Securing funding for research and development (R&D) is often crucial to the success of an innovative young business looking to make waves in it’s sector, as we found out from one young company.
For online recruitment marketplace Hiring Hub, time and focus was required to successfully apply for a £100,000 grant through Innovate UK’s Smart scheme. Business Advice spoke with the company’s founder and CEO Simon Swan to find out about the application process and how exactly the funding will be used to develop the business.
Working to drive innovations in science and technology that will help grow the UK economy, Innovate UK has joined with partner organisations and businesses to provide £3bn of funding for more than 5,000 companies and projects since 2007. It’s Smart scheme is available for any UK SME carrying out R&D projects and research.
(1) What was it like applying for Innovate UK’s Smart scheme? How did you find the application process?
The application process was fairly difficult and very thorough. We put a lot of work into the project tender, and needed time and focus to make sure it was successful. There are only ten questions on the application form, but the majority of the work went into the business plan required alongside it, in which you have to outline future strategies and the direction you want to take the business as a result of the grant.
The level of difficulty is a good thing though. Too easy and it would result in Innovate UK funding the wrong sorts of projects. They’ve got the process right in terms of how they make sure they target the innovative companies that can really make a difference.
(2) How exactly are you using the grant to improve the service Hiring Hub provides to recruiters and clients?
We are working to develop and grow different types of recruitment software available to both recruiters and clients online. So many firms are still struggling with inefficient in-house recruitment techniques. There is no real solution to managing the recruitment process and we want to be the platform effectively delivering the recruitment software SMEs can’t afford and don’t have access to.
Crucially, we are using the grant to develop online products that’ll better manage interactions between recruiters, candidates and clients. We are improving the functionality of our interactive website overall, as well as more specific tools that enable clients to rank candidates and develop statistics.
(3) What specific products are you developing with the funding? When do you expect these products will be launched?
We’re building an intelligent, cloud recruitment system to help smart SMEs manage the end-to-end recruitment process on both desktop and mobile. It will allow each to identify suppliers, manage candidates, and interpret large volumes of data in an intuitive way. It’s a “proof of concept” grant, and we adopt an iterative approach to development so our beta users can expect to see the first updates early in 2016.
(4) What specific benefits can recruiters/ clients expect as a result of the funding?
Large companies use enterprise recruitment software to manage suppliers, candidates, and process. However, this software is too expensive and complex to serve SMEs. As a result, small companies tend to use ad hoc and inefficient methods like Excel spreadsheets or desktop files. We aim to provide a platform that integrates with many office tools and helps each recruit intelligently.
(5) How essential has R&D funding been in terms of growing your business?
It’s something we hadn’t considered before. If I’m honest, it wasn’t on my radar. When I described our vision for Hiring Hub to a friend this summer, she recommended I check out the Innovate UK SMART scheme, which part-funds innovative projects in strategically important areas. Given what we were doing internally at Hiring Hub, it made sense to explore the grant funding and the timing was perfect for us.
(6) How’ve you seen revenues improve as a result of the grant?
We only secured the grant a couple of weeks ago and we’re embarking on a ten-month project, so we won’t start to see the fruits of that labour until late spring, early summer 2016. It will give us a big kick-on though, and supports our goal to double revenue next year.
(7) What advice would you give to small firms looking to secure similar funding for R&D projects?
Don’t underestimate the time it takes to submit an application. Innovate UK’s SMART funding is incredibly competitive, and I invested a great deal of my own time compiling a compelling application, with myriad supporting evidence and market research, and even letters of customer intent.
Before you even begin that process, it’s worth checking that the project you want to get funding for is eligible for a grant, as the criteria is relatively narrow. In short, the government is not going to give you a grant unless it firmly believes you have a project that meets its criteria, and a team that can execute the plan.
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