How I won £50k for Innovation and my tips to help you do it too….

How I won £50k for Innovation and my tips to help you do it too….

Innovate UK have recently opened their Women in Innovation award fund for applications for the third time. As a winner of the inaugural Women in Innovation Awards back in 2016, I have received a number of requests to help people with their applications and questions about my experiences.

As I can’t help everyone in detail I have pulled together the FAQ’s below and an accompanying bonus podcast episode on the MindStyling Podcast (embedded above) or on all major podcasting platforms.

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When did you win the Women in Innovation Award?

In 2016, this was the inaugural awards, we applied over the summer and then found out that we had won in the autumn. The project that I applied for was carried out from Jan – Dec 2017.

How much time/effort does the application take?

If you have experience writing an innovate grant then I can use that as a comparison. I found this award significantly easier and quicker to apply for than the other applications. The reasons as follows:

  1. The application was, at the core, about me, rather than just the business; for the first time I felt like I could write an application unencumbered by other stakeholders, it was a much better reflection of who I am and what I hoped to achieve than previous applications. I had to think about the company I run and the benefits it would bring to the company as I was writing but I didn’t have to second guess myself or write it to please others. I could write it for me and my ambitions.
  2. I had written a number of innovate applications before, both in this company and in other companies, so I was familiar with what was required.
  3. I had been preparing investment material and done a lot of writing about the company and the idea so I had a lot of pre-prepared material.

If you have never written an application like this before then it will take some time to get your head around it. I would start as soon as possible then you will have some idea of how much time it takes and it will give you time to prepare material.

The normal grant writing advice would still stand (this is a non-exhaustive list):

  1. Read the scope carefully and make sure what you are proposing is well aligned;
  2. Write in the vocabulary of the funders – literally repeat back the relevant words;
  3. Directly respond to the bullet points that are given in the application;
  4. Articulate what you are giving back in return for the funding;
  5. Make sure you are clear about the impact/outcomes you hope to achieve;
  6. Get others who you trust (not others who you think you need to impress) to read and give feedback). Get a few different perspectives.

The second phase of the application is a presentation. Obviously presentations take time to put together, rehearse, deliver and decompress from. However, the process of doing the presentation was enjoyable (if a little nerve-racking) we got to meet other applicants and do some media so that helped with the nerves.

This award is tens of thousands of pounds of public money plus additional support that you are asking for so there has to be some kind of process and I personally don’t think the effort is very big compared to the money you are applying for.

What was your experience of winning like?

Amazing. I can’t say enough about how important this award was for me. The team, the profile raising, the peer group and the KTN/Innovate team were all incredible aspects of winning.

When we first found out that we had won I cried tears of happiness, I couldn’t believe that I was chosen amongst all these incredible applicants. We got to go to the British Business Awards together and do press, PR and events, which were a lot of fun.

How has it changed your career/life?

  1. It was validation at a time when I really needed it. I was experiencing some difficult things within the business and my self esteem was really low because of it. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything valuable. Winning a fund that was based on my vision and was written without apology boosted my confidence. Boosting my confidence had a lot of positive knock on effects;
  2. It raised my credibility and my profile. People started to come to us for partnerships, for media stories and as customers. It also raised credibility with potential investors;
  3. It was the first time in my career where I had been in a group of women who were business leaders. I started to hear people tell stories that resonated with me. It was the first time I realised the extent to which many of my challenges were due to both structural and individual sexism rather than it being me that “wasn’t good enough”;
  4. Still now, 4 years on I get to expand my network and get new opportunities thanks to the award.

I feel too small – can I do this?

I completely understand this feeling. Some days we are championing a huge vision and other days we feel so tiny, asking ourselves, “how can I make a difference” or “why would someone choose me?”. This is in our heads, it is a negative thought pattern that we are using as a protection mechanism. If I feel too small and I don’t put myself out there then I can remain in control, or I won’t get hurt. It is just a story that you are telling yourself.

Remember, you have nothing to loose by applying. Even writing the application will help you to clarify your vision, define a project and affirm you as a leader. If that project is successful then you will have a number of new opportunities as well.

The way we make ourselves bigger is to be part of a collective. Alone we can accomplish some things, however as a winner of a Woman in Innovation award you will have access to people who can raise your profile, increase your credibility, help you raise more money, reach more customers and have more influence.

