A key to success in grant funding applications is “alignment”. How closely does what you are proposing to do fit with the expectations of the grant funder, as defined in the grant call or specification. As a grant assessor I frequently see applications that at best only align in the broadest sense with the grant call.

A call for novel coating technology for engine parts will attract everything from minor developments in standard engineering to novel engine designs. The clear focus on new coating technologies for engine parts is ignored; any engineering part seems to be fair game and the coating issue a bit of a side line.

There is however another side of “alignment” that those seeking grant funding often miss, namely what is the true nature of your R&D project. In the recent past I was approached by a company in the oil sector seeking an R&D grant for a novel drill bit. The key innovation in the drill bit was the sophisticated measuring capabilities of the head which were supported by equally sophisticated computer analysis of the data from the head.

The CEO had looked at European grants and said these now exclude R&D on fossil fuels and that no UK grants were currently open for oil technologies. The first thing to point out was that drill bits are not exclusive to the oil industry being used to drill for water and to profile rock strata for a variety of non-fuel activities. The drill head is “application neutral”, so a range of geological applications were open. Further, the sensing and measuring capabilities of the head were a key innovation as was the real-time processing of large quantities of data.

Through a series of discussions we established that the core of the R&D was about sensing and measurement. We further established that very large volumes of data were created and that the algorithms analysing this data flow to interpret the nature of the strata the bit was penetrating were entirely novel.

Following our discussion it was easily possible to direct the company to Horizon 2020 grant calls for advanced measurement technologies for which the “measuring head” was a very good fit and also to a number of “big data” calls, where the key element was the “real time” analysis of very large amounts of data. There was strong alignment between the proposed R&D and the contents of the calls.

I see myself as in the oil industry, the automotive sector, in environmental management or in medicine. However, in reality the problem I am trying to solve in my R&D is accurate measurement, surface technologies, data processing and communications. By recasting the problem and stepping outside the usual silos grant bids can align far better with calls for proposals.

It is hard to step outside your regular field of business. It is a challenge if you run a railway to see that you are in the transportation business not the railway business. So it is with R&D, we think in terms of our own businesses and commonly accepted sector definitions. Good alignment, better alignment is often achieved by recasting the nature of the problem. Some external advice, an alternative perspective may pay dividends in this regard.

H A Edwards - expert consultant to MSC R&D