The Invest NI R&D Escalator is designed to guide businesses through the various streams of support and funding that is available for innovation and research and development (R&D).

We can help companies of all sizes to engage in innovation and R&D activities. From £5,000 Innovation Vouchers through to collaborative research and industry-led R&D at the top of the escalator, we are here to help.

Companies investing in R&D activities may also qualify for tax credits under the R&D Tax Credit Scheme which is managed by the Revenue Commissioners.

You can find the support available under each of these headings. The more R&D you have done the more likely you will be able to avail of the ones at the top of the list.

Competence Centres

Competence Centres

Competence Centres promote economic growth by bringing together universities, research institutes and innovative businesses to carry out strategic collaborative research in areas with a direct industrial focus. It is open to any company based in Northern Ireland or internationally, that wants to collaborate in applied research relevant to them at a reduced cost.

They offer companies an opportunity to develop new products, processes and services and bring them more quickly to global markets, as well as giving local businesses access to leading edge solutions and skills.

There are currently three Competence Centres operating in the following areas where Northern Ireland has significant strengths: connected health, sustainable energy, and agri-food.

The Connected Health Innovation Centre (CHIC) is delivering research in areas such as Smart Living, Medical Sensors, Point of Care Diagnostics and Healthcare Analytics. Watch a video about CHIC.

The Centre for Advanced Sustainable Energy (CASE) focuses on developing highly innovative technologies for the sustainable energy sector. The Centre supports companies to compete in the global sustainable energy market by funding industry-led research in Energy Systems, Bioenergy and Ocean energy.

Agri-Food Quest is supporting the Northern Ireland agri-food industry growth strategy through delivering collaborative research focused in the areas of Food Sustainability and Food Integrity and Quality. 

Horizon 2020 and EU funding

Horizon 2020 and EU funding

With European programmes you can link your business with other businesses, colleges, universities or organisations so that you can explore ways to exploit new market or research opportunities. We can help you access the following collaborative opportunities:

EU Horizon 2020 Programme

With €80 billion available the Horizon 2020 Programme is the main source of European funding for research and innovation. Collaborative projects require the involvement of partners from other EU Member States and involve a competitive process. We can help your business to identify the most appropriate opportunities within Horizon 2020. We can guide you on making an application and can even provide funding towards the costs of doing it. Watch top tips on submitting proposals from five experienced evaluators.


If you are interested in partnering on a close-to-market R&D research project with another company or companies in Europe the EUREKA network can help you identify partners, develop a collaborative project plan and  coordinate funding applications to research funding agencies in each relevant country.  In EUREKA you and your collaborating partners decide for yourselves on the subject-matter, scale and duration of your R&D project. To find out if you are eligible and how to apply, go to EUREKA.


Small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to partner on close-to-market R&D projects with another company or companies in Europe can apply to Eurostars Programme for research funding for the collaborative project.  Projects approved by Eurostars are eligible for up to 50% funding towards their costs.  For more information, go to Eurostars Programme.


COSME aims to make it easier for small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to access finance in all phases of their lifecycle – creation, expansion, or business transfer. Thanks to EU support, businesses have easier access to guarantees, loans and equity capital. EU ‘financial instruments’ are channelled through local financial institutions in EU countries. To find a financial institution in your country, visit the Access to Finance portal.

Enterprise Europe Network (EEN)

The Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) specifically helps small businesses to grow by:

  • finding other like-minded businesses to collaborate with on research or new product development
  • engaging in international business or export sales
  • advising on and accessing funding such as Horizon 2020
  • assisting modernisation and innovation within a business whether that be physical operations or business strategy

Find out more or visit the Enterprise Europe website

European Space Agency (ESA)

The European Space Agency promotes cooperation among European States in space research, technology and applications. Invest NI can help companies to successfully bid for ESA contracts.  To learn more about ESA and winning ESA contracts, go to European Space Agency.

Innovation Partners

Innovate UK

Innovate UK offers a range of opportunities for collaborative R&D through a competition based approach. We can keep you informed about new opportunities, help your business identify the most appropriate competition for your business, find the right partners and offer comprehensive guidance on the application process. We can also offer funding towards the cost of making an application if you meet certain eligibility criteria.

Watch this video to give you an idea of what Innovate UK do.

Find out further information about Innovate UK,

Collaborative Networks:

We can help to link your business with other private sector businesses, investors, researchers and academia so that you can explore ways to exploit market or research opportunities that will result in the development of new products, processes and services. Go to Find out more information about Collaborative Networks.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

If you have an innovative project that could benefit from university-based research and knowledge and a graduate to help you deliver it, you should talk to us about this programme.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within our universities and colleges. Find out more information about Knowledge Transfer Partnerships.

