Supporting innovation within the Black Country, a discussion with Ernst and Young

Black Country Growth Hub: In Conversation

Recently our Productivity Lead, Dan Carins, sat down (virtually, of course) with Maciej Van der Steen who is a senior manager within the Innovation Incentives team at Ernst and Young (EY).

The team at EY are dedicated to helping companies secure public funding for innovation investment activities, that's all the way from R&D credits to Patent Box and Innovation Loans and anything to help them realize their plans.

During the discussion, Dan asked Maciej a few questions to understand how to help Black Country businesses access funding for innovation projects or ideas.

You can watch the video by pressing play below or by clicking here.

What can be done to help businesses apply for funding from organisations such as Innovate UK?

Maciej said:

It's really having a clear think about what drives your business. Funding is there not for the sake of funding but for the sake of helping a business grow.

I think the starting point should always be:

- Where are we as a company?

- What is it that we can do?

- Where do we want to go with this?

- What are the innovative ideas?

- Which idea will set us apart from other businesses?

- Which idea will drive our business forward if done well?


Utilising grants

There may be grants you can then use that fit the description which you can use to overcome those problems. That way essentially you have a starting point to look at when it comes to how you can prepare and benefit from it.

It's really understanding what it is you need to do, because essentially grant application is deceivingly simple.

You need to reply to about 10 questions which sounds really easy. But when you sit down and you sort of try and reply to them, you run the risk of “I did not know what to put there” because you haven't really thought through what you want out of it, or you answer each of the 10 questions individually, which is great but they don't glue together that tight. So you always need to start from a very strong innovation point that almost underpins your business, if that makes sense.


If a company has seen a grant or more generally wants to take advantage of grants, they might be able to get involved in a partnership. They might not have an idea themselves but they could put forward their services as part of a consortium – in this scenario, what can the company do and what should they think about?

That's a really interesting point. If a company feels that they have certain skills that they can be using in a different way, or maybe that could be a benefit to other people there are a few things that they can do. 

They can have a look at the typical companies that fit their profile. For instance, if you have 3D modelling skills for manufacturing but you don't do any additive manufacturing yourself, you can look at the funding databases to see who has had funding for additive manufacturing and then see if you can approach them to see if maybe they want to do a future project with you. That's one way.

The other way is to go through the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN), which is an organization related to Innovate UK. KTN can help broker relationships between different companies.

And thirdly companies can speak to us (EY) and we may know if there's a there's a project being formed that can actually link this specific company.

There are multiple ways but I would always say you need to be proactive and make yourself visible, as other companies may not be aware of you.


As innovation support isn’t limited to grants from Innovate UK, what wider things can businesses think about that EY or others could help them with?

Aside from grant funding and R&D tax credits, Innovate UK is the main body administering business-led research grants. However, there are also non-business lab research grants which go through the wider UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and research councils but then local enterprise partnerships can also provide funding support for investment projects for training programmes.

There are other programmes that can help companies reduce heat and energy use within the process - so there's a really wide range of grants available that can support businesses - you just need to know where to find them.


The Black Country has its own Local Enterprise Partnership, click here to go to their website and find out more about them and how they could help your business. Alternatively, you can also contact our team who will listen to your thoughts and ideas, they can then put you in touch with the relevant people.


As you mentioned businesses can contact you at EY, what kind of businesses do you typically work with and have you expanded this recently?

I would say that normally we work with a wide range of businesses from small businesses (including pre-profit) to very large businesses. Typically, we find that the lower end of the businesses we work with is 10 to 15 people.

It's more the project size that we look at than actually the business size if that makes sense. Usually, we like to see projects of about £250,000 grant upwards but right now with the current situation with COVID-19 coming in we recognize that there are lots of businesses who have really interesting ideas who may be smaller than that so essentially we've removed any sort of bottom.

So, we can work with anybody even if it's a £50000 grant if we feel it can help with this COVID-19 situation and we're happy to help the company.

To summarise:

- A great starting point is to identify any challenges you could face

- Grant applications are simple, even if they seem daunting at first

- The key is to link your answers together to show a bigger picture

- Grants are available from different sources, not just Innovate UK

- Even if you have the skillset but no ideas, you can work with other businesses

- KTN are a great go-between for businesses

- Businesses of all sizes can contact us or EY for further support with an idea


If you’d like to find out more about EY or contact Maciej directly, here are his contact details:

Maciej van der Steen

England Grants Lead

T: + 44 20 7951 2518

M: + 44 7824 551 441



If you are looking for support regarding innovation, whether it is related to the current COVID-19 disruption or not, please do get in touch with us and we will be happy to point you in the right direction towards relevant grants or more general ongoing support.

Don’t forget, our support is completely free and impartial and you can reach us at or on 0300 770 2245