One way to get your project or business idea off the ground is to take advantage of the funding programmes available for people in the South West region. There are two key opportunities for creative business currently open, such as a £50k fund with Creative Catalyst, which closes next week on 15 February, and a £50k MyWorld Challenge Call delivered in partnership with Digital Catapult.

But it’s not easy to win funds and grants. There is a nack for submitting the applications, and specific rules for each programme. To get some dedicated advice on giving yourself the best chance of success, we caught up with Innovate UK EDGE Advisor, James Wheale.

Innovate UK EDGE provides funded growth support to help innovative companies scale and achieve their industry-and-society-transforming ambitions. The programme is sector agnostic, but James has a keen focus on the creative industries due to his particular skillset as an artist himself, as well as founding Stormjar, an immersive horror studio.

“Our bespoke, funded support provides a company with up to 35 hours of expertise from myself and additional specialists, depending on what the company’s needs are,” explains James. “It’s useful to think of Innovate UK EDGE as a gateway into the wider Innovate UK family of services, as there are many opportunities (not just project funds) such as support on intellectual property or help accessing international markets.”

As an Innovation and Growth Specialist, James’ role is to help businesses innovate, upskill, and become investment & funding ready. Well placed to provide this support, James tells us, “As a founder myself, I know it can be a lonely place to be. It’s easy to be consumed by the pressure of your own expectations and yet, it’s not like there’s a roadmap to follow. Innovate UK EDGE is really valuable because you can access expertise and scar tissue from experts who are specialists in their respective fields.

“For instance, I’m always amazed at the impact that excellent market research has. I’ve seen data uncovered with Innovate UK EDGE support cascade through a client’s decision making process to inform their funding bids, investment deck, and sales pitch. Creative funds like the ones highlighted are integral to catalysing innovation.”

Nurturing innovation 

Funding programmes help expedite the growth of our creative and tech industries. They enable talent to realise pioneering ideas and create the building blocks of successful companies.

“Innovation leads to competitive advantages – be it patents, processes, design, know-how, new markets identified, secret sauces and so on. Competitive advantages lead to a larger market share – more jobs, more tax revenue, more cash in the UK economy,” says James. “However, innovation takes resources and attention away from a business’ day to day activities. By providing funding, companies can access time and resources to develop innovations they’ve identified but lack the internal capacity to pursue.

“Increasingly, I’m valuing the ‘one, two’ punch of funding + business support (like Innovate UK EDGE) at the same time. This provides additional resources and expertise at a crucial time and can really help with those growing pains. Funders are looking for companies that meet the scope of their competition – this sounds painfully obvious but it’s the ‘meet’ part that catches applicants out.”

Securing the funding

So you want to make the most these opportunities, but how? Firstly, James emphasises how important it is to be true to your idea/ current business model: “It is far too easy to bend an idea you want funded around the criteria until it looks like a contender when in truth, it isn’t.” He explains you must meet their criteria by being specific, clear and evidenced, “What I mean here is use numbers, where possible, to do the heavy lifting; i.e ‘we’ve grown a lot this past year’ vs. ‘we grew by 38% last year’.”

A key piece of advice James underscores is to analyse the scope of any competition and ensure it does truly align with your needs.

“Grants aren’t free money, they can impact cashflow (if paid in arrears) or even be a distraction,” he says, “It is money to think and you need to be able to commit to that thinking time to get value out of the project. Also speak to the funder – there’s always a method of contacting them on their websites. If you are neurodiverse like me or have access considerations, again reach out to the funders – more and more they are investing in, and providing, accessibility support.”

Innovate UK EDGE is a great place to start when searching for grants and funding. James’ job is to stay up to date with opportunities and match clients with the best fit: “Often funding bids bring focus and interrogation to an idea and, even if unsuccessful, are an insightful, valuable journey.”

Resources in the region 

James highlights that with so much opportunity for support, it can be hard to know where to go first. The likes of Creative Catalyst, DCMS Create Growth, MyWorld, New Ideas Fund, Brigstow Awards and Innovate UK EDGE are all helping creative businesses. James explains that in a group founded by Briony Phillips, CMO at Rocketmakers and Investment Activator at techSPARK collaborator, he meets with regional funders, incubators and networks to help break things down. There are plans to run regular drop-ins across the WECA region to enhance this. You’ll be able to meet funders to discuss your needs – James promises to let techSPARK know once this is live, so watch this space.

“We, as funders, also struggle. Each organisation has a different remit, personality and challenges to overcome in funding and supporting businesses. I’m really proud that we meet and discuss these challenges and are working together to ensure knowledge and opportunities are easier to access.

“I am so impressed by the talent and drive at WECA, MyWorld, Watershed, Bristol + Bath, UoB, and UWE to work together – it’s far too easy for support to exist in silos. That level of communication is crucial so that we, collectively, can steer businesses to the support that is right for them, and ultimately, right for the region.”

If you’re looking to apply for an upcoming fund, James urges you to get in touch at