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Sources of Support for SMEs

The sources of support listed below are grouped in three categories: funding and general business support, tax incentives and general information on intellectual property (IP).

Funding and General Business Support

An introduction to the support that the government provides for businesses is available here https://www.gov.uk/browse/business. This site provides a useful and general introduction; more specific and tailored advice is available elsewhere, as discussed below.

General support is available via the Business Support Helpline: https://www.gov.uk/business-support-helpline. This page also provides useful links such as the Business Finance Guide, https://thebusinessfinanceguide.co.uk/ which is a simple click-through tool for users to locate the support available for businesses of a particular size or with particular goals. A more comprehensive source of information on overnment-linked funding sources (and other types of support) is available here: https://www.gov.uk/business-finance-support. Applications for government funding can be made through this link: https://www.gov.uk/apply-funding-innovation. These links allow searches for different types of support (for example grants, loans or advice) and the search can be tailored by industry, business stage and number of employees.

A government summary is available here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sme-access-to-finance-schemes-measures-to-support-small-and-medium-sized-enterprise-growth. This guide provides a useful summary of various schemes but please note that it dates from 2013 and some schemes mentioned therein may no longer be available.

The "Business is Great" campaign was launched in November 2013 and is part of the UK Government's drive to encourage entrepreneurship. The campaign's purpose is to publicise the sources of financial support, advice and guidance that are available for small businesses.

Another recent scheme is the "Exporting is Great", run by the Department for International Trade and aimed at assisting new and inexperienced innovators increase their exports from the UK. https://www.export.great.gov.uk/.

Some financial support is available via investment routes rather than via grants. For instance, the government supports and endorses a range of venture capital trust schemes https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/venture-capital-schemes-hmrc-manuals to encourage private investment.

Additionally, non-financial support is available in the form of volunteer mentoring. For instance, http://www.mentorsme.co.uk/ is a central hub website of volunteer mentors. Mentors can be searched for by business stage and by region, and links are provided to mentoring organisations that offer their services to SMEs.

The British Business Bank

A considerable amount of support is available from the British Business Bank http://british-business-bank.co.uk/ via a range of schemes. A few are listed below.

The “Help to Grow” scheme, which replaces the Growth Accelerator and the Manufacturing Advisory Service (previous government funding schemes) provides loans for small businesses http://british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/growth-loans/.

The British Business Bank has a wide range of funds which support different types of businesses. These programmes include the Enterprise Capital Funds programme, http://british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/enterprise-capital-funds/, and the UK innovation investment fund Bank http://british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/uk-innovation-investment-fund/. Some funding available from the British Business Bank is provided in conjunction with private investors, for instance via the Business Angel Co-fund http://www.angelcofund.co.uk/.

In addition to providing funds, the British Business Bank can act as a guarantor for loans to SMEs via the Enable guarantee scheme http://british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/wholesale-solutions/.

Innovate UK

Innovate UK (previously the Technology Strategy Board) is a public body operating at arm's length from the UK Government. Its role is to stimulate innovation and thereby accelerate economic growth.

The service offers funding opportunities, advice, and networking opportunities via a wide range of events. Funding is now allocated by Innovate UK via competitions: enterprises must apply to a suitable competition in the relevant sector. However, open category is also available, https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/innovate-uk-open-funding-programme. The funding available ranges from 25k to 10m. The competitions are run in specific sectors and are directed to businesses at all stages of development, for instance early-stage research, feasibility studies, or later-stage larger projects.

Innovate UK runs two networks: the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN): https://ktn-uk.co.uk/, aimed at cross-fertilisation and small enterprises in particular, and the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN): http://www.enterprise-europe.co.uk/content/our_services/, aimed at promoting growth.

Innovate UK provides a number of business support initiatives and financial incentives to companies in the SME sector. One such initiative is a network of Catapult Centres in the following areas: high value manufacturing; cell therapy; offshore renewable energy; satellite applications; connected digital economy; future cities; and transport systems. For each such Catapult Centre, the goal is to enable specialised UK companies to work together on research and development of new products, through the provision of concentrated expertise, access to cutting edge equipment and specialist facilities to develop and test ideas.

Local resources

The British Business Bank has several regional investment funds that provide investment in specific local areas. One example is the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (https://british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/midlands-engine-investment-fund/) which is a multi-million pound fund that aims to direct resources into businesses with growth potential.

Additionally, there is a network of local “growth hubs” http://www.lepnetwork.net/growth-hubs/ as part of the local enterprise partnership (LEP) system. This page links through to local support pages. For instance, the Oxfordshire Business Support page http://www.oxfordshirebusinesssupport.co.uk/ contains information and links to local funding opportunities, information and events for businesses in Oxfordshire.

