Well, I’m back on the road with the TSB once more, with a trio of events around the country promoting two upcoming Creative Industries funding competitions: Innovation in location-based services and Enhancing the value of interactions with digital content. (For the record, I’m one of the team who scoped the latter call, which I’ve blogged about in some detail previously). We’re in Manchester this morning and Bristol tomorrow, but we kicked off on Tuesday in London, at the lovely Kings Place in Kings Cross.

The day morning was hosted by TSB’s Matt Brown – now a veteran of these briefing events – who introduced proceedings and quickly handed over to Lech Rzedzicki to talk through the “Enhancing” competition. Details about the call are all here, but some of the headlines from Lech’s presentation were:

  • This is a collaborative R&D competition, open to consortia formed of companies of all sizes.
  • The TSB can supply up to 60% of funding to SME-led projects.
  • The projects must be business-led.
  • The call introduces the concept of the accumulated online self (again, see my blog post for more on that).
  • We’re thinking of personal data as a personal asset.
  • We’ve deliberately left the definition of value pretty open – but more on that in a moment.

Lech was followed on by Tom Fiddian, also from the TSB, who talked about the Location-based services call. Tom outlined that submission should seek to do one or more of the following:

  • Optimise the relationship between the user and the local environment,
  • Integrate multiple data sets to create unique and niche services.
  • Create uninterrupted user journeys combining satellite and indoor data.

Lech and Tom then took questions from the floor, and some of the areas covered included:

  • The LBS call was concentrated on adaptations of existing technologies, rather than build new ones.
  • The retail sector was definitely a key one for LBS, though certainly not the only one.
  • The TSB never forces the publication of commercially sensitive information; in fact applicants get to say exactly what goes into the “public description”.
  • Overseas collaborators are discouraged, although if strictly necessary, overseas contractors can be used.
  • There is some overlap between the calls – so be careful about which one you go for – TSB won’t move them across.
  • This is funding for industrial research – it is not about funding market-ready product or even a prototype. However, it was accepted that in the digital realm it’s difficult to draw strict lines between proof of concept, prototype and beta.
  • TSB funding isn’t there to cash flow a company – rather to fund a research project which otherwise might not get off the ground.

We then had very clear step by step walk-throughs of the application and funding process from the TSB Competitions Team’s Jonathan Else and Sarah Vodden. I won’t go into these in any depth as they’re highly detailed; best to read the documentantation and watch the video recording of the presentation, which I’ll point to us soon as it’s up. I will just reiterate what Jon said at the head of his presentation, that an ideal project would:

  • Represent a clear commercial opportunity.
  • Rise to a real technical challenge.
  • Meet a defined market or user need.
  • Have an end product.

Sarah and Jon then took questions from the floor, and topics covered included:

  • What happens if budget costs change during the life of a project, and the role of the monitoring officer in clearing this.
  • How PAYE is covered in micro enterprises.
  • There are some changes to the funding guidelines – so if you’ve applied before, watch out! (But note that there are no changes to the IP rules.)
  • Marketing is not an eligible cost, but marketing staff can be used to deliver a project; furthermore, market research is an eligible cost – although if it looks like it’s taking up a large part of a project then that might raise questions about the nature of the project itself.
  • Assessors don’t see the finance form; the detail on these is overseen by the TSB competitions team.
  • Once again, there is no compulsion to release commercially sensitive information at all.
  • The Catapults can be consortium partners.

I then introduced Anthony Sheehan, whose project Near You Now has just received its second round of TSB funding. Tony talked openly and honestly about the process of delivering one of these projects, from the application through delivery to post-project evaluation. He also gave potential candidates 10 top tips:

  • Ensure fit with the scope
  • Strong consortium lead is essential
  • Clearly explain what your project will do and for whom
  • Answer the questions
  • Don’t waffle
  • Use sub-headings & sections
  • Avoid long passages of unbroken text
  • Don’t miss any opportunity to collect points
  • State clearly what TSB funding will enable that would not otherwise happen
  • You are not owed anything
  • Estimate how long you think you will need to write the bid, double it, then start a week earlier than that..
  • Be ready for post-notification due diligence

We finished off the morning with a panel comprising Lech, Tom and myself, ably chaired by our good friend Dr Rachel Jones. The session aimed to flesh out some of the conceptual areas covered by the calls, and we quickly got stuck into a series of interesting conversations that covered IP, content monetisation, just what “location” can mean and some tricky issues around personal data. Of course, we also got stuck into a few more thorny questions around the TSB process (I was happy to let Matt, Lech and Tom handle them!)

All in all, a lively morning; from the tenor of the discussions over lunch I think we’re going to see some fascinating submissions.

And we’re doing it all over again here at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and tomorrow in Bristol at the Watershed. If you’re at either event, come and say hello.