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Innovate UK £25 million up for grabs: July deadline approaching

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By Emma Lewis, Myriad Associates

 

The latest instalment of Innovate UK’s SMART grant competition was launched in April and the deadline of the 27th July is fast approaching. Another £25 million in grant funding is up for grabs, aimed at game-changing and commercially viable innovative or disruptive ideas that can significantly impact the UK economy.

All innovative research and development (R&D) projects across a variety of technologies, markets and research categories can qualify. It is open to any enterprise and must include at least one SME.

 

Emma Lewis

What funding is available?

Innovate UK forms part of UK Research and Innovation. In this round of funding, it is looking to invest up to £25 million in the most disruptive, cutting-edge technologies that can swiftly and successfully be brought to market. Projects must be extremely novel and genuinely new as game changers not just in their sector but in the market as a whole.

Proposals must also be business focused, with realistic, adequately resourced, deliverable plans that bring real growth in market share and return on investment once the project is complete.

Certain updates have been made to this round of funding to reflect the importance of obtaining economic benefits from public funding, and the potential for successful commercialisation, exports and growth.

Applications can come from any area of technology and be applied to any part of the economy, including (but not limited to) media, design, net zero and the arts.

 

Project criteria

To be eligible for this particular innovation grant, projects must:

  • Be carried out in the UK
  • Follow specific rules dependent on duration (as set out further down)
  • Include at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) as the lead or a collaborative grant claiming partner
  • Intend to maximise the results from or in the UK

Only eligible project costs can be included in your grant application so it’s important you understand what is relevant and what isn’t. The current competition will also not be funding any business development, procurement, supply chain or commercial activity with Russian entities. This is to include any goods or services that originate from a Russian source.

 

What are the project deadlines?

Your project must have:

  • Started by the 1st January 2023
  • Ended by the 31st December 2025

This competition is set to close on the 27th July 2022 at 11am UK time.

The 31st December 2025 is the final date by which your contracted project must have ended and there will be no extensions.

If the duration of your project is 6 to 18 months, it:

  • Can be individual or collaborative
  • Must have total project costs between £100,000 and £500,000

If the duration of your project is 19 to 36 months, it must:

  • Be collaborative
  • Have total project costs between £100,000 and £2 million

 

What should proposals include?

Innovate UK has been clear it will look most favourably on projects that demonstrate realistic, significant growth potential for global markets. Innovative, ambitious small businesses and start-ups with substantial growth potential are welcome.

Proposals must also demonstrate:

  • An idea that can be rapidly commercialised and is significantly ahead of competitors in the field
  • A clear, disruptive, innovative and ambitious project that leads to new products, services or processes
  • Clear, considerable potential to significantly and positively impact UK productivity as well as the wider economy
  • An evidence-based plan to deliver significant return on investment (ROI) and growth through commercialisation, very soon after the project has completed
  • A deliverable, robust business plan that addresses (and documents) the market scope, needs and potential
  • A team, working structure or business arrangement where the right skills and experience are present to carry out and complete the project successfully and on time
  • Awareness of where the challenges and risks lie within the project and how they will be addressed and mitigated
  • Sound, practical financial plans and timelines that offer excellent value for money. This is always something Innovate UK are particularly interested in when making funding decisions.

Project dates

  • Competition opened on the 25th April 2022
  • An online briefing event was held on the 3rd May 2022 which can be seen again here
  • Competition closes on the 27th July 2022 at 11am
  • Applicants will be notified on the
  • 30th September 2022

Interested in applying for an R&D grant?

To give your organisation the very best chance of R&D grant success, the recommended way forward is to enlist the services of an experienced R&D grant writing service.

Whilst it’s perfectly possible to go it alone and make an application online yourself, it’s often very difficult to decipher the eligibility criteria accurately. Understanding how to showcase your project effectively and be persuasive in your application is also something of an art form, and with potentially large grants at stake it’s well worth doing properly.

