SME Programme

A funding programme tailored to the needs of SMEs to strengthen and further encourage technology innovation within the supply chain and civil aerospace sector.

About the SME Programme

This competitive funding programme is designed to maximise benefits to SMEs and to support and encourage industrial investment into the aerospace sector and its supply chain, through the funding of innovative and high impact projects.

The SME Programme is coordinated and managed by:

  • Department for Business and Trade (DBT)
  • Innovate UK (IUK)
  • Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI)

View a recording of the SME Programme launch webinar from Tuesday 5th December 2023 on YouTube, and download the slides here.

Page updated 3rd April 2024

Key information

Funding type Grant
Project size Total grant funding request must not exceed £1.5 million
Project duration Projects must be between 12 and 36 months in duration
Next Outline Stage
competition dates
View future competition dates below
Outline Stage draft applications: Now open
Outline Stage opens Monday 10th June
Outline Stage closed Wednesday 26th June
Eligibility and interview notifications: Friday 28th June
Next Outline Stage
Pitch Panel dates
Selected applications will be invited to attend a Pitch Panel on one of the following dates:
Day 1 Monday 8th July 2024
Day 2 Tuesday 9th July 2024
Day 3 Wednesday 10th July 2024
Outcome notification date: Tuesday 16th July 2024


Support from the ATI Hub

Support for applicants to the SME Programme includes clinics with ATI Technologists, themed innovation workshops and guidance on how to prepare a strong Pitch Panel presentation and Full Stage Application. The ATI Hub can also generate new connections which could become consortia applications to the SME Programme.

Application Process

Process Timeline

ATI SME Programme Agreement

All applicants (including project partners) to the SME Programme must read and sign the ATI SME Programme Agreement. To avoid delays later in the process we recommend doing so as early as possible, but it must be completed no later than 30 days after FSA Notification. This link will take you to our secure page where you can read and sign the document. Your digital signature will be reviewed by the ATI team, and you will receive confirmation via email once the validation process is complete.

Draft Outline Stage Application

The optional ATI Outline Stage Draft Review process allows you to receive feedback on your application prior to submission. Please note that submitting a draft application to the ATI is not a substitute for applying to the Outline Stage competitions. You must apply to the formal Outline Stage competition to be considered for the competition.

Start Application

Begin your Outline Stage application to the SME Programme.

Stage one

Outline Stage (OS)

Opens three times per calendar year and your application is reviewed by the Aerospace Technology Institute only. DBT is responsible for the decision to progress your OS applications to Stage two based on the Aerospace Technology Institute’s recommendation. There is no funding in this phase, funding will be awarded in Stage two.

Stage two

Full Stage Application (FSA) (invitation only)

If you are successful in the Outline Stage, you will be invited to apply to this competition. Further details can be found on the Innovate UK website here.

In applying to this competition, you are entering into a competitive process.

Published competitions close at 11:00 (UK time) on the deadline stated.

Funding type

Grant (awarded through Innovate UK in Stage two)


Our planning assumption is that grants totalling up to £10 million a year will be allocated to successful projects through this funding stream. However, this will depend on the number and the quality of applications received.

Individual partners that are conducting commercial or economic activities as part of the project, which may include research organisations, can request grant funding of up to:

  • 70% if you are a small or micro organisation
  • 60% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • 50% if you are a large organisation

For more information on company sizes, please refer to the company accounts guidance. This is a change from the EU definition unless you are applying under State aid.

At least 50% of the total eligible project costs must go to micro, small and/or medium business in your consortium.

UK registered large businesses in your 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.

Research participation

The UK registered research organisations in your consortium undertaking non-economic activities can share up to 30% of the total project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum will be shared between them. Of that 30% you could get funding for your eligible project costs of up to:

  • 80% of full economic costs (FEC) if you are a Je-S registered institution such as an academic
  • 100% of your project costs if you are an RTO, charity, not for profit organisation, public sector organisation or research organisation

Funding restrictions

Organisations that are in financial difficulty will not be awarded grant funds. Innovate UK will conduct financial viability and eligibility tests at the application stage.

