The intangible benefit of showing character in grant applications

September 28, 2021

Quantify, reference, state deadlines, dependencies, timely, SMART, concise, precise, measurable – these are the watch words of many grant writers, and rightly so. But we also know that many Investors rate team, ambition, personality and motivation as key decision-making factors – so should we as grant writers be putting more emphasis on showcasing the character of the team? And how can we do that with such limited space?!

This blog will give you some thoughts on why personality in grant applications is becoming increasingly important and how you can integrate this into your grant applications. 

Taking Innovate UK EDGE grant applications and in particular the Smart Grant, the required percentage score to secure funding has risen to 85% in 2021 (I remember when it was 70%). The questions are by and large the same – the information you need to provide has not changed – the scoring matrix the assessors use has had minor updates. So as an ambitious startup, funding hungry scaleup or established innovation-led business – how do we score over 85%? 

Just as a pointer, the EU grant scene is similar, with scores over 93% needed to secure grant funding in the majority of cases. 

Why to include personality in your R&D grant applications

The assessors are humans (for the time being) and have to read / review / mark an application in under 4 hours – that is 20+ pages of information to understand and assess (45 pages in the case of EU grants). In our experience, there is a ‘subconscious multiplier’ effect that moves a 7.9/10 to an 8.6/10 (and an 86% score = success). If you believe it (!), this multiplier can be improved right at the start of an application in a few ways, including showing some character or personality.

Solving Big Problems

Although you are most likely not going to get a chance to meet the assessors, you can greet the assessors – introduce them to the excitement your team has for this project, the project that they are about to spend the next few hours with.

There is limited space and the application questions demand certain points are covered. The difference between a success and nearly-ran comes down to subjectivity and if the assessor has bought into your team / motivation, you can achieve a boost throughout the application.

How to include personality in your R&D grant applications

Start early. The first thing assessors read is the Project Description (Innovate UK EDGE) or the Abstract (EU grants like EIC Accelerator). Why this project? Why this team? Why now? Why is your team going to succeed where others have tried and failed?

The introduction section of most grant applications is not scored – so you can be creative. Take the chance to talk about the team and tell the assessor why you are working together to solve this specific problem. Have you quit corporate jobs, dreamt of this since you were young or bootstrapped your way to this point? Have you built an awesome network or have you spent a few years building the dream team? Ok, don’t use the phrase ‘dream team”!

grant Funding Personality

Remember that the assessors will either be sector specialists (according to your innovation) or business people (with general business experience). This is not the place to talk about family and friends – rather the personalities in your team and why you choose to work in this sector. When did you have this great idea and what has the journey to this point been like? What amazing achievement did the team last celebrate and how?

In summary

Such high requirements to actually win grant funding would suggest applicants are getting stronger and the high quality of applications is reaching its peak. Of course – the most innovative idea, with its foundations in primary research, will secure the funding. but some deserving innovators will miss out unfairly. How can we keep improving our grant writing skills to even the playing field? Perhaps a bit of personality just might be that edge.


Alex has over 15 years of experience in founding and running businesses, the most recent company having raised over £50m in funding for businesses based across the globe. He has a thorough knowledge of business funding options and can draw on many successful consultancy engagements to bring impetus to venturing. Alex has now set his focus on working with entrepreneurial teams looking to make a positive impact on the climate crisis and the broader UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Contact Alex