R&D project collaborators

Collaborator or Subcontractor – which is better for R&D grant funding?

Recent Innovate UK R&D grant competitions have favoured collaborative projects. In many of these, it’s mandatory that larger value projects are collaborative. So – what’s the difference between subcontractors and collaborators when it comes to an R&D grant competition?

The key issues are commitment to project outcomes and value-for-money. A subcontractor, providing services to an R&D project, is potentially less committed than a collaborative partner.

How so?

A subcontractor generally delivers a set piece of work for a specific price. If things change, they expect to requote for a new piece of work. If the project hits snags, the additional subcontracting costs may extend beyond the project’s budget impacting the whole viability of the project.

Subcontractor costs and profitability are totally opaque to an assessor. Consequently, subcontractors are often perceived as poor value by assessors. They’re seen as a waste of Public Sector money…

However, a collaboration of two or more partners working towards a common project goal is perceived more positively. A collaborative partner typically has bought into the business idea and is investing their resources into the project alongside the lead partner. A collaborator is equally committed to achieving the project outcome and, if the project hits hurdles, will adjust their effort to achieve the best outcome possible within budget constraints. Collaborative partners add value to a project – rather than just costs.

The upside of being a project collaborator is that you have greater involvement in steering the project direction than a subcontractor would have. Depending on the collaborative agreement between project partners, you get to keep your own intellectual property (IP) derived from the collaborative project; and potentially share in the project outcomes via, for example, royalties on sales.

Acting as a collaborative partner doesn’t mean losing money either. Total costs (including overhead costs) of all collaborating partners contribute to overall project costs – including attending Innovate UK project monitoring meetings. And, of course, attract grant money from Innovate UK at the appropriate percentage rate.

The good news is that collaborations often lead to better outcomes – the end result is often a better solution than would otherwise have been created solely. And that’s got to be good!

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