Highways UK 2020 Starts in



4/5 November 2020, NEC, Birmingham




Talking Heads - Innovation

Never, never, never give up

Karla Jakeman, Innovation Lead for Connected Transport at Innovate UK explains the process of selecting the many excellent winners from the recent Highways England innovation competitions. Designed to identify and fund solutions that will change the way UK roads are designed, managed and used, many of the winners will be at Innovate UK's Innovation Hub at Highways UK

Karla Wakeman

Karla Wakeman

Innovation Lead for Connected Transport, Innovate UK

Thursday 31 October 2019

Winston Churchill once said "never, never, never give up". A good moto for us all and often applies to finding funding for your projects and innovations. 

We witness this often at Innovate UK and although it can mean something as simple as the funding pot for that competition ran dry, as frustrating as it can be, the feedback from our expert, independent assessors can often be instrumental in making sure you are at the top for the next funding pot. 

Our process is thorough but not always simplistic, nor should it be as we offer millions of pounds of tax payers money so want it to be transparent and effective to get the best projects funded.

So what can you do to give yourselves the best shot? 

Assessors are always keen to see the value for money. Whether you are asking for £10k or £10m, does your application clearly demonstrate maximum return on the investment? Assessors are a savvy bunch and if you are asking for £10m for something which should cost £9m, they will pick it up. 

With the current political climate, we are always on the lookout for projects which can go large when it comes to international opportunities. 

·      Does your project have the potential to be world leading? 

·      Closer to home, can it be successfully exploited in the UK? 

In my experience as an Innovation Lead, the best projects look at exploitation from not just day one but way before as part of the application. Plans change, but to demonstrate you have considered exploitation shows project potential. 

Read the scope

Another common mistake is where the innovation is not at the right stage of development for the particular competition. If the competition states it is looking to fund ready-to-go pilots, if you apply with a feasibility study proposal, you won't be funded and will be considered out of scope. 

Check the scope clearly, especially where TRL (Technology readiness Levels) are mentioned. 

You might not be applying to us for public funds but regardless, the next piece of advice should still be considered.  

·      Why should public money be spent on this? (Or in the case of private funding, why should they invest?)

It is imperative that you can define this and explain the additionality that will be achieved. What are you offering that others aren't?

If you clearly define the above whilst answering the questions in the application (many don't!), you will be on your way to joining thousands of successfully funded projects such as those funded by Highways England through Innovate UK. 

Highways England and SBRI

An SBRI (Small Business Research Initiative) enables government departments like Highways England to connect with technology organisations, finding innovative solutions to specific public sector challenges and needs.

In this instance, Highways England is investing up to £20 million across two parallel SBRI competitions to develop innovative ideas and solutions. These projects have been funded to change the way UK roads are designed, managed and used and the 23 successful projects will be displaying on our Innovation Hub at Highways UK. 

The scope of this competition was purposely broad covering the following themes:-

·      Theme 1: Design, construction and maintenance - Construction site safety and efficiency

·      Theme 2: Connected and Autonomous Vehicles - Getting roads ready for AV including maintenance vehicles

·      Theme 3: Customer Mobility - Improved customer experience 

·      Theme 4: Energy & Environment  - Energy savings, noise, circular economy

·      Theme 5: Operations - Managing road demand and quality

·      Theme 6: Air Quality 

In the competition process, the 23 projects which have been funded embraced the challenges that Highways England are trying to solve. They demonstrated value for money for Highways England, exploitation potential and clear additionality over and above the normal course of business.

At Innovate UK, we use our tried and tested competition process to drive productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of new ideas. It is rare that any two competitions are the same as we always strive for excellence but for certain, when it comes to supporting getting the best innovative projects for UK Plc, we never, never, never give up.

Karla Jakeman is Innovation Lead for Connected Transport at Innovate UK, Highways UK's Innovation Partner. Come to the Innovation Hub to meet representatives and learn more about many of the successful projects from the recent Highways England SBRI competitions.