Biomedical Catalyst Scheme

The Biomedical Catalyst is a TSB programme operated in conjunction with the Medical Research Council (MRC). The programme offers £180 million worth of Life Sciences funding to innovative UK SMEs and academic researchers looking to develop solutions to healthcare challenges.

According to the TSB, the “Biomedical Catalyst is an integrated translational funding programme that can support innovative ideas - from any sector or discipline - that demonstrate the potential to provide significant positive healthcare and economic impact.

Three categories of grant are available which support the development of healthcare ideas from concept to commercialisation. They are as follows:

  1. Feasibility/Confidence in Concept Award;
  2. Early Stage Award; and
  3. Late Stage Award.

If an application is led by an academic, it is necessary to apply on the MRC website:

If an application is led by a SME, the application should be made on the Innovate UK website:

Both of these websites provide additional information on the Biomedical Catalyst programme.

The Community Development Finance Association (CDFA)

The CDFA is an association representing Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFIs), of which there are approximately 60 across the UK. These Institutions provide financial support to small businesses who may find it difficult to obtain similar support from the mainstream banking sector.

The Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS)

The SEIS was introduced by the UK Government in 2011 and provides substantial personal tax benefits in exchange for making investments in early-stage companies. In order to be eligible for an SEIS investment, the company must have fewer than 25 employees, its trade must be no more than two years old, the total value of its assets must be less than £200,000 and it must trade in an approved sector (which excludes, for example, finance and investment). Qualifying companies can raise up to a total of £150,000 in SEIS investments.

The Design Leadership Programme

This is a coaching and mentoring service that focuses on the use of innovative design to grow a business. It is run by the Design Council and the cost of participation is between £2,000 and £15,000. In addition, each year a number of subsidies are available from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/our-work/leadership The Design Council have recently (as of 12 September 2017) opened a new round of Design Council Spark applications for funding to develop a product http://www.designcouncil.org.uk/news-opinion/got-bright-idea-worth-200k.

New Businesses

The government provide start-up loans to new businesses https://www.startuploans.co.uk/. These loans are small (25k) and are accompanied by a year’s mentoring and business plan assistance. The government has committed to delivering 75,000 of these start-up loans.

Tax Incentives

The Patent Box

This initiative provides a means to reduce the rate of UK Corporation Tax payable on profits derived from patented inventions. Click here for more information.

Tax relief for investors in SMEs

The Enterprise Investment Scheme gives investors tax reliefs on investment, more details available here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-enterprise-investment-scheme-introduction/enterprise-investment-scheme.

R&D Tax Credits

These provide UK Corporation Tax relief for companies engaged in scientific research and development programmes. R&D tax credits allow companies to deduct up to 230% of qualifying expenditure on R&D activities when calculating their profit for tax purposes. As an alternative SMEs can, under certain circumstances, surrender this tax relief to claim tax credits payable in cash.

IP Valuation

Whilst there is no set formula for calculating the value of your IP as every invention is, by definition, unique, the UK Intellectual Property Office’s website offers some helpful advice on the subject and explains in detail the most commonly used valuing methods.

General Information on Intellectual Property (IP)

The Intellectual Property Office website provides some general introductory information and guidance on intellectual property matters.

The Intellectual Property Office provides useful case studies in patents, trade marks, designs and copyright as well as guidance documents and a calendar of their events for businesses. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/ip-for-business-events-guidance-tools-and-case-studies.

Advisory services administered by the UK Intellectual Property Office include Patent Information Centres, also known as Patent Libraries or PATLIBs, a nationwide network of centres providing access to IP information.

The UK Intellectual Property Office also runs as series of courses and seminars aimed at promoting IP awareness, many of which are free to attend. http://www.ipo.gov.uk/ip4b/ip4b-uk/ip4b-uk-learn.htm

One resource that may be of particular interest is the "IP Healthcheck” http://www.ipo.gov.uk/whyuse/business/iphealthcheck.htm. This is a free online tool that generates a basic report on intellectual properties issues that may be relevant to your business, based on your answers to a series of simple questions. Other useful resources include regular free clinics with Examiners and duty Chartered Patent Attorneys https://www.gov.uk/government/news/intellectual-property-clinics. Another useful resource is “Lambert 2” https://www.gov.uk/guidance/university-and-business-collaboration-agreements-lambert-toolkit, which contains a set of draft agreements for collaboration between businesses and universities, designed to reduce the costs of formulating such agreements.

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