• Status: Closed

  • Key features: Investment of up to £1m in businesses with innovative R&D projects connected to the Harwell space cluster in Oxfordshire

  • Programme: Launchpad

  • Award:

  • Opens: 21 Jan 2013

  • Registration closes: 06 Mar 2013

  • Closes: 08 Mar 2013

  • Support phone number: 0300 321 4357

Harwell Space Launchpad

Competition results

The results of this competition are now available; click here for a PDF of the winning project proposals.


Technology Strategy Board is investing up to £1m in businesses with innovative R&D projects connected to the Harwell space cluster in Oxfordshire.

The competition aims to accelerate innovative projects towards commercial success and stimulate the development of the cluster by encouraging high-growth companies to engage with it.

This Launchpad competition not only provides SMEs with funding for R&D projects but supports the growth of their businesses through connections with mentors and expert advisors, as well as increasing access to the investor community and ecosystem around Harwell. We want to draw companies, investment and people into the Harwell space cluster, and to encourage networking, cooperation and business support services to strengthen it.

We are therefore looking for companies with space projects that:

  • may be too risky to take forward without any support or that may take them into new innovative areas
  • will carry out significant elements of the project in the Harwell area.

We are funding UK companies – pre start-ups, start-ups, micro, small and medium-sized businesses - to carry out space R&D projects from proof-of- concept to prototyping and even user- facing trials. We will fund up to 50% of the total project costs, dependent upon the category of R&D involved.

In this competition, we want applicants to determine a long-term funding strategy that will meet the needs of their business, based on a solid business rationale. We expect this rationale to determine the size of the project the company applies for.

Projects may range in size, but the maximum grant we will offer for any one project will be £100k. An integral part of Launchpad is the offer of support to help applicants raise additional new external finance that we expect will be needed to fully fund the project and its subsequent commercialisation.

The competition is aimed at single companies or collaborations between SMEs. To apply companies should put together a two-minute video proposal outlining their idea.

The competition opens for registration and uploading video proposals on 21 January 2013

The deadline for video submission is noon on Thursday 6 March 2013


The 2010 Space Innovation and Growth Strategy, has set the objective of growing the UK space sector from £7bn today to £40bn by 2030. To achieve this, significant new business is required and not all of this will come from those already working in the sector. 
This competition aims to stimulate new entrepreneurs and high-growth SMEs that engage with Harwell, as the UK's centre for space activity. The recent addition of the Satellite Applications Catapult centre, plus the European Space Agency (ESA), Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and RAL Space at the Harwell campus has seen it go from strength to strength. Many more innovators are doing business there and this competition will encourage use of the facilities and expertise at the Harwell cluster as it develops. 
Networking, clustering and knowledge sharing are essential to the success of the space and satellite applications industry, and concentrations of expertise and talent can achieve much more than isolated companies. 


The technical scope for this competition is quite open. We will offer funding to innovative projects that aim to develop a space product or service (both upstream and downstream), on the journey from proof-of-concept towards a prototype and, if appropriate, a user- facing trial.
It is expected that downstream satellite applications (using space data) will form a significant component of applicants as these businesses are typically small and agile, are not capital- intensive and can bring products to market and scale very quickly. They are therefore particularly suited for the type of support that Launchpad can provide. Other space technologies and hardware propositions are also applicable. 
The competition is open to SMEs and pre-start-ups across the UK. We are focusing on the Harwell space cluster, and we encourage companies and pre start-ups that will be engaging with the cluster to apply. Applications may be from individual SMEs or from collaborative consortia of SMEs. While some businesses may choose to re-locate to Harwell, this is not a requirement and the clustering criteria can be met through a number of ways including: 
  • significant elements of the project work to be undertaken at Harwell 
  • significant use of the facilities at Harwell eg, the Satellite Applications Catapult, RAL Space, ESA
  • location/relocation (of business or project staff) to the Harwell campus 
  • collaborating with current residents of Harwell. 

