Navigating the landscape for R&D grant funding can seem like a daunting task. Companies seeking small business grants for support to grow and innovate can potentially access millions of pounds in government subsidies, but must go through layers of programming to find something applicable to their activities. Different funds are available at municipal, regional, England-wide, UK-wide, or through broad European schemes. Since grant programmes have fixed funding budgets, they are limited in the number of projects they can support and can become very competitive, with the chance of approval often falling below 30%. One should also apply before relevant activities and projects start. Moreover, they often require submission several months in advance.

So, how does a business owner identify its options for small business grants? And how does it know which programmes are worth applying for, so as to avoid wasting time and resources? To be successful, government funding should be part of a company’s strategy. It should regularly examine funding programmes throughout the year as part of project planning. Before starting a new project, you should outline your budget, timeline, and activities, and then thoroughly research available funds and identify those that fit your needs and objectives.

To get you started, below is an overview of the largest funding bodies operating in the UK:

Innovate UK

Innovate UK is the primary funding body for business innovation and R&D grants. It gives out £561 million in funding every year. UK-based businesses of any size and stage can apply for Innovate UK grants, which range from £25,000 – £10 million to support a future project that is planned to be implemented in the UK.
Funding is disbursed through a rotating selection of programmes focusing on:

  • Emerging and Enabling Technologies
  • Health and Life Sciences
  • Infrastructure Systems
  • Manufacturing and Materials
  • Open Competitions (for game-changing innovations from any industry sector)
  • Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (for collaboration between business and academia)

This funding is highly sought-after with very competitive corresponding programmes. Therefore, applicants with the best chance of success are those that can demonstrate that their ideas have strong potential to offer benefits to the UK economy and, from a competitive perspective, disrupt the technology market.


Horizon 2020 is the largest ever EU Research and Innovation programme, with nearly €80 billion of funding available over seven years (2014 to 2020).

Funding is disbursed to businesses, charities, research organizations, and partnerships. Businesses can apply through the Industrial Leadership stream, which runs challenges with a focus on:

  • Nanotechnologies, Advanced Materials, Advanced Manufacturing and Processing, and Biotechnology
  • Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)
  • Space
  • Other breakthrough ideas with the potential to create entirely new markets or revolutionise existing ones (via the Horizon 2020 SME Instrument)


Funding is available up to €50,000 for feasibility studies and €2.5 million for innovation projects. Emphasis is placed on collaborative R&D and demonstration projects that solve societal challenges through the convergence of different technologies. Despite its massive budget, it remains a highly competitive programme with an average approval rate of 13%.

Since this is an EU-led programme, UK applicants will only be able to apply for it until the UK’s official exit from the EU in March 2019.

Eurostars Funding

Eurostars is a €1.14 billion funding programme available across 36 member states, including most of Europe as well as Canada, Israel, South Africa, and South Korea.

It is dedicated to supporting international collaboration among R&D-performing SMEs that wish to leverage the benefits that come with international collaboration and to accelerate knowledge transfer and commercialization of innovative technologies. Research-performing SMEs located in a Eurostars member state can apply if they plan to collaborate with a partner (such as a business, research institute, or university) on a technology project. The project must involve at least two partners from two different Eurostars member countries, but it can also include additional partners from any country. Most funded projects involve 3 or 4 partners.

The average total cost of a Eurostars project is €1.4 million between all project partners. Each member country has different limits on which project members can access funding and the amount of funding available. In the UK, only SMEs can access this grant, which is worth 60% of their project costs up to €360,000.

Since 2014 Eurostars has funded over 800 projects, with an approval rating of 30%.

Creative Europe

Creative Europe supports the cultural and audiovisual sectors across the EU with a budget of €1.46 billion between 2014 and 2020. Funding is broken down into two sub-programmes which support the following activities:


  • Development of film, TV, video games, or digital media content projects
  • Film festivals and marketing events
  • Marketing and distribution support
  • Vocational training for film and TV professionals


  • Collaborative artistic projects in any medium (visual arts, dance, theatre, literature, performance, music, heritage, architecture, design, circus, festivals, craft or fashion)
  • Translation of European literary fiction
  • Platforms and networks fostering collaboration and promotion

Each of these areas has varying funding limits and annual application deadlines depending on the type of project being proposed. UK applicants will be able to continue accessing this fund until December 2020.

Regional Growth Fund (RGF)

The Regional Growth Fund was launched in 2010 with £2.7 billion allocated to creating an envelope of localized programmes and schemes across England for the purpose of offering targeted support to priority sectors or communities. As of today, more than 90% of the programme’s funding has been allocated, but several streams are still running in select areas, such as East Sussex, Kent, and the West Midlands.

Funding is available in the way of business loans and small business grants for expansion and capital costs. Applicants must demonstrate that their project will create jobs in their respective regions. Since the programme is winding down and not being renewed, funders are eager to spend their remaining budgets, so businesses in areas with live programmes should take advantage while they last.

While the above comprises the bulk of government funding available, there are a number of small business grants targeted at select industries or locations, as well as repayable contributions and financing programmes. With good planning, the right opportunity can be leveraged to grow your business, advance your technology, or diversify your markets, while saving 40%-70% on costs. So, if you have a project on the horizon that will bring economic benefits to the UK, it is well worth your time to look into the options available.

To find out more about your eligibility for any of the above funding programmes, contact our team of grant specialists:

T +44 207 388 3290
[email protected]

Greta Bianchi is a government grants manager at RDP Associates.