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From idea to income: marketing your innovation

You may have come up with a product or service which is innovative and which meets a known need, or even a need which the marketplace doesn't yet realise it has, but which at this point it isn't doing anything to increase your revenue. You may not even be entirely sure how you are going to market it. You may think that this is something you can think about towards the end of the project, which you have something concrete to sell. If this is your belief, then you need to think again!


If you have managed to obtain grant funding for your project, you will know that the funding body wants to know about your exploitation (or commercialisation) plans from the outset. Many companies struggle to put together a document explaining how the company will increase its turnover and achieve the forecast return on investment (RoI) as a consequence of completing the project. Even if you don't have grant funding, it is important to think about your marketing plans right from the beginning of the project, and to put them in writing. Writing an exploitation plan need not be as daunting as it can sometimes sound, and is simply a matter of providing the answers to some straightforward questions.


•  What are you selling?

    o Describe your product or service. 

    o Describe any alternative uses or applications. 

•  Why should anyone buy it? 

    o  What is its USP? 

    o  Why would anyone want it? 

•  Who will you sell it to? 

    o  What is your intended market? 

    o  Where is your intended market? 

    o  How big is your potential market? 

    o  Who are your customers? 

    o  What, if any, are your alternative markets? 

•  How will you sell it? 

    o  What is your pricing and sales strategy? 

    o  What marketing methods will you use? 

    o  Where and how will you advertise and sell? 

•  What is going to stop you selling it? 

    o  Who is the competition and how do they compete with you? 

    o  Risk analysis, e.g., IP risks, customer traction, suppliers, resources, ... 

If you have answered all these questions, and updated the answers as your project makes progress, you will be in a better position to market your product, and will be able to demonstrate to investors and funding bodies that you have thought about these matters at the outset and continued to think about marketing your innovation throughout the life of your project.


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Risk registers - expecting the unexpected

If you are carrying out an R&D project, the unexpected will happen, which is why you will need a risk register. This is a useful tool in the management of any project. If you are receiving grant funding, it will probably be a part of the required documentation to be supplied to the funding body. 


Risk management is about planning for things which might not happen. Things which may cause a hold-up, but which you already know about (perhaps a key team member has booked extended leave for part way through the project), should already be incorporated in the project plan.


Some measures of a successful project are that the timings, quality and budget meet the set targets. Your risk planning should take a good look at what could go wrong (optimism has no place here); how you can reduce the risk or impact of predictable difficulties; and what you can do when things go wrong. The risk register should contain the answers to all three of these questions. 


What are the risks? 

  • Staff difficulties - management, sickness, recruitment, loss 
  • Project timeline - delays 
  • Supply/ sub-contract management - not delivering on time, poor quality, supplies unavailable 
  • Budget over-runs 
  • Project results not meeting expectations 
  • Disappearance of target market/ competitor getting there first. 

This is not an exhaustive list: there are likely to be additional risks unique to your industry or project. 


What can you do to offset predictable risks? 

  • Not all risks you have identified will become issues, but many risks can be managed by planning at the outset. What follows are simply suggestions: your planning will vary according to your project and circumstances. 
  • Staff - consider having staff shadowing all aspects of the project so that they can step in quickly, should someone become ill or leave. Also consider whether such provision will need to be added into project costs from the start. 
  • Timeline - Schedule additional time for parts of the project which are at risk of being more complex than originally expected. Suppliers/sub-contractors - set and agree deliverable dates at the start. Consider whether penalty clauses are appropriate and enforceable. 
  • Budget - carefully consider from the start where all your costs will be. Take hidden costs into account and do not underestimate the costs of management effort. 
  • Project results - carry out early testing to avoid unexpectedly disappointing results too late in the project's lifespan. have a test plan with performance targets at each stage. 
  • Marketing - plan in regular market reviews. Keep an eye on what trends are developing in your field. 

How will you handle the unpredictable? 

  • For every plan you have to counter risk, also have a back up. 
  • Keep a back up supplier list of people you can turn to if your chosen supplier or contractor cannot deliver. 
  • Be prepared to consider alternative materials or equipment if your original choice does not function as expected. In a staff crisis, be prepared to subcontract: have a list of people you can approach, and ensure that you have a clear, succinct project description and that your project plan and other documentation are clear and up-to-date so that a new team member can step in and quickly get up to speed. 

Keep your funding body informed! 

If your risks have become issues, or the unexpected has happened, tell your funding body sooner rather than later. In the area of risk management surprises are never a good thing, and a funding body which is kept informed of issues as they arise is more likely to be sympathetic than one which has been kept in the dark.




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Does it really help to get specialist advice when compiling bids for R&D funding?

Clearly as a provider of advice from small and large firms applying for R&D funding from organisations such as Innovate UK and Eu, we believe so!

But what do other people say? We aren't aware of any official statistics showing success rates of applications compiled with/without specialist help, but over the last few months we've heard a number of reasonably authoritative and public testimonies. The most striking was in a panel session at an Innovate UK's Annual Conference entitled 'What support is on offer to help your innovative business grow', where a speaker (apparently an application assessor) made the point that big companies often have access to bid writers (internal or external), while SMEs are more likely to try to write the bid themselves and end up missing out details that would be easy to supply but which they thought unnecessary. This can be the reason they don't get funding, and the discussion outcome was a strong suggestion from the panel that buying in bid writing services could improve a company's chances of making a successful bid. 


From our experience leaving out details is part of the problem; putting in too many details in one area at the expense of another can be equally dangerous, and hence the benefit of accessing the knowledge of people who can stand back, be objective, pull out the important detail from the client and think like the assessor. 





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