SME Programme FAQs

About the SME Programme

What is the SME Programme?

The SME Programme, which sits alongside the ATI’s existing Strategic Programme, offers grants of up to £1.5m. The competitive funding programme is designed to maximise benefits to SMEs and support and encourage industrial investment into the aerospace sector and its supply chain, through the funding of innovative and high impact projects.

What is the funding intensity for the SME Programme? Is there a project-level funding cap?

The project level funding cap (60% of the total overall eligible costs of the project) applied to the ATI Strategic Programme will not apply to the ATI SME Programme. This is to incentivise smaller businesses to lead and participate in collaborative R&D.

The maximum funding rates individual organisations can claim will depend on the size and type of your organisation as defined by the UK government here.

  • A large company can claim up to 50% of their eligible costs
  • A medium sized company can claim up to 60% of their eligible costs
  • A small company can claim up to 70% of their eligible costs
  • A research institution can claim up 100% of their eligible costs

UK registered large businesses in the consortium can share up to 30% of the total project costs. If your consortium contains more than one large business, this maximum will be shared between them.

Detailed guidance can be found in the competition brief for the programme.
Please note the funding rates are a maximum rate, the funding the projects request should be the minimum amount to make the project viable. This is something DBT will review as part of their value for money assessment.

What is the budget for the SME Programme?

The planning assumption is that the ATI SME Programme will have a budget of up to £10 million a year. However, this will depend on the number and the quality of applications received.

Where is the funding for the SME Programme from?

Funding will come from the existing allocation of £685 million for the ATI Programme from the government for the years 2022/23 – 2024/25.

What support can I access to help with my application?

Support for applicants is available from the ATI Hub, through sessions such as technology clinics, SME Programme Clinics and briefing opportunities. Applicants also have the opportunity to submit a draft Outline Stage and draft Full Stage Application (if successful at Outline Stage) to receive feedback from the ATI technologists.

What other support is available to SMEs?

SMEs will have the opportunity to discuss the feedback to their application, with the ATI assessor(s) following the outcome notification for the Outline Stage. Details of how this can be arranged will be available in the outcome notification document. Applicants who submit a Full Stage Application will be provided with feedback from the ATI assessor, Innovate UK and DBT following the outcome notification.

Is the NATEP programme still open?

The NATEP 3 contract has now been delivered and the last funding round closed to applicants in Spring 2023. Aerospace supply chain organisations are invited to apply to the ATI SME Programme for funding to deliver aerospace R&D technology.

Will the ATI be continuing the Smaller Business Competition it has ran previously?

No – the SME Programme replaces the previous Smaller Business Competition, bringing additional funding and a simplified application process

Will my project be subject to 2.5% industrial contribution to the ATI?

No. The ATI SME Programme is exempt from paying industrial contributions.

Where can I find out more?

For all the details on the SME Programme, visit our dedicated webpage here.

Before commencing your application, we recommend viewing the SME Programme launch webinar from Tuesday 5th December 2023 below. The slides from the webinar are available to download here.


Who can apply to the SME Programme?

To apply to the SME Programme, you must be a UK registered SME or, a business of any size with at least one SME in the consortium. To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must be either, a business of any size, an academic institution, charity, not for profit, public-sector organisation, research and technology organisation (RTO).

Please see the competition brief on the SME Programme page for detailed guidance about eligibility and project consortiums.

Can SMEs apply on their own or do they need to collaborate with partners/other organisations?

Collaborative or individual applications are accepted for this competition. Collaborative projects are encouraged.

Do all members of a consortium need to be UK based organisations?

UK based organisations can claim grant funding as part of the consortium. If the project includes international partners, they can collaborate with the project but will not be eligible to receive grant funding.

If you’re a UK based SME owned by a foreign group are you still able to apply for these grants?

Yes. Although there may be some restrictions. Under current restrictions, this competition will not fund any procurement, commercial, business development or supply chain activity with any Russian or Belarusian entity as lead, partner or subcontractor. This includes any goods or services originating from a Russian or Belarusian source.

Can SMEs be involved in multiple applications, i.e., leading one and be involved with another one?

Yes. However, we will require evidence to ensure that the organisation has the capability to deliver commitments in all projects that they are involved.

Can you apply to the Strategic Programme and the SME Programme at the same time?

Yes. However, if you are successful in both, you can only accept one of the funding awards.

How can academia engage with the SME programme?

We encourage academic organisations to engage with SMEs and other industrial organisations to discuss collaborative projects and technology development. Applicants can refer to the ATI Hub or Innovate UK to find businesses to collaborate with.

Is there a maximum percentage of the consortium that can be academics as per the strategic batches?

This will depend on the project scope aligning with ATI’s Technology Strategy and the competition scope. The consortium must include at least one SME. We recommend you contact us to discuss to discuss the make up of your consortia application.

Can applicants use subcontractors and do they need to be UK based?

Yes, however all subcontractors must be based in the UK. In exceptional circumstances, if this is not possible, applicants must discuss and obtain approval on related costs from Innovate UK.