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

Who can apply?

This competition is open to any registered organisations in the UK looking to develop technology for the civil aerospace sector. Applicants may apply as individual organisations or as a part of a consortium.

Lead organisation

To lead a project your organisation must:

  • be a UK registered SME or, a business of any size with at least one SME in the consortium.
  • carry out your aerospace research project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • address the specific requirements of the UK’s Aerospace Technology Strategy
  • sign up to the ATI SME Programme Agreement
  • claim funding

Collaboration or single applications are accepted for this competition. Collaborative projects are encouraged.

More information on the different types of organisation can be found in our Funding rules. Research Organisations cannot lead.

Project team

To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must be one of the following UK registered:

  • business of any size
  • academic institution
  • charity
  • not for profit
  • public sector organisation
  • research and technology organisation (RTO)

Your organisation must:

  • carry out its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • be invited to take part by the lead applicant
  • sign up to the Aerospace Technology Institute framework agreement

Non-funded partners

Your project can include partners that do not receive any of this competition’s funding, for example non-UK businesses. Their costs will not count towards the total eligible project costs but must be included your application.


Subcontractors are allowed in this competition.

Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the UK and you must select them through your usual procurement process.

You can use subcontractors from overseas but must make the case in your application as to why you could not use suppliers from the UK. Department for Business and Trade (DBT) will review this on a case-by-case basis.

You must provide a detailed rationale, evidence of the potential UK contractors you approached and the reasons why they were unable to work with you. We will not accept a cheaper cost as a sufficient reason to use an overseas subcontractor.

All subcontractor costs must be justified and appropriate to the total project costs.

Previous applications

You can use a previously submitted application to apply for this competition. If you are submitting a new application and are unsuccessful, you can only resubmit an updated application into one future competition that allows you to resubmit.

We will not award you funding if you have:

  • failed to exploit a previously funded project
  • an overdue independent accountant’s report
  • failed to comply with grant terms and conditions
  • received funding previously for the same project from the government
  • already developed technology via private funds

Multiple applications

When a business leads on an application it can collaborate in a further two applications.

If a business is not leading any application, it can collaborate in up to three applications.

An academic institution, charity, public sector organisation, research organisation or RTO can collaborate on any number of applications.

If projects apply to both the SME Programme and the Strategic Programme and are successful in both, they can only accept one of the awards.

The ATI’s strategy and focus for investment is delivering clean growth for the UK aerospace sector. Eligible projects will develop technologies that will deliver lower emissions, improve competitiveness and/or grow the UK’s market share. The aim of this competition is to help SMEs to develop innovative technology in line with the ATI’s strategy, which can be exploited in the next five years. The primary application for technologies developed through this competition should be for the civil aerospace sector but cross-sector application is valuable.

Your application

Your application must align with the UK aerospace technology strategy, Destination Zero, which is split into these areas:

Zero-carbon emission aircraft technologies: Zero-carbon emission technologies are focused on propulsion and infrastructure development to enable zero-carbon tailpipe emissions. This encompasses battery, hydrogen, and fuel cell technologies, much of which are in early stages of development.

Ultra-efficient aircraft technologies: Ultra-efficient technologies are focused on improving energy efficiency and hence impact CO2 emissions, NOx and noise. Continued development of crucial high value, sustainable, high productivity manufacturing technologies will position the UK to be a first-choice location for the industry.

Cross-cutting enabling technologies: To enable both the zero-carbon and ultra-efficient opportunities, the UK must develop cross-cutting enabling technologies and capabilities for whole aircraft design and analysis. These capabilities should extend to the aircraft lifecycle from design, through manufacture & assembly, operation, and end of life.

If your project is not in scope, it will not be eligible for funding and will not be assessed. We will tell you the reason why.

