Grant funding

Quick facts

A grant is a form of finance provided by either government or private organisations for a specific purpose. A grant is different from any other form of finance in that you don’t have to pay it back or give away a share of your business. The eligibility criteria vary greatly.

There are thousands of business grants available in the UK at both national and regional level. They are often sector-specific or tied to a particular product or outcome.

As a general rule, you don’t have to pay back grant money, but you might have to meet a matched funding requirement (typically 25-50%). 

Here are three of the larger grant providers in the UK:

Innovate UK

Innovate UK calls itself “the UK’s innovation agency”. It’s a non-departmental public body operating at arm’s length from the government as part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). This is the national funding agency investing in science and research in the UK, and is sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

Horizon 2020 

Horizon 2020 is the largest single opportunity for UK businesses to access European funding and you can still apply after the UK’s exit from the European Union. In order to be eligible you must be part of a group that includes a university, college or other academic institution and you must have partners in EU countries. The programme has an emphasis on excellence in science, industrial leadership and tackling societal challenges. Horizon 2020 grants are normally made available as part of a specific call-out for a particular business sector. 

Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs)

Local Enterprise Partnerships play an important role in supporting businesses across the UK. 

LEPs are voluntary (i.e. non-statutory) partnerships between local authorities and businesses – they exist to promote economic growth locally.

Set up in 2011 by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (now the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, BEIS), LEPs help determine local economic priorities and support economic growth and job creation. In other words, LEPs carry out some of the functions previously performed by the regional development agencies (RDAs), which were abolished in 2012.

LEPs are responsible for bidding for central government funding and for leveraging other funding from the private sector and from local partners such as housing associations, universities and colleges. There are currently 38 LEPs (varying in size, capacity and governance) across the UK, each with their own pool of grants and funding opportunities for local small businesses. 

LEPs also host Enterprise Zones, which are designated areas across the UK where tax breaks and government support are available for start-ups and growing businesses.

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