How can I check the eligibility of my proposed project costs?

All enquiries on subsidy control and the eligibility of enterprises and their proposed costs should be directed to Innovate UK Customer Support Services


Telephone: 0300 321 4357 to speak to an advisor.

Application process

How many stages does this competition have?

This is a two stage-competition. The Outline Stage opens three times per calendar year and is assessed by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) only. ATI will make recommendations to Department for Business and Trade (DBT). Based on ATI’s recommendation the DBT decides which projects proceed to the Full Stage Application. There is no funding in Stage One. All funding will be awarded in Stage Two.

Only successful applicants from the Outline Stage will be invited to proceed to the Full Stage Application, which is assessed separately by Innovate UK (IUK), the ATI, and DBT. More details can be found on the SME Programme page and the Programme Guidance.

When can I apply to the SME Programme?

Published competition dates can be found on the SME Programme page.

Will I need to sign the ATI SME Programme Agreement if I have signed the ATI Framework Agreement?

No. If you have already signed the ATI Framework Agreement as part of a project in the Strategic Programme, you are not required to sign the ATI SME Programme Agreement.

How can I submit to Full Stage Application (FSA) if I am successful at the Outline Stage?

FSA submissions are by invitation only. You will receive a submission link from IUK prior to the opening date of the upcoming FSA competition, following notification of a successful Outline Stage application from ATI.

When would successful applicants be expected to start the project? Can we make a start on the work before you make an award decision?

Applicants can only start the project once they have received the Grant Offer Letter from Innovate UK. Any costs incurred for the project, prior to this will be deemed ineligible.

If successful at the Outline Stage, do we have to go for the next FSA or can we wait until our plans are refined?

If you are successful at the Outline Stage, you must submit to one of the two upcoming Full Stage Applications. Otherwise, you will need to resubmit to the Outline Stage.

Can animations and video be used in the presentation?

No. Videos and animations are considered additional materials and cannot form part of your presentation.

If my organisation is currently outside of the aerospace industry, how important is it to show an aerospace industry track-record at the Outline Stage?

We invite applications from organisations with technologies which could have applications in aerospace including if your organisation has not operated in the sector before. Your application will be assessed on the following criteria by the ATI assessors:

  • your project’s alignment to the UK aerospace technology strategy
  • the proposed technology and innovation
  • the strength of your business and market case
  • benefits of your project to the UK

For more support on entering the aerospace sector, engage with the ATI Hub.


Is there any difference to the Strategic Programme with respect to the funding splits between larger and smaller aircraft?

No, the funding rules for the programme are the same regardless of the area of technologies within funding applications.

If a technology or projects hits multiple or even all three key areas, are SMEs required to choose one or can they apply on the basis they solve multiple?

Applicants should identify the key strategic alignment for their proposed technology and provide justification for the strongest alignment but indicate that other strategic areas may also be addressed.

Is aircraft connectivity capability or any other technology for data recorded onboard an aircraft included in the UK technology strategy Destination Zero?

Yes. Avionics technologies for flight deck communications and passenger connectivity systems are included in our Destination Zero roadmaps.

Are cargo aircraft/drones part of the programme?

No. The UK technology strategy Destination Zero focuses on commercial aircraft as these are the areas with the greatest economic and sustainability impacts.

In terms of aerospace structures, are more sustainable interior structures in scope?

Yes. Next generation cabin interiors and systems are included in our Destination Zero roadmaps.

Do you include buoyant aircraft that use lighter than air principles?

No. The ATI technology strategy Destination Zero focuses on commercial aircraft as these are the areas with the greatest economic and sustainability impacts.

Is mechanical testing technology to support validating materials and components working in hydrogen, and new materials for ultra efficient aircraft in scope?

Capital testing infrastructure is not in scope for the SME Programme, but novel industrial research for test methodologies for new materials and components may be considered.  Please engage via one of the ATI Hub Tech Clinics for further advice.

Is there a list of motor drives requirements/products/application in Non-Propulsion part of Aircraft/ATI?

Generally this includes flight controls, landing systems, cabin systems, etc. Engage with the ATI Hub Tech Clinics to discuss your technology and obtain guidance.

Are civil and leisure aircraft in scope?

The aircraft segments within scope of the UK technology strategy Destination Zero include eVTOL, sub-regional, regional, narrowbody and widebody. This provides multiple OEM opportunities as well as supply chain exploitation routes via Tier 1/2 organisations.

What is an example of an industrial research project?

A typical industrial research project could take a novel component from outline concept stage through design and testing to demonstrate suitability for end user requirements.  Another example would be for manufacturing process development where the objective would be to demonstrate a pilot line process readiness.

Do we have to check the TRL with the ATI?

No. As part of the, applicants should demonstrate that each technology is at a minimum of TRL3 and identifying the end TRL goal. If in doubt, please engage via one of the ATI Hub Tech Clinics.

If the environment that the technologies are deployed in is different, or the technologies have previously been developed for another industry then the TRL is considered to be lowered.