Circular Economy for SMEs - innovating with NICER, round 2

UK registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £1.5 million to research, test and develop step-change circular economy approaches. This can cover: chemicals, bio-textiles, metals, or mineral-based construction materials; or research/data work to accelerate the transition.

Opportunity Details


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Your project’s total costs must be between £100,000 and £150,000. Up to 70% of costs can be covered depending on business size.


Innovate UK

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Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £1.5 million in circular economy innovation projects.

This funding forms part of the UKRI National Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Research programme (NICER). It enables SMEs to engage with and benefit from access to expertise at five research centres and hub via collaborative research and development (CR&D) activities.

The aim of this competition is to support feasibility studies, industrial research and experimental development projects that address the challenges of transitioning to a circular economy.

Your proposal must demonstrate how you will create a step-change in the adoption of circular economy approaches.

Your project must:

  • have total costs between £100,000 and £150,000
  • start no earlier than 1 May 2023
  • end by 31 October 2024
  • last between 12 and 18 months
  • carry out all of its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

Your application must include a letter of support from at least one of the UKRI Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres or the NICER CE-hub. The letter must demonstrate alignment of your proposed activities to one or more Centres’ aims and objectives. Collaboration directly with the centres or the hub as a project partner is encouraged but not essential.

To allow sufficient time for the centres to consider your proposal for support, you should contact them prior to 16th November 2022, or earlier if you are looking to involve them as project partners.


To lead a project or work alone your organisation must be a UK registered micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME).

business can only lead on one application but can be included as a collaborator in a further 2 applications. If a business is not leading any application, it can collaborate in up to 3 applications. An academic institution, charity, not for profit, public sector organisation or RTO can collaborate on any number of applications.


The aim of this competition is to support feasibility studies, industrial research and experimental development projects that address the challenges of transitioning to a circular economy.

Your project must demonstrate how you will create a step-change in the adoption of circular economy approaches.

The broad spectrum of circular economy approaches will be in scope, for example:

  • repair
  • reuse
  • remanufacture
  • recycle
  • regeneration

Projects are particularly encouraged that focus on retaining the maximum amount of value in a product or system.

Innovate UK aim to fund projects with direct or indirect commercial outcomes for the partners. A project to improve understanding where the outputs would be made freely available to build the knowledge base of the broader NICER programme, for example, would be in scope.

We want to fund a portfolio of projects, across the range of resource flows and topics covered by the Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres and Hub and types of projects. Applicants must consider the benefits, risks, costs and trade-offs associated with adopting a more circular approach.

The focus on circular economy in this competition does not assume how best to deliver environmental, social, cultural, economic and technical benefits for any particular resource flow.

Your project can focus on one or more of the following examples:

  • piloting the introduction of a circular economy business model
  • development or improvement of products and processes to enable remanufacturing, repair and retention of value
  • increasing understanding and exploitation of material flow data in a defined place, for example; city, Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), cluster, region
  • scaling-up of credible circular economy feasibility studies
  • evaluating whether proposed circular economy approaches are more sustainable when considering broader life cycle thinking

Other focus areas that clearly address the challenges of transitioning to a circular economy are welcomed.

Specific themes

Your project must align with the NICER programme and be supported by a NICER centre or the CE-hub.

Resource flows covered by the Interdisciplinary Circular Economy Centres:

Themes covered by the CE-hub:

  • cross cutting research to accelerate the transition
  • data, modelling and measuring impact
  • knowledge sharing
  • