This Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition is part of the ‘first of a kind’ (FOAK) project, backed by the Department of Transport. Organisations compete for a grant from the £9 million pot.

Competition details

The competition opened on the 8th February 2021 and closes at 11.00 am on 10th March 2021. Still time to get your entry ready.

The individual grants will be given to projects that have eligible costs between £50,000 and £400,000 (VAT included). If you win, your project will be 100% funded.

The competition is specifically for innovation in “railway environments”. This includes railway infrastructure, nearby environments, rolling stock and railway stations.

At least 50% of the value of your proposed contract must be “attributed directly and exclusively to research and development services.” This includes things like field-testing and prototypes. But it doesn’t include things like quantity production, supply to recover R&D costs, upgrading existing products or processes.

They’re looking for something new.

And they expect winning projects to start by 1st July 2021 and be completed by 31st March 2022. They can last nine months, maximum.

Can I apply?

As leader of a project, your organisation must be registered in the UK, EU or EEA and be able to do the work in the UK. You can belong to any industry sector and can use subcontractors.

Key application information
These first three criteria can be met by three individual entities, or one organisation:

  • Experienced railway organisation
  • Owner of railway assets (e.g. rolling stock, infrastructure)
  • Rail organisation that could become a customer

You’re also going to need a possible “integration partner” and support from a potential customer, in writing. Despite needing a lot of different layers of expertise, grants are only awarded to individual legal entities. You can’t enter if you’ve been in similar competitions in the past. And innovation projects that are similar to past projects won’t be considered.

Themes of the projects

Your project must fit into one of the following themes:

  • “Theme 1: Increasing customers’ confidence and enhancing their experience
  • Theme 2: Easy to use for all
  • Theme 3: Low emissions and a greener railway”

There are two different groups of project, with different project costs.
Group One projects must incorporate themes one and two, have costs between £50,000 and £150,000, and last between three and six months. Group two projects hit all three themes, have a duration between six and nine months, and costs between £50,000 and £400,000.

And the official application overview states:

“We will give preference to applications which:

  • help the innovation to be formally accepted for use on the railway, for example, through obtaining test certificates or product acceptance approvals
  • offer innovations that can be used by multiple railway organisations

You must demonstrate a credible and practical route to market, so your application must include a plan to commercialise your results.”

Why are the government funding a competition for the rail industry?

According to a government press release, our rail industry is growing, Since 1997, the number has gone up by 28% and they predict this to continue to rise by 58% in the next decade. It’s currently moving 110 million tones of freight and 1.7 people every year.

Innovate UK’s Chief Business Officer, Simon Edmonds, said: “The UK’s rail network is one of the nation’s vital economic assets. That is why we are all committed to improving it and building on its green credentials.We are looking for pioneering projects from great British innovators to make the railway ever more reliable and sustainable.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “For 2 centuries the UK has been at the cutting edge of rail technology. FOAK 2020 is part of the research and innovation melting pot that will keep us there as we enter another decade. To build the railway of tomorrow we have to support the inventors and innovators of today. This competition is designed to find the next Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and help them create the technology that defines our railway in the future.”

If you’re eligible, you can find out how to apply here. And if you want some help marrying up your grant with your R&D Tax Credit application, give us a call. One doesn’t necessarily cancel out the other. We’re also here for any other R&D tax relief questions you’ve got as an SME or large company.

Jamie Smith