Innovation funding

There are a number of challenge, innovation and government grant programmes aimed at driving innovation across the UK in universities and businesses, many focus on improvimg the links between universities and business.  Below are descriptions and links for some of the major programmes:

CREATE - enterprise and innovation skills development

CREATE - enterprise and innovation skills development

CREATE is an initiative developed at Inverness College which now works closely with the Knowledge Exchange teams across the university.  It's aim is to inspire, encourage and support students, staff and the business community to develop the knowledge, skills and motivation needed to realise their potential through enterprise.

CREATE directs events, competitions, start-up support services and skills development programmes to encourage and support innovation and business skills.

View the full range of support services, competitions and up-coming events on the CREATE website.

Innovation vouchers

Innovation vouchers

The SFC innovation voucher scheme is aimed at building a relationship between a company and a university or further education college in Scotland and is worth up to £5000, with a minimum of £1000, which is paid directly to the university or college.

The company must also contribute an equal value in cash and/or in kind.

All SMEs, social enterprises and third sector organisations with main company operations in Scotland can apply for a voucher if they are partnering with an academic provider for the first time.

Companies are only eligible for a single Innovation Voucher, but follow on vouchers and student placements may then be available to continue the relationship and help develop new company products and processes.

In particular the vouchers aim to encourage a longer, sustained relationship between companies and academic institutions rather than just offset the costs of the business purchasing a service. Standard innovation vouchers applications are accepted on an on-going basis. Projects must commence within 4 weeks of approval and generally should be completed 3 months after start date.

Making an application

Innovation Voucher applications are accepted on an on-going basis, with a 3 week review target.

To submit an application, for general guidance and for administration once an application is accepted, your UHI contact is You can find details and documentation required to complete an application direct from the Interface website.

The Follow-on Voucher Scheme can be the next stage, once an IV project has been completed, and is specifically intended to encourage existing partnerships that have previously collaborated. Here, funding is granted for £5,000-£20,000 but this time the level of grant requested must be matched in cash by the company. The application dates here are slightly different to above, being the last Friday in January, March, May, July, September and November.

If the Follow-on Voucher is not thought suitable a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) might be viable - see the KTP webpage for a summary of this scheme, or contact:

Another university to business collaborative scheme is the Student Placement Innovation Vouchers which is aimed at building on existing relationships between SMEs and HEIs in Scotland to continue the development of an SFC standard Innovation Voucher award. Only SMEs that have had a successful SFC standard innovation voucher award are eligible to apply and the company must contribute an equal value in cash or in kind (such as staff time, materials or equipment) or a combination of both. A PhD/Masters student will be placed within the company to continue this development and work on a clearly defined project/timeframe with the intention that the outputs of the project can be adopted by the business and offer valuable business skills/experience to the student.

Key documents and contacts

For technical or strategic information on SFC Innovation Vouchers or Follow-on IV's your main contact is He can help in the preparations for making an application, preparing the application and general technical information regarding both schemes to help ensure your application is accepted.

Your contact to submit an application, general guidance and for administration once an application is accepted is

Innovate UK also offer their own Innovation Vouchers - these are separate from the SFC vouchers and are based around specific sector or technology based calls. For details see the Innovate UK website.

More details on all the Interface administered funding schemes are on their website.

Case Studies


Copernicus case study


Jacobite case study


UKRI - The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

UKRI - The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. UKRI aims to maximise the contribution of each of their component parts, working individually and collectively.

Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UKRI brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England. UKRI is central to delivering research and innovation for economic growth and societal impact. UKRI works to drive innovation and maximise the impact of research investments to develop new ways of living, doing business and growing economies.

UKRI website

A major activity for UKRI is the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund which aims to bring together the UK’s world-leading research with business to meet the major industrial and societal challenges of our time.

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is part of government’s Industrial Strategy, the long-term plan to raise productivity and earning power in the UK.

The fund is a core pillar in the government’s commitment to increase funding in research and development by £4.7 billion over 4 years to strengthen UK science and business. It's aim is to invest in the UK's world-leading research base and highly-innovative businesses to address the biggest industrial and societal challenges today. They have various themes they are specifically trying to address, visit challenge fund website to view the full detail of their current target themes.

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Challenges

Horizon 2020 SME Engagement Scheme

Horizon 2020 SME Engagement Scheme

The Horizon 2020 SME Engagement Scheme is aimed at supporting Scottish based SMEs (Small to Medium sized Enterprises) to explore the opportunities of Horizon 2020 funding and apply for particular schemes or calls under it, with the assistance of a Scottish Higher Education Institute (HEI).