Research categories

We will fund industrial research projects as defined in the guidance on categories of research and investment aid for research infrastructure.

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund projects that focus:

  • solely on defence, space or other industrial sectors, but we will recognise dual use technologies providing the primary application is in civil aerospace
  • on fundamental research, feasibility studies or experimental development
  • research topics outside the scope of the UK aerospace technology strategy, Destination Zero

We cannot fund projects that are:

  • dependent on export performance, for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it exports a certain quantity of bread to another country.
  • dependent on domestic inputs usage, for example giving a subsidy to a baker on the condition that it uses 50% UK flour in their product.

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

Outline Stage PowerPoint presentation guidance

When submitting an Outline Stage application, you will be asked to submit a PowerPoint presentation. This PowerPoint presentation must address the following criteria:


Demonstrate project alignment with ATI’s Technology Strategy and explain the aircraft-level benefits.

  • How does the technology help to deliver the ATI technology strategy roadmaps?
  • How does the technology compare to current market solutions and where possible known competitor R&D solutions?
  • Describe the technology benefits (e.g., cost, weight, performance, safety, sustainability, etc.)

Demonstrate the project ambition.

  • Explain the innovation step.
  • Why is this technology required?
  • What challenges the technology will address?
  • What is the key enabling technology that is being developed?
  • Describe the technology developed on the project.

Exploitation and market

What are the routes to market and business opportunities?

  • Who are the customers for the technology developed?
  • Describe the route to market and how it will be implemented.
  • State the addressable market size for the technology.

What are the exploitation opportunities for the project?

  • What engagement has there been with end-users to date with respect to the exploitation of this technology?
  • What is the timeline for implementation?

The Aerospace Technology Institute will make recommendations to the Department for Business and Trade (DBT). ATI will make recommendations to DBT. Based on ATI’s recommendation DBT decides on which projects proceed to the full stage application. There is no funding in stage one. All funding will be awarded in stage two.

If your project is successful, you will be invited by Innovate UK to apply to the next Full Stage Application stage of the competition via the Innovation Funding Service.  To defer entry to the next full stage batch, please contact ATI via to confirm you would like to defer entry. You must apply to one of the next two full stage competitions, or you will need to reapply to the Outline Stage.

If your Outline Stage application is not successful, you will be given the opportunity to discuss your feedback with the ATI should you wish to. Details of how this can be arranged will be provided in the feedback document. You will be able to submit the same project proposal up to a maximum of three times.

The outcome of your application and feedback on your Outline Stage application will be provided on the published notification date from the Aerospace Technology Institute.

Applications can be submitted via the link on this page. Before submitting, it is the lead applicant’s responsibility to make sure:

  • the application is completed and submitted before the deadline
  • that all the information provided in the application is correct
  • your application meets the eligibility and scope criteria
  • all sections of the application are marked as complete
  • if collaborative, that all partners have completed all assigned sections and accepted the terms and conditions (T&Cs)

You cannot edit your application once submitted.

What we will ask you

The application is split into two sections.

  1. Application details.
  2. Outline Stage Presentation.

View the launch webinar

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.

Stage one – Outline Stage

Part one – Application details and PowerPoint presentation

This section provides background for your application and is not assessed.

Project details

This includes the following: project’s title, start date and duration. We also request your total project costs (includes ineligible costs) and total grant request (only eligible costs).

Lead applicant’s contact details

The lead applicant is the main point of contact for the project. In this section we request the name and email address for a representative of the lead applicant’s company who is responsible for submitting the application.

Location of lead company

You will be required to select the location of the company site where the majority of the project work will take place for the lead company.

Application team

List the organisations which you will work with on your project. Give the name, location and email address of the key point of contact from each organisation.

Project summary (max 200 words)

Describe your project briefly and be clear about what makes it innovative. We use this section to assign the right experts to assess your application.

