A variety of grant schemes offer funding for “Collaborative” projects. The European Commission, Innovate UK and several others have schemes of this type. When discussing grant funding opportunities with SMEs I am often faced with the reaction “we don’t want to work with competitors – it’s too risky”.
Collaborative projects are not asking you to work with competitors, the usual requirement is to work with the; research base, the supply chain and the market.
The purpose set out in many grants is for industry to work with the research base. Companies are encouraged to develop projects jointly with universities and research institutes to bring the latest scientific developments and research outcomes into the commercial sector to deliver wider benefits. The university is not a competitor and their skill and expertise can enhance and fast forward commercial R&D
As new technology emerges from the research base or indeed internally from company R&D there are often new supply chain demands. The development of inkjet printers required the development of new inks, of MEMS in the print head, small highly accurate step motors and sophisticated driver software. A collaborative grant funded project would see several specialist players in the supply chain co-develop all the necessary components for a game changing solution.
Scientific and product development can lead to new technology, but is it what the market wants? As new technologies emerge there is intensive engagement with the market to determine if a product, a technology an idea is what the market wants and is prepared to pay for. Many grants want applicants to provide “validation of the technology” in a real setting. Grant bids are strongly reinforced by the inclusion of end user companies, consumers or consumer groups to validate the demand for the new product or service.
There are situations where competitors collaborate, for example where enhanced components in the supply chain would benefit a whole industrial sector. Endless bespoke solutions to problems can lead to a market where spares are hard to find and where procurement is wary being tied into specific solution providers. Micro chips for medical devices are a good example where standards have been developed jointly by competing companies and chip manufacturers. Collaborative projects that encourage market flexibility, reduce costs and develop industry standards are encouraged by grant providers.
Overall, companies benefit significantly from collaboration as this introduces new ideas, new technology and new thinking in a competitive world. Openness to the benefits of collaboration is attractive to many grant providers and enhances your project funding bids through your commitment to the industry, to the market and to the research base.
Huw Edwards – MSC R&D Ltd. Horizon 2020 Advisor