Comment: Healthcare SMEs funding landscape: an inside view

Raj Purewal, director of business development and partnerships at TRUSTECH, provides an inside view on the wide source of funding options open to entrepreneurs and SMEs targeting healthcare

Raj Purewal

For SMEs and entrepreneurs with an innovative healthcare idea, itís crucial to have an understanding of the funding landscape, as you may be eligible for finance that could kick-start the adoption of your product or service in the NHS.

After all, having the right finance in place can be make or break in these early stages.

Across the UK there are many funding initiatives in place, geographically and by specialism, to drive healthcare innovation; to inspire people to voice their ideas, and to boost potential adoption

An increased focus on healthcare innovation has led to significant investment, and across the UK there are many funding initiatives in place, geographically and by specialism, to drive healthcare innovation; to inspire people to voice their ideas, and to boost potential adoption.

The funding landscape for healthcare SMEs is, however, incredibly complex; and itís no wonder some find it bewildering.

Sources of funding include the EU, the UK Government, and NHS bodies, along with private investment.

Hereís a quick-fire round-up of what to look out for:

Grants

Often, grants are available to SMEs with products and services which address certain healthcare needs. They may also be available to businesses based in specific regions or for products at a particular stage of development.

Grants are highly sought after and awarded after a competitive application process. They are often made under the condition that certain targets are met and are usually accompanied by an extensive monitoring process. These Ďtranslationalí funding schemes help bridge the gap between research output and commercialisation. But the funds required to help maximise commercial opportunity for companies with market-ready products often go beyond what can be provided by translational schemes.

As well as grants, remember there are other awards, loans, venture capital and advisory programmes.

Regionally, some Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) hold funding competitions designed to assist local SMEs to develop their products and innovations, or to support clinical trials

National and international

Funding is made available at both national and regional levels. The EU, for example, provides financial assistance to bodies and funding schemes across the UK via the Regional Development Fund, which aims to stimulate economic growth.

Look out, too, for Innovate UK, which reports to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), because it holds a variety of funding calls for SMEs with products at all stages of market-readiness. These schemes are often run in collaboration with other national bodies like the Office for Life Sciences using money granted by BEIS and the Department of Health and are designed to help address specific healthcare needs, such as Alzheimerís or cardiovascular health.

Other national funding opportunities are available from charities such as the Health Foundation and Wellcome Trust, or NHS organisations like the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and SBRI Healthcare. Grants here can range from tens of thousands to several million pounds, so it is advisable to explore whatís available.

In your area

Regionally, some Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) hold funding competitions designed to assist local SMEs to develop their products and innovations, or to support clinical trials.

AHSNs were established by NHS England in 2013 with the task of spreading innovations across their regional health and social care systems at pace. There are 15 across England, each operating different programmes and addressing their regionís specific healthcare needs. Tapping into this resource on your doorstep is invaluable.

TRUSTECH runs funding calls on behalf of Health Innovation Manchester, an organisation which includes Greater Manchesterís AHSN. Some of these funds support early stage developments, typically collaborative projects between universities and NHS partners. Others are designed to support proof-of-concept and prototyping activities, or SMEs which are collaborating extensively with NHS partners to develop their products and introduce them into the health and social care system.

How to identify funding opportunities

Keep an eye out in the national and healthcare media for published funding opportunities, connect with the organisations above, and also ask the experts who have knowledge of the most-recent changes to the funding landscape, and present the latest funding opportunities available to the healthcare organisation.

There are organisations that provide funding navigation to the NHS, and healthcare SMEs across this complicated landscape to help with sourcing and applying for the right type of funding stream. These experts often have access to the tools that allow for appropriate funding opportunities to be listed according to amount, type, source, geographic scope, status and schemes that have been newly added or modified.

Funding opportunities are identified through searches on key criteria, and can be narrowed down to details such as: who you are, your location, what you are doing, and who your beneficiaries are. This type of detailed search ensures that the results you get fit your set up.

TRUSTEC, for instance, has advanced systems that allow filtering of results at the listing stage according to funding amount, funding type, funding source, geographic scope, status and those schemes that have been newly added or modified.

With our health and care clients, the toolís search mechanism also identifies funding opportunities for up-and-coming projects, and its search facilities enable healthcare staff to scan tailored reports for a programme or provider, without a particular project in mind.

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