SME Programme Agreement

All applicants to the SME Programme must read and sign the SME Programme Agreement. To avoid delays later in the process we recommend doing so as early as possible, but it must be completed no later than 30 days after Full Stage Application notification. The link on this page will take you to a secure page where you can read and sign the agreement. Your digital signature will be reviewed by the ATI team, and you will receive confirmation via email once the validation process is complete.

If you have signed the ATI Framework Agreement for a project on the Strategic Programme, you are not required to sign the SME Programme Agreement.

PowerPoint presentation

In the Outline Stage of the competition, you are required to submit a PowerPoint presentation (in PDF) and answer the short questions about your project. If your application is in scope, you will be invited to present your application to the Panel.

You must submit a copy of your presentation as a PDF. Please note that the copy of the presentation submitted must be the same as the one used during your Pitch Panel.

Presentation document rules

  • No more than 10 slides*
  • Font – Arial
  • Minimum font sizes:
    • Title Slide and Section Header – Size 36
    • Content Slide Titles – Size 28
    • Body text – 14
    • Captions and references – 10
  • File format- pptx (submitted in PDF)
  • Slide aspect ratio – widescreen

*Only the first 10 slides will be assessed. If more than 10 slides are submitted, they will not form part of the assessment. The presentation duration is strictly 25 minutes and additional time will not be allocated.

Part two – Presentation to the Panel

After submitting your application, the ATI will carry out an eligibility check to determine if your project is in the scope of the competition. Only projects that are in scope will be invited to present their Outline Stage presentation to the Panel. If your project is not in scope, you will be told why but will not receive any further feedback on the application.

You will be invited to present your Outline Stage presentation to the Panel on one of the published panel dates. The panel will include a Chair and a Co-Chair and the ATI assessors. The presentations will be conducted virtually via Microsoft Teams. Guidance on how to use Microsoft Teams, can be found here.

  • You will be invited to an hour-long meeting.
  • The project lead must attend the Panel and lead the presentation.
  • You must join the meeting promptly at the allocated time. Any delay in joining the meeting will result in less time for your presentation and Q&A time.
  • No more than three members of the consortium, including the project lead, can attend the Panel session. If more than three attendees join the Panel, the additional project attendees will be asked to leave the meeting. In unforeseen circumstances, applicants are permitted to replace project attendees, but must inform the ATI via the above e-mail address, prior to their allocated Panel date.
  • You must ensure that you have access to suitable IT equipment, with your camera and sound turned on, and are able to share your screen to present your slides.
  • You must not bring any additional materials to the Pitch Panel to share with the Panel in any format e.g., hardware, paperwork, demo. etc.
  • Panels can rarely be rescheduled once allocated; you are responsible for ensuring your availability to attend the Panel on one of the published Panel dates.
  • If you overrun on your presentation, you will be allowed to finish your sentence and then asked to stop to ensure all applicants have the same allocated time.
  • Recording or filming of the session will not be permitted.

Please see an example of an indicative meeting agenda below.

Agenda item Attendees Duration
Welcome and introductions All 5 mins
Project presentation All 25 mins
Questions and answers All 15 mins
Panel feedback and assessment Panel only * 15 mins

*Applicants will be asked to leave the meeting after the question and answer session.

Stage two – Full Stage Application

If you are successful in the Outline Stage, you will be invited to submit a Full Stage Application. Further details can be found on the Innovate UK website here.

Useful links


Visit the ATI Hub to discover opportunities to connect with the ATI and collaborate with innovators in Aerospace.

Competition Dates

View the latest competition dates and deadlines for submissions.


Visit our FAQs page for answers to your questions

Additional guidance

View additional guidance about the SME Programme on

Accessibility, diversity and inclusion

We welcome and encourage applications from people of all backgrounds. If you would like to make a reasonable adjustment request to us for the application process, please contact

Contact Us

If you need more information about how to apply, please contact . All enquiries will be responded to within 5 working days.