Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Bill Horner & John Cadwallader, Leeds Inventors Group 17/3/2010

“DTI Grants & Support for Innovation” Bill Horner & John Cadwallader  Innovation Partners

Both Bill Horner and John Cadwallader are former Business Link specialists. Bill is a food scientist who covers chemical and biological areas while John is an engineer. Together they have formed “Innovation Partners” which helps to find funding for new products and ideas.

The responsibility for dishing out what used to be known as DTI grants (such as the old SMART awards) has now been given to Yorkshire Forward. Bill and John are very experienced in the processes involved in negotiating such grant schemes and their criteria. One of the main criteria is that the new product has to have some technical aspect which is not currently available – the sort of development or advance which might involve too great a risk for a small company without the grant money.

The grants are match-funded meaning that you have to be able to find a significant part of the funding for the project yourself – however part of this can be made up of such things as staff time, materials and overheads which you would be paying out for anyway. They pointed out that people often don’t realise how much funding is available.

It’s important to consider the aims of the project and be able to prove that there’s a need for it. Why is it better than what is already out there? Sometimes inventors can be too close to their product and Bill and John have to get out of them what they need. You also have to be able to show that you need the grant – ie you don’t have an alternative source for the full amount. There must be a clear plan as to how the money would be spent and once a proposal has been accepted you can’t claim for more. There has to be some evidence of potential marketability based on thorough research and risks assessed. There are targets – eg being able to generate 10 times the amount you’re given within three years. In most cases the funding is given in arrears so you spend the money and then claim it back.

A vital part of carrying out the preparatory work is a patent search – you must be aware of prior art. Even if you’re not intending to go through with a patent you need to determine whether or not you could be infringing someone else’s rights.

Many small businesses don’t have a business plan and this application / proposal effectively works as a business plan. It takes about five days for Bill and John to put an application together, then once it has been submitted it can take from 6 – 10 weeks (depending on the size and type of grant) to go through. They also offer a lower-cost vetting service whereby they check through an application which an applicant has done themselves.

A good awareness of the process and the information required obviously is more likely to result in a successful application and this is where Bill and John can use their experience.