Feeling small is just an indication that you have big ambitions, not that you can’t achieve those big ambitions.

If you are consistently feeling too small for your ambitions then try talking to yourself differently and find mentors, friends, role models who can help you to change those thought patterns. We talk about this more on [The MindStyling Podcast. ]

Should I feel guilty about doing something that might celebrate me?


I want to just leave that answer as a no, but let me explain a little more.

  1. You deserve to be celebrated, you work really hard, you have great ideas, you take on board a lot of the emotional work in your workplace and social circles, you care about people, business and the world around you. Why wouldn’t you be celebrated. Even if all those things don’t apply you deserve to be celebrated.
  2. You getting the award, the money, the support, the credibility and the profile raising associated with this award is going to help the business and the initiatives that you are involved in.
  3. Innovate aren’t going to make it so easy for you to just swan in and win this thing so if you are winning it you have done a lot to get there.
  4. We need you to be visible, there is still not enough representation of women in the innovation space. We need our other business leaders and our children to know that we are innovating, that we are valid, that our initiatives matter as much as the men named John. With that in mind you should feel guilty if you are not finding ways to be celebrated and seen, not the other way around.

Am I the kind of person they are looking for?

Do you identify as a woman?

Do you have a project/idea/business that solves problems or enhances life in an innovative way?

Do you fit the eligibility criteria?

Then they are looking for you.

Of course not everyone can win and I’m not speaking on behalf of the funders so I am not an authority on what will be funded. Based on my observations and knowledge, I would say that they want a variation in the type of innovation they fund. They want to see that you have a strong vision and a plan that reasonably looks like it might get you to that vision (or at least some of the way in the right direction). They are also looking for role models, so you need to ask if you can overcome your own fears and ego and be authentic and human as a leader who isn’t afraid to put yourself in the spotlight for the right reasons? (See previous question).

How do I sell myself as a leader or role model without sounding arrogant?

This application is all about you and that can feel quite tough for many of us who are very used to hiding our light because we think it makes others uncomfortable. Well, the brighter your light shines the more you can light the way for others. So remember that. I describe more practical ways to do this in the podcast.

How time consuming is the admin on the project?

When you do a project funded my public money you have to report on the progress that you are making. This monitoring takes up a small amount of time (maybe a couple of days in a 12 month period). As a winner of these awards you will also have lots of opportunities to attend training and events which will take up some time but is not administration overheads.

Is my project tech-y enough?

This is a tricky question, as I don’t know your business. Innovation and technology are often confused, in the world that we live in technology is often an enabler of innovation. So I would focus on what is the transformation you are doing in your project and why is it novel.

This is taken directly from the KTN:

Examples of projects from previous award holders include: employing new members of staff, accessing new markets, increasing market share, finding new partners, proof of concept, demonstrators, product testing, leveraging significant levels of additional investment.
For additional information on de minimis funding you can visit:

Projects we will not fund:
involve exports or imports
involve purchasing within road freight transport sector
involve primary production in fishery and aquaculture
_involve primary production in agriculture
are not allowed under de minimis regulation restrictions

Can I collaborate?

Taken directly from the KTN FAQs:

Yes, however, the application should be about you as an individual, and should be written and submitted by you. You can mention how you plan to work with collaborators, but the award is for you.

Am I eligible?

There are some things that will make you ineligible, again I point you back to the official website and the KTN website.

Bear in mind that:

The award is designed to help businesswomen achieve their vision for their business and become a leader in their field.

But also question if you are selling yourself short. I didn’t feel like I was a businesswoman on the way to becoming a leader in my field when I applied.

I’ve applied to innovate before and had one assessor who didn’t like it what if that happens again?

Assessment processes are not perfect and it can sometimes feel unfair. This is just a barrier you are putting in your own way when applying for this project though. If the benefits of this fund appeal to you and you have the bandwidth to prioritise it then you should go for it. You may or may not be successful but you definitely can’t win if you don’t apply. These are the doubts and challenges that we have to tackle on the way to making our visions a reality.

Good luck with your applications and please get in touch if you have more questions.


**Disclaimer: **
You may have seen me in the Innovate UK/KTN webinar about the awards, however, I am not writing this or podcasting in any official capacity for Innovate UK and I will only be talking from my own perspective. For all official information please ensure that you check all the relevant information provided by Innovate UK and the KTN.


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