External R&D grant writing consultancies also have the ability to look critically at your project and can often point you in the direction of further grants and R&D support. This can drastically reduce the guess work, whilst also saving you time and money on an application that may not be successful.

Further information about this and other government competitions can be found on Gov.uk’s innovation competitions page.

Business

How can businesses boost employee experience for finance professionals?

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By Martin Schirmer, President, Enterprise Service Management, IFS

Over the course of the last year, The Great Resignation has seriously impacted organisations across the globe. Staff are quitting in huge numbers, leaving companies unprepared and struggling to fulfil their workloads. In fact, mass departures are happening at all levels of the labour market, as employees attempt to adapt to the hybrid working model and growing socio-economic uncertainty.

In light of this, optimising the employee experience (EX) to attract and retain talent has become a top priority for employers. Organisations have come to understand the necessity of taking immediate steps to drive employee engagement and reshape workplace culture.

The financial services (FS) industry is no exception to this trend. From increasing employee burnout to growing career dissatisfaction, the pandemic has exacerbated the need for transformation across finance teams. This is exemplified by recent data from Spendesk, which found that approximately 40% of finance professionals are willing to leave their roles or already have concrete plans to do so.

Organisations looking to get ahead of the competition must put in extra efforts to retain their existing workforce. The fact is that employee expectations and requirements have irreversibly changed, with more workforces becoming increasingly distributed. Today’s hyper-connected workforce values flexibility and simplicity, and it is organisations which offer these experiences that will succeed in the long term.

As part of this process, finance companies must look towards the power of technology to create seamless user experiences across devices. From automating workflows to improving overall efficiencies, Enterprise Service Management (ESM) can help organisations to boost user satisfaction and go that extra mile for their employees.

How poor EXs are driving finance teams to quit

With over 40% of employees spending a significant proportion of their time carrying out mundane, manual tasks, it is not surprising that poor EXs are having a detrimental impact on job satisfaction. Finance teams in particular have been slower to digitise core processes, leading to a heavy reliance on manual tasks. This not only increases the amount of time spent on each task, but also impacts the engagement levels of finance professionals who cannot focus on more strategic aspects of their roles.

As a result of the pandemic, flexibility has also moved to the forefront of finance teams’ desires. Given the fast-paced nature of this industry, the conversation surrounding work-life balance has increased rapidly. Failure to offer flexible working policies, coupled with a lack of technology to facilitate this flexibility, has led to poor EXs across the board.

Most notably, the overarching move to omnichannel, digital-first approaches has dramatically reset both customer and employee needs. Finance is the third-slowest running corporate function behind legal and IT. Operating in a competitive environment, 73% of finance operations are facing pressures to speed up, improve efficiency, and prioritise automation.

Mitigating the problem using technology

ESM, an offshoot of IT Service management (ITSM), is the cornerstone of smart digital transformation for organisations. It can help finance teams to streamline and automate routine processes, such as monitoring the status of service requests, approving expenses, sending invoices, and tracking payments. In turn, this will free up employees’ time, reducing the burden of manual tasks and enabling them to focus on the more strategic tasks.

Another advantage ESM can offer finance teams is the ability to adapt to each department’s minimum requirements for data privacy. Accounting, for example, needs additional layers of compliance built into the system.

ESM can also facilitate cross-departmental collaboration, helping finance professionals to communicate with the wider business and perform tasks more effectively.  Organisations can use ESM to incorporate all internal services into a single platform, offering employees a well-rounded view of the business and promoting a sense of community across all levels of an organisation. This will boost productivity, whilst enhancing visibility and control.

Ultimately, the current job landscape has brought with it a new set of challenges. Organisations in the FS industry looking to navigate the storm and retain top talent must refocus their efforts on bolstering the EX. Embracing a new era of technological innovation that empowers employees and boosts engagement is a critical step in this process.

 

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Business

CBDCs: the key to transform cross-border payments

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Dr. Ruth Wandhöfer, Board Director at RTGS.global

 

If you work in finance, you’ll have been hearing a lot about central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) and the moves different markets are making towards using, regulating and evaluating the viability of moving to an economy based on digital currency.

