of up to £70million including VAT, is allocated to support successful projects in phase 2. Up to £3million including VAT, will be allocated for each 12-month contract, in order to develop a prototype and undertake field testing.

Successful projects may be required to demonstrate progress as part of a showcase at the UN climate change conference COP26 in November 2021.

The contract is completed at the end of phase 2, and the successful business is expected to pursue commercialisation of their solution.

Research and development

Your application must have at least 50% of the contract value attributed directly and exclusively to R&D services, including solution exploration and design. R&D can also include prototyping and field-testing the product or service. This lets you incorporate the results of your exploration and design then demonstrate that you can produce in quantity to acceptable quality standards.

R&D does not include:

  • Commercial development activities such as quantity production
  • Supply to establish commercial viability or to recover R&D costs
  • Integration, customisation or incremental adaptations and improvements to existing products or processes

State aid

SBRI competitions involve procurement of R&D services at a fair market value and are not subject to state aid criteria that typically apply to grant funding.

Innovate UK will not fund projects which:

  • Do not engage with potential future customers to understand needs
  • Cannot be undertaken within the working restrictions of coronavirus (COVID 19)
  • Do not address how any potentially negative outcomes (such as on the environment or society) would be managed
  • Do not evidence the potential for their proposed innovation to generate positive economic and/or societal impact
  • Would directly duplicate other UK government or EU funded initiatives you have already been funded to deliver duplicates existing innovation, or work in progress by others

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.