Funding allocation and project details

We will fund up to 50% of project costs – depending on the type of research carried out in the project. The maximum value of our grant is £100k for any one project. We are expecting total project costs to range from £50k to £400k. The two categories of R&D funded under this competition are: 
  • Experimental development projects are funded in Launchpad competitions at 35% for medium-sized enterprises or at 45% for small companies and address activities aiming at the conceptual definition, planning and documentation of new products, processes or services. This includes commercially usable prototypes and pilot projects. For example, a business might develop a prototype for a new earth observation service. 
  • Feasibility studies are funded at 50% for all SMEs and are for concepts that require an initial study prior to undertaking a subsequent experimental development project. For example, a business might undertake a study into a satellite communications solution that it would hope to later develop and commercialise.
It is expected that most applicants will not initially have available funds to cover the full cost of the project, and that they will assemble this finance within 12 months from external sources prior to starting their project.
These external sources of funding are likely to come from both traditional and alternative sources, including equity investment from business angel, venture capital or corporate investors, debt finance from banks or other lenders, and development contracts with customers, suppliers or other suitable partners as best meets long-term funding needs.
The objective is that each successful applicant should have a funding strategy that will enable long-term growth by the end of the programme. This Launchpad competition will support the process of accessing the finance needed to complete project funding through a winners' event with potential sources of private sector finance present and through contacts available through this programme.
At this event large and global companies, and universities, will have the opportunity to take part in projects either as unfunded partners or as investors. 
The costs of using the Harwell facilities and office space will be considered to be eligible costs within the projects. 
Pre start-ups, start-ups, micro, small and medium-sized businesses across the UK are eligible to apply for this competition. The definition of SME is as set out by the EU.
Projects may last up to 12 months.

Application process

This competition is being run in two stages:

1. Video submission

From 21 January 2013, applicants will be able to submit a two-minute video describing their ideas, which will be accompanied by a brief application form. The video should address: 

  • the challenge or opportunity being tackled and why it is important 
  • the approach that will be taken and how it is innovative 
  • the relationship to the Harwell space cluster 
  • how the solution will be commercialised and what impact it could have if successful 
  • why the Technology Strategy Board investment is needed. 
The videos will be confidential and only accessible by Technology Strategy Board staff and an independent panel of expert assessors. 

2. Written proposal

On the basis of independent assessment, the best video ideas will be shortlisted and invited to submit a written proposal through an application form. These will be assessed by a panel of experts, with the highest quality applications attracting a letter of intent to fund from the Technology Strategy Board. 

Business support and presentation to potential investors 

We will offer the best proposals funding at the level applicable to the specific category of R&D, up to a maximum grant of £100k. We also recognise that projects will benefit considerably from access to additional business support, including access to new external sources of financing to fund their projects and commercialise their innovative ideas. We will work closely with other organisations in the Harwell cluster (including the Satellite Applications Catapult, ESA and STFC Innovations) to offer successful applicants a programme of support and connection with mentors to help them develop commercial aspects of their businesses. 
The Launchpad will support winners in developing a financing strategy and the credibility of the letter of intent to fund from the Technology Strategy Board is valuable in accessing additional finance. We will help companies gain funding needed to match our grant offer and to exploit their projects through a funding event involving key sources of external finance including business angels and venture capitalists.
We would hope that this business support programme and opportunity to present to investors will enable most projects to access the additional funding that they require, but if they are not successful here the companies will have 12 months to find the matching funds elsewhere, and so take advantage of our funding commitment. 
Companies that submitted a written proposal but to whom we did not offer funding will also be invited to present at the funding event. We hope that they will also be able to attract the attention of the investors.

How to apply 

When the competition opens on 21 January 2013 all the information on applying (including the essential Guidance for Applicants) will be available. Applicants will be able to upload their videos from this date. 

Key dates

Stage 1

Competition opens for registration and videos to be uploaded: 21 January 2013 noon
Briefing event for potential applicants at Harwell: 31 January 2013
Deadline for videos to be uploaded: 6 March 2013 noon

Stage 2

Shortlisted applicants invited to submit written proposal: 25 March 2013
Deadline for written proposals: 8 May 2013 noon
Successful applicants informed: 14 June 2013

Business support and presentation

Business support programme: July and August 2013
Presentation to potential investors: (late summer/early autumn) 2013

Further information

For more information about this and other competitions, please see Funding Competitions or join the community on _connect


As part of the application process all applicants are asked to submit a public description of the project. This should adequately describe the project but not disclose any information that may impact on intellectual property, is confidential or commercially sensitive.
The titles of successful projects, names of organisations, amounts awarded and the public description will be published once the award is confirmed as final. Information about unsuccessful project applications will remain confidential and will not be made public. 
E-mail pressoffice@tsb.gov.uk with any queries.