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Innovators and small businesses welcomed to defence by SBRI

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You are an innovator and have a great idea that will benefit defence. How do you find a way into the market and find advice and support to develop your idea and take this forward to success?

Enter the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) which has already awarded 2,200 contracts valued at over £270 million since April 2009, generating new business opportunities for many companies and benefiting more than 70 government organisations.

The SBRI helps businesses by awarding contracts to research and develop new products or services for the public sector. This includes initial funding of around £50,000 to £100,000 to test out an idea and further contract awards of up to £1 million to develop the idea.

With MOD as a customer, businesses are able to shape their technology to fit a real need and gain more insight into the defence market, whilst retaining the Intellectual Property rights once the contract is complete. MOD also identifies areas where innovative ideas are needed to meet specific needs. These are run through competitions, which are open to all businesses, with the scheme’s structure making it especially suitable for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The scheme is not just for established  business either – even pre start ups are eligible (although they need to register as a business if awarded a contract).

Key features for innovators

  • Fast track, simple application process
  • Fully funded development contract - not a grant
  • Particularly suitable for SMEs
  • Retention of Intellectual Property rights
  • Freedom to develop and sell in other markets.


A recent competition for defence was run through the Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) in association with UK Defence Solutions Centre, as part of the Defence Growth Partnership Innovation Challenge. The Autonomy and big data in defence competition was looking for research proposals for innovative component technologies and techniques, which address the challenges associated with big data in defence - in military environments, such as air, land and at sea.

Previous successes in the military environment include Intelligent Textiles which developed an ‘e-jacket' that reduces the weight carried by infantry soldiers by streamlining the huge number of batteries they carry. ITL-uniform-with-headset_53_webElectronics are woven into fabric, creating a flexible circuit board that connects together all of the soldier's equipment. Autonomous Surface Vehicles have also benefitted from SBRI support, helping the successful unmanned marine systems C-Enduro-007x188business to find a way to move into the market for oceanographic research. The Portsmouth based company is now taking orders for the C-Enduro unmanned surface vehicle developed as a result of the competition run by the SBRI and the National Oceanography Centre, supported by Innovate UK.

But SBRI is not just for research, it can help with development and products. DE&S, MOD's equipment procurement organisation, has recently placed 24 contracts (combined value £1.8M) through SBRI's innovation mechanism.

These contracts have the potential to provide innovative solutions to three key Departmental Challenges to improve Front Line Command capability. The three challenge themes were:

  • Enhanced Individual Protective Equipment for harsh, hostile and toxic environments
  • Reducing the cost of Ownership of Fuels and Lubrication
  • Developing new approaches to Non-Destructive Evaluation

Find out more about the Small Business Research Initiative in the latest edition of Defence Science - MOD's magazine for science, technology and engineering.

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