How to lose out on grant funding by 2% – Case Study

How to lose out on grant funding by 2% – common mistakes

In the fiercely competitive world of grants, losing out on funding is not uncommon, in fact the odds are largely against you.  Only 5% of applicants on average are awarded funding, but that doesn’t deter businesses from trying, I mean, what’s not to love about free money to aid ambitious growth? But grants take time, a lot of time, and a lot of effort. Spending months complying what feels like an entire business plan, to then see the dreaded generic ‘thanks, but no thanks’ email land in your inbox, is to be honest, quite soul destroying.

So what have I learnt? Having both won and lost out on funding opportunities, and being so so close to being awarded a grant worth millions from Innovate UK’s lucrative Smart Grants scheme, here are the top 5 reasons on how to lose out on grant funding by 2%:

1. Assuming the assessors would love the proposal idea

Without going into to much detail, our project idea was an AI infection prevention and control (IPC) predictive technology to reduce the risk of infections in healthcare settings. Smack bang in the middle of COVID 19, it couldn’t have been more current. An innovative technology to aid IPC in the mist of a global pandemic, what’s not to love?

A lot apparently.

On a panel of 5 assessors, one of them hated it, in fact I’ll go further, loathed it. In the application feedback, he/she went as far as saying ‘the unsubstantiated claim about NHS savings ran through the proposal like a message in a stick of Blackpool rock’. Wow.

2. Being WAY to ambitious

Following on from the assessors comment above, too much forecasted growth can be viewed as ‘unsubstantiated’, even if these claims are broken down and justified in the project costings. From an assessor’s perspective, approving R&D proposals for funding can be challenging as they are often deemed both high risk and high cost, so it’s difficult to find that middle ground of showing ambition, but at the same time keeping it real.

3. Overloading supportive evidence page

One of the single biggest challenges I’ve found when writing grant proposals is restricting content to the word count. Supportive evidence pages, which can be submitted alongside proposals, are a great way of including additional information. However, it is easy to get carried away and start overloading content, to the point you can’t really see the wood from the trees. As a result, the essential information is missed and you are downgraded for it.

4. Partnering with a collaborative business as an afterthought

Like many funding advisories, Innovate UK largely encourages business and research organisations to collaborate on funding proposals. It’s easy to get carried away and have sole focus on the written application, but choosing a partnering organisation should also be at the forefront of priorities. After all, they must share your project vision, have the right skills, and reflect your business culture, just to name a few.

5. Spending £££ on various consultants

Finding a consultant to help assess or write a funding application isn’t new, in fact the internet is swarming with them. If you are new to the funding scene, they can provide crucial support in boosting your application to appear more worthy of funding. They can however be expensive, and we learnt the hard way that the greater expense doesn’t necessarily mean greater results. Our first submission, supported by a sole trader grant consultant, scored significantly higher than our second application, consulted by a very large well known funding consultancy. In fact, the score was downgraded by nearly 10%!

Lessons learned

It must be remembered that the assessing panel is made up of varying people from different professional backgrounds and expertise. To secure funding, it is absolutely essential that the proposal can be read and understood by a broad audience. As an example, no one will fall in love with a project they cannot technically understand, so use language and content that all abilities can follow.

Secondly, review the overall project size. If it is large, equating to acquiring millions in funding, it may be best to segregate it into smaller more affordable chunks. Grants that come from public funds in particular must be deemed good value for money, and large sums can be off putting to assessors.

Thirdly, check and re check the proposal content and make sure the essential information ‘pops’ and isn’t lost within the proposal.

Next, research potential partnering businesses from the beginning, have conversations early, and get a feel for them. It will take time to build trust.

Lastly, it can be helpful to receive proposal feedback from an outside source such as a consultant, they can pick hole in the application and guide you in the right steps towards a winning proposal. As with partnering businesses, it’s essential to research, interview, and select the person that best aligns with your business culture. Big money doesn’t mean better results.

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