Business Basics Fund: Round 3 now open

By James Phipps on Friday, 11 October 2019.

Unsplash via Blake Wisz

We are very pleased to announce that the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Innovate UK have now opened the third round of the Business Basics Fund. 

This fund will make up to £2 million available for projects that will test interventions in England to encourage SMEs to adopt existing technology and management practices, to boost their productivity. Further information and details of how to apply can be found here

The generation of robust evidence on what works remains a central objective. The Innovation Growth Lab (IGL) will be supporting BEIS and Innovate UK to deliver the fund and assisting the successful applicants to deliver their trials.

Whilst the overall scale and objective of the latest funding round remains the same, there are a number of changes in how this third round will be conducted. The Business Basics Fund is itself an experimental policy initiative and it is therefore appropriate that changes are made to take onboard lessons from the first two rounds. 

The three key changes for this third round are:

  1. A more focused call with late payments identified as a priority area and all projects having to include an element of tech adoption

As previously announced by Kelly Tolhurst MP, Minister for Small Business, up to £1m of the fund is available for projects that will help SMEs avoid and deal with late payments. For example, to utilise payment technology that can boost productivity by reducing the time taken to chase payments as well as wider benefits. Hugo and I make some suggestions of what these trials could look like in this IGL blog.

Late payments are not the sole focus of the round. However, this time all projects have to involve some form of technological adoption. For example, promoting technologies that support other business functions such as accountancy, e-commerce, planning, human resources. The interventions tested may also include direct support for management practices or have these as expected outcomes, but management practices should not be the sole focus.

  1. There will be a two-stage application process

Interest in the first two rounds far exceeded expectations but many proposals submitted were out of scope - for example, developing the technological solution itself rather than testing how to drive its adoption. Introducing the Expression of Interest (EoI) stage will allow us to provide this feedback before such project teams have invested time completing a full application. There have also been potentially exciting projects that have fallen down on the evaluation requirements. We hope that another benefit of the EOI stage is that this allows for feedback during the application process and helps projects address identified weaknesses.

  1. This round is only for larger trials, with grantees having longer to develop their projects and pilot interventions

In the first two rounds it has sometimes been a challenge to complete the trial design, delivery and outcome data collection in the 12 month time period set for trials. Trials can now last up to 18 months, with up to an additional 3 months to complete trial design and conduct small scale pilots. Providing a potentially vital opportunity to identify and resolve issues before the full trial is launched and significant resources invested. (In effect, projects can now combine elements of a proof of concept within an application for a full trial).

If you are interested in applying to the Business Basics Fund we encourage you to review the support provided to potential applicants (see links below). 

If you need inspiration, you can review IGL’s Trials Database, which collates information on trials from around the world focused on innovation, entrepreneurship and business growth. We also have a series of blogs, including ones looking at evidence from existing trials on adoption (technology and management practices), the benefits of collaborating with researchers and what we can learn from trials on mentoring support. 

During the course of the application process we will be running a webinar and workshops on the expectations for evaluation. Much of the content can already be found in our Guide and Toolkit. With other great content available elsewhere, such as the recently released report by BIT on applying behavioural insights and J-Pal’s Evaluation Toolkit.

Key Dates and links

Further details (including details of previously funded projects, progress report on the Business Basics Programme and related research): Business Basics Fund 

How to apply: Non-business led trials & Business led trials

2 October 2019: Competition opened for Expressions of Interest

22 October 2019: London briefing event

29 October 2019: Online briefing and evaluation

4 December 2019 (12:00pm): Competition closes for Expressions of Interest

18 December 2019: Applicants notified and invitations sent to those selected to submit a full application

1 June 2020: Projects start