Key principals

The purpose of the scheme is to encourage SMEs to engage more effectively with European Funding, under H2020. Academics or European officers within HEIs can offer expertise and experience to advise and facilitate appropriate consortium building and support towards full H2020 application for the SME. The award will be paid to the HEI on submission of a completed final report and HEI costs will be reimbursed by the SFC (Note: the grant will not be paid to the SME or any in-kind costs reimbursed.) Applications to the scheme should be submitted as early as possible in advance of calls.

How to Apply: The call for applications is currently open with deadlines of the first Monday of each month and the application must be submitted by the HEI partner - key documents in the section below.

Key documents and contacts

For technical or strategic information or general enquiries on H2020 SME Engagement applications your main contact is She can help preparations for any application, technical information, and will coordinate cross-partner bids.

Converge Challenge

Converge Challenge

The Converge Challenge is a high profile pan-Scotland business competition and entrepreneurship development programme for staff, students, recent graduates and a non-trading or trading company (for less than 6 months and with a turnover less than £50K with University support) of Scottish Universities and Research Institutes aimed at creating a new generation of entrepreneurs in Scotland.

They work with any industry sector, product or service-based ideas at any stage of the development. Over the last four years, the programme has attracted 260 applications, engaged with 120 projects, from which around 30% went on to create companies. 4 out of 5 of these businesses have secured follow-on funding which currently stands at £9million.

Participants are generally technology companies with significant growth potential so by engaging with Converge UHI has a chance to be associated with the most exciting, innovative projects coming out of the Scottish research base and with one of the key initiatives within Scotland's entrepreneurial community. The competition runs annually, usually opening around February and closing around June.

Want to develop your idea for a new business, product or process?

Do you have an idea for a new commercial enterprise, product or process or would you simply want to learn more about what support is out there (in case you have an idea in the future)? Contact the KE team to discuss how to get involved with the Converge Challenge at UHI.

Entrepreneurship and postgraduate students - supporting your business idea

Do you have the desire and ambition to start your own business? Postgraduate research students who are looking for support to develop a business idea should make contact with (Head of Knowledge Exchange) in the first instance.

As a taster of the type of schemes available to support your business ideas, links on our graduate school pages will provide some background information, but there are many avenues to explore, so please speak to Joe for guidance once you are familiar with some of the available options.


Converge Challenge-UHI Case Study:


Anna Renouf, an Environmental Science student from UHI and founder of Orrin Equestrian, was awarded the Converge Challenge 2016 Entrepreneurial Spirit Award for demonstrating drive, focus and determination throughout the Converge process. Anna was shortlisted as part of the Converge Challenge Top 30 for her pioneering new saddle that offers superior fit and improvements for horse welfare.  



SMART: SCOTLAND is an initiative from Scottish Enterprise to provide grants to Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) based in Scotland.

The grant is intended to help undertake technical feasibility studies and research and development (R&D) projects that have a commercial endpoint.

A selection of case studies are provided to give a flavour of the type of ideas and projects that have benefited from the initiative so far.

A two page leaflet describing the process of applying to the programme is available as a 1Mb pdf - SMART : SCOTLAND Guide - and full information is available on the SMART : SCOTLAND website.

Contact (Head of Knowledge Exchange) is your contact in the first instance to discuss any ideas you think might benefit (and qualify) for SMART funding.

Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE)

Scottish Institute for Enterprise (SIE)

The Scottish Institute for Enterprise works nationally to promote and support enterprise and entrepreneurship in Scotland’s students, creating opportunities for students to be innovative. 

SIE works with local institutions to champion enterprise education and help their students start new innovative businesses and social enterprises. SIE provides free one-to-one advice, enterprise workshops and national competitions.

More information on up-coming compititions and grant calls on the SIE website.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE)

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE)

The Royal Society of Edinburgh contributes to the social, cultural, and economic wellbeing of Scotland through the advancement of learning and useful knowledge. Established in 1783, the RSE draws upon the considerable strengths and varied expertise of their Fellows.

The RSE’s funding programmes aim to attract and retain those with outstanding potential to establish their STEM and Arts & Humanities in Scotland; encourage enterprise, innovation and the commercialisation of technology-based ideas coming from academic research; and develop international collaboration and enable participation in international research programmes.

RSE-UHI Case Studies

Two UHI-based entrepreneurs were announced as the inaugural RSE Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellows in June 2018 (the national quota was 20).

One was Rachael Bews with her project ALICAS: Ali’s Coats and Shoes Ltd. hosted by CREATE, the Centre for Enterprise and Innovation at Inverness College UHI part of the University of the Highlands and Islands. ALICAS is a survivor-led social venture that gifts bespoke clothing parcels to women who have fled abusive relationships.

The other was Anna Renouf, project Orrin Equestrian. Hosted by CREATE, the Centre for Enterprise and Innovation at Inverness College UHI part of the University of the Highlands and Islands. Pioneering new saddle produced from composite materials that offers superior fit and improvements for horse welfare.