We are already seeing progress in the research, piloting and introduction of CBDCs into the financial system. The Banque de France for example, recently launched its second phase of CBDC experiments in line with the “triple digital revolution” unfolding in the financial sector. The infrastructures of financial markets and fintechs, however, are not prepared to accommodate their security, stability, and viability.

This could be an issue in the not too distant future. Each year, global corporates move nearly $23.5 trillion between countries, equivalent to about 25% of global GDP. This requires them to use wholesale cross-border payment processes, which remain suboptimal from a cost, speed, and transparency perspective. In fact, the G20 cross-border payments programme considers improving access to domestic payment systems that settle in central bank money, as one of the key components in facilitating increased speed and reducing the costs of cross-border payments.

The current state of cross-border payments

International transactions based on fiat are currently slow, expensive, and highly risky due to today’s disconnected financial infrastructure, messaging, and liquidity. Wholesale cross-border payment settlement can take 48 hours or longer, which is not practical in today’s digital world. Even if not every market moves to CBDCs, in an increasingly digital era, cross-border settlements between central banks will unavoidably involve dealing with CBDCs. So, not only will we have different currencies, we’ll have different technical forms of currency being exchanged – digital and fiat – as markets adopt CBDCs at different rates, adding another layer of complexity to cross-border settlements.

While there is much anticipation about the opportunities CBDCs can bring, the adoption of this technology will only be widespread if payment and settlement capabilities are overhauled to allow for new innovations in currencies.  This need for transformation represents an opportunity to redesign existing infrastructure to support cross-border CBDC transactions.

The current cross-border payments system involves correspondent banks in different jurisdictions using commercial bank money. Uncommitted credit lines used in cross-border transactions are a potential risk for any bank that relies on credit provided by a foreign correspondent bank. Interestingly, there is no single global payment and settlement system, only a complicated network of interbank relationships operating on mutual trust. While trust has allowed financial systems to function smoothly, when it begins to fail, as it did during the 2008 financial crisis, the result can be catastrophic.

Following the crisis, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) implemented the Basel III agreement, which required banks to maintain additional capital against correspondent banking account exposures. These risk-weighted assets impose a costly capital charge on positions held by banks at other banks under correspondent arrangements. While this framework helps combat risk, it neglects to address the inherent problems in traditional correspondent banking that contribute to these risks.

Making the case for CBDCs

CBDCs can offer an improvement in settlement risks and are certainly thought to have potential benefits by the BIS. If implemented correctly, wholesale CBDCs can indeed accelerate interbank transactions while eliminating settlement risk. They can also encourage a more efficient and straightforward method of executing cross-border payments by reducing the number of intermediaries.

It is likely the evolution towards CBDCs will initially see the financial market supplement rather than replace existing payment instruments with new types of digital currency. CBDCs will coexist with current forms of money in a wholesale context, and their payment rails will also work alongside the existing payment systems. In simple terms, CBDCs will need to be linked to the broader capital markets ecosystem and applications such as securities settlement, funding, and liquidity.

If built with an innovation-first mindset, the future of banking infrastructure should provide full interoperability and convertibility between fiat, CBDCs, and any other type of digital money used in wholesale payments.

The future of CBDCs

To unlock the full potential of CBDCs, a ‘corridor network’ will need to be formed. This involves combining multiple wholesale CDBCs into a single, interoperable network under common governance agreed upon by all central banks involved. The legal framework of this platform would then allow for payment versus payment (PvP) or, where applicable, delivery versus payment settlement.

Practical wholesale CBDCs appear to be on the horizon, either as a supplement to existing financial systems or as part of a transition to a digital, cashless world. Looking ahead, central banks would benefit from collaborating with fintechs that provide innovative cloud native technology to enable seamless wholesale cross-border payments without interfering with the flow of funds. If wholesale CBDCs are to become a reality, fintechs must be prepared to accommodate them.

 

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