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  • Writer's pictureMike Wynn

Duku master innovation funding process

Updated: May 25, 2023

Find out how your business can take advantage of the grants and funding available for your latest product innovation.

Duku Director, Andrew Aylesbury showcases latest EV charger for Innovate UK EDGE case study
Duku's Directors - Andrew Aylesbury & Alex Lee

Gaining funding to develop new projects can be a daunting and time-consuming process to navigate. There are numerous acronyms, forms and criteria to understand before finding a grant that might be suitable, leaving business owners feeling like they are trying to find a light switch in the dark.

Cheltenham-based product design consultancy Duku, established by product designers Andrew and Alex, has made considerable strides to ensure the region's pioneering businesses are in the best position to win funding for their latest innovations.

Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the company specialises in creating innovative design solutions and developing them through to production; helping over 500 start-ups, SMEs and large-scale companies including Whyte Mountain Bikes, Spirax Sarco and the NHS turn their design ideas into reality.

Duku's team have developed expertise in negotiating the tendering process for grants. in recent years, providing clients across a broad range of sectors with design work that has helped achieve over £5 million in funding. Duku themselves have also won several rounds of funding for their own innovations, including the UK's first fully accessible EV charger which launched earlier this year.

""When applying for funding opportunities, the process and questions are often broadly similar. Here are some tips we have learnt along the way," said Andrew

Brightspark bicycle indicators
Brightspark bicycle indicators



Government funding via Innovate UK provides targeted sectors with expertise and funding to test, demonstrate and evolve their ideas, driving UK productivity and economic growth.

There’s a perception Innovate UK only funds large tech corporations, but in fact, the organisation also offers a considerable amount of non-specific funding (e.g. SMART grants) as well as smaller funding opportunities. Recent examples include Women in Innovation and Fast Grants of up to £50k, which have been designed to be more accessible to a wider range of organisations. The size of the project or company is not so much of a barrier; it’s the quality and value for money to the taxpayer that is the real decider.

""From small-scale £10k feasibility studies to £3m+ multi-partner consortiums, we’ve learnt what grant funding is about and how it can transform a business idea", Andrew Aylesbury


There are other schemes the government offers to help reduce the outlay for businesses that are looking to innovate. The Patent Box scheme reduces corporation tax on profits if you have a granted patent on your new product. R&D tax credits can be used to recoup expenditures on development work. Lastly, there are regional Growth Hubs and Universities which o er advice and access to any relevant regional funding.

UE ONE – The world’s 1ST pop-up EV charger
UE ONE – The world’s 1st pop-up EV charger



Although your product may be a great idea, that isn’t enough in isolation to win funding. Grants need to be repaid through commercial success, job creation or export opportunities for the UK. Ultimately, as any investor will attest, it is about risk versus reward. Your application needs to demonstrate you understand that and don’t under or overplay the opportunity. Evidencing what you say will be key, if you think it will create revenue of £50m in year one and 100 new jobs, then you will need to show how you got to those figures.


You will be asked about more than just the idea in the application, including your financial forecasts, market opportunity, competitors, delivery team, intellectual property... the list goes on. Any questions you’re unsure about will become a weakness in your application, focus on those and seek advice until you can confidently answer every point.


Finding partners to work with is generally seen as a positive. It spreads risk, keeps everyone involved accountable and benefits more than one organisation. Ideally, finding a mix of development partners, academics, and stakeholders that represent the end user should be considered. If a company owns vital IP for your project, then bringing them in as a partner would make sense, however, make sure to approach them well before an application starts (not the week before!). Bear in mind they may need to input a significant amount of time and information themselves.


Not all funding or grants offer cash, some offer time from experts. This can be just as valuable to act as a sounding board and expand the opportunity. We’ve been fortunate to receive support from Innovate UK's EDGE and KTN programmes, giving access to experts that don’t have a vested interest in your business and will dig out the weak points in your plan, ultimately making it more investable or ready for funding.


Creating a professional and well-thought-out design is integral in giving you the best chance when pitching your idea. Whether this is a digitalised render created with computer-aided design or a physical prototype, it helps prove the viability of the idea and helps judges or potential investors understand your concept more easily.

Duku offers a complete product development service, combining design and engineering to give you the best possible chance of achieving funding and delivering the project.

"After winning Innovate funding, we needed a design company with the skills and experience to deliver the project. Duku reassured us that they would take care of the design and prototyping, fi nish it on time and to a high quality. Not only did they keep their promise, they also opened doors for us, introducing us to other funding opportunities, whilst also taking care of regulatory compliance and IP. Thank you, Duku!" Mirjana Prokic


Although there can be a limit to the number of times you can apply for certain grants, the feedback and score you receive will be valuable even if you’re not successful. It will give a good steer as to where the project needs more clarity or work.

Kitt Medical - Emergency Anaphylaxis Kits
Kitt Medical - Emergency Anaphylaxis Kits

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