Run by Worcestershire County Council, the Proof of Concept Programme provides grants to allow SME’s to investigate, advance, commercialise and protect early stage innovative business ideas. So, how does it all work?
Whether you’re looking to bring an innovative new product to the B2B market or your business, the Proof of Concept programme is designed to take your company to the next level, with an experienced team on hand to offer support, expertise and guidance throughout the whole journey.
For businesses looking to develop new products, the Proof of Concept fund will provide grants of up to 40% of the total cost of a project (up to £30,000). With an aim to drive investment within the county, the Proof of Concept Programme has to date helped around 170 B2B businesses within Worcestershire.
Following an initial eligibility call with Worcestershire Business Central, companies are referred to Jane Holmes, a highly skilled Business Manager at Central Technology Belt, who specialises in supporting businesses and managing the appraisal process to give firms the best chance of making a successful application. Having spoken to around 200 different companies in the last year alone, Jane’s role is integral to the process, as she explains:
“I work alongside businesses to help them understand the requirements of the grant fund. Some people have never applied for a grant before which can be daunting, but I help them break it down and cut through the jargon to tell their story as effectively as possible. I love working with companies who are doing new things and helping make them a reality.
“When businesses come to me, they can expect to talk through their plans and the application form, to help them understand that they need to tell a story to be successful at the appraisal stage. It’s important for them to take a step back to describe their idea in a simple but informative way – almost as if they’re describing it to an audience who know nothing about that sector. It needs to be really clear with obvious benefits.
“People often don’t realise how many different elements there are to consider such as: new machinery, raw materials, testing, trademarking, market research, websites, marketing and lots more. It’s my role to support companies to take their plans from where they are now, to a new product or service in the B2B market.”
One of the most common misconceptions is that an idea needs to be extraordinary for it to be innovative, but Jane explains how it’s often the simplest ideas that make the biggest impact.
“Sometimes people get the wrong impression and feel that they need to develop something ground-breaking, or something on a huge international scale. It doesn’t need to be ground-breaking; it just needs to be new to them. Sometimes incremental changes to a product can have a huge impact.”
Once companies have made a successful application, they’ll be put into contact with Simon (EU Project Manager) and Anna (Project Support Officer) at WINN (Worcestershire Innovation) to begin the process of transforming their ideas into reality.
Day to day, Simon maintains regular communication with a variety of businesses spanning an array of sectors, as well as setting up grant offer meetings and managing grant claim processes, whilst Anna ensures procedures and timings are all adhered to, with decisions made quickly and processes running as smoothly as possible. This level of efficiency is crucial to the overall timeline, as Simon explains,
“Once we start working with a company, we aim to respond as quickly as possible to their needs to get the ball rolling, as we understand a lot of these projects are worth a lot of money.
“Depending on the circumstances, we always try to utilise our network to ensure businesses receive the best support possible. We also work really closely with the rest of Worcestershire County Council’s economic development team, so we have a really collaborative approach to different projects such as Elevate, Enterprising Worcestershire or our colleagues at Worcestershire Business Central.”
“Worcestershire is a small county but the projects that are coming out of here are huge and have a big impact.”
Over the past few years, the Proof of Concept Programme has supported a long list of innovative ideas, including everything from software systems that speed up the scanning process for illegal substances in airports, to stainless steel tanks used to supply water in refugee camps and even orthotic horseshoes.
And for Anna, who moved to Worcestershire three years ago, working for the Proof of Concept Programme has proven incredibly rewarding,
“When I first moved here, I didn’t realise just how much interesting stuff was going on here – it’s really opened my eyes to the amazing work going on in Worcestershire, which is worth shouting about.”
For any businesses thinking about applying, Simon’s advice is to go for it,
“A lot of businesses don’t know we’re available, so I’d advise anybody who is interested to find out more and get in touch with Worcestershire Business Central to see if they’re eligible. If they are, Jane can ease any anxieties they may have about the application process, and we’ll ensure support is available every step of the way. Sometimes in business you have to be selfish and go for it – you never know if you don’t try.”
To find out more about the Proof of Concept Programme and eligibility, click here.