View the Knowledge Transfer Partnership brochure (PDF).

Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI)

Apart from grants and tax rebates, the public sector invests a huge amount directly in R&D to address its own challenges. Historically, this public sector procurement of R&D has tended to benefit large companies. However, there is a trend to channel more public money towards SMEs who often have more innovative and cost effective approaches to problems. A key mechanism to achieve this is the Small Business Research Initiative.

SBRI enables governments to act as an intelligent lead customer and drive innovation, leading to new product and service solutions to specific public sector challenges. SBRI is open to all size of businesses and organisations from pre-start-up to large companies and academia, providing they can show a route-to-market.

The programme is particularly attractive to small companies because it offers opportunities for contract research (and hence in most cases 100% funding) with a government organisation as a lead customer. Find out further information about SBRI.

Proof of Concept

The techstartNI Proof of Concept grant fund seeks to support entrepreneurs with grants directed towards exploring the viability and commercial potential of an innovative concept. The funding comes in the form of a "Concept" grant (of up to £10k) and a "Concept Plus" grant (of up to £25k). TechstartNI.

Investment Funds supporting R&D projects

Download a full list of the funds that are available (PDF).

R&D Funding

R&D Funding

Watch this video to help you see where you are on your Research and Development journey.

New to R&D

If you have not previously carried out any R&D, but have an idea for a new product or process that could help grow your business, and meet certain eligibility criteria, we can give you up to £50,000 to:

  • Investigate or plan your idea.
  • Make and test a prototype.
  • Experiment and refine your design.
  • Cover intellectual property costs.
  • Product or process development or improvements.

Follow-on R&D

For businesses that have some experience of R&D we can provide funding to help with:

  • Scoping, defining and planning an R&D project.
  • Research or critical investigation aimed at producing new scientific or technical knowledge.
  • Product or process development or improvements.
  • Development of leading edge technology.
  • Linking to a college or university to collaborate on strategically important projects.

To access this funding you must demonstrate that:

  • There are good commercial prospects for the end product, process or service, with realistic and effective routes to market.
  • You have the necessary management and technical expertise and resources, either in-house or brought-in, to make the project a success.
  • Financial assistance under the R&D grant is essential, and both the project and the business are financially viable.

Preparing for R&D

A product needs to work, have quality and customers must have a use for it. So product definition is a critical starting point for any new product. It will take in things like product concept, design specifications, target market and price points.

To better understand the product development process in its entirety read about the product development process.

To help with product definition we offer a Grant for Project Definition .It is an opportunity for the applicant to adequately plan and define the project. This can include:

  • A scientific and/or technical literature review.
  • Defining the market opportunity.
  • Defining the technical objectives and risks.
  • Defining the costs of the R&D and understanding the financial implications.
  • Determining the potential benefits.

It is initially acceptable for an applicant to sub contract a significant proportion of the exercise to a consultant, particularly where company size or lack of experience would make in house project definition exceptionally onerous.

However, one of the aims of the Project Definition is to engender in local small or medium-sized companies, appropriate project definition skills, and it will be expected that the applicant will contribute fully to the process.

As a guide, Project Definition assistance should normally be in the order of 5% -10% of the estimated total project costs of the main R&D project.

Proof of Concept

The Invest Northern Ireland Proof of Concept (PoC) programme supports the pre-commercialisation of leading edge technologies emerging from Northern Ireland’s research institutes. The financial assistance provided by the programme helps researchers to export their ideas and inventions from the laboratory to the global market.

Funding for a Proof of Concept project is capped at £100,000 of eligible costs. There are two strands to the funding – a technology strand of 12 months duration with maximum assistance of up to £80,000 and a commercialisation strand of 12 months duration with maximum assistance of up to £20,000, which will run in parallel with the technology strand. The grant covers up to 100% of eligible project costs.

Contact us and we can explore options for your business together.

Innovation Vouchers

Innovation Vouchers

You could be eligible for a £5,000 voucher to get expert help to do something new. Interested?

An Innovation Voucher worth £5,000 provides funding to small and medium sized businesses to work with an expert Knowledge Provider from a University, College or other Public Sector Research Body bringing new knowledge to help businesses innovate, develop and grow.

Typical projects we support include:

  • Ideas for new or improved products, processes and services.
  • Access to information and expertise on new materials.
  • Tapping into research and scientific expertise.

The programme is flexible and straightforward, letting you access expertise for many kinds of innovation projects.

Find out more information about the programme.

Not sure that this support is right for you?

Contact us and we can explore options for your business together.

Contact our
Business support team
0800 181 4422
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