The Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) was launched in December 2016 with the aim of identifying and funding innovations that support UK defence and security. In its first 12 months it received over 700 proposals and provided funding to 147. On the face of it this is encouraging for many in the aerospace, defence, and technology sectors, but accessing this funding can remain a challenge. The MOD has restated its commitment to increase the amount of money it spends with Small and Medium Enterprises (SME), and the funding that DASA can provide SMEs to develop and field novel solutions is an important part of this. 57% of approved proposals have been awarded to SMEs, with academic institutions also among successful applicants. But identifying and developing capabilities which can be exploited faster and more effectively is a two-way challenge, relying to a great extent on the quality of the proposal submitted by the developer.
So, assuming a potential supplier has a development proposal, what do they need to do? In many respects, the principles of competitive bids and tenders apply, and provide a useful handrail. The following three steps summarise the activities that will maximise the chances of successfully gaining DASA funding:
- Analyse the proposed solution and understand what it offers. As with any bid or proposal, capturing the strengths and weaknesses of the solution, and how they align with the opportunity is vital. DASA proposals will fall into one of two categories: Themed Competition, or Open Call for Innovation.
- Themed Competitions seek innovations against specific requirements; a current competition is offering £2.5m in a two-stage process to inform capability and understanding of extra-large underwater unmanned vehicles (XLUUV).
- Open Call for Innovation allows innovative solutions that will positively impact defence and security to be submitted outside Themed Competitions. However, the solution must be fully understood and tailored to ensure that it fits within either of the following categories. Emerging Innovations – new and novel opportunities for exploitation which will deliver a proof of concept at around Technology Readiness Level 3 or 4, which roughly equates to component/sub-system validation in a laboratory-style environment. Rapid Impact Innovations offer a realistic chance of delivering an impact within three years, with a representative trial or pilot in the hands of end users.
- Understand the requirements of the submission process. Depending on its complexity, creating the proposal will require planning, the allocation of the correct resources, and management. Again, the parallels with bids and proposals are obvious. Themed Competitions will have a submission deadline, and the process for creating any proposal will logically follow a similar course to submit the most compelling, compliant proposal.
- Communicate clearly. This may seem obvious, but presenting complex technical information in a way that is accessible, concise, and at the same time compelling is not always as easy as it sounds. Referring to the assessment criteria will assist, alongside the understanding of the alignment between the solution and the requirements generated at step 1. Assessment criteria, particularly for Themed Competitions, will vary, but the following five criteria are central to assessing a proposal’s value:
- Impact on Defence and Security – How will it improve defence and security capabilities?
- Likelihood of Exploitation – How will it be developed into a mature, usable product?
- Advancing Science and Technology – Will it substantially progress science and technology for UK defence and security. Could it have other uses?
- Innovation and Scientific Quality – How is it innovative or different to what else is available? What is the detail that backs up the proposal?
- Technical Challenge – Is the science and technology ambitious? How rigorous is the testing? Is it highly challenging with high potential benefit to UK defence and security?
The DASA website contains further detail and guidance, as well as current Themed Competitions and updates on previous developments. DASA presents a real opportunity for SMEs and those with fresh ideas to develop concepts into mature products, to solve problems that end users may not yet fully understand themselves. The process of gaining funding for proposals is rigorous, but with the right approach and support, it is very much achievable. Partnering with a team that can create compelling content from complex technical information, can deliver effective, impactful graphics, and can guide the process from start to submission will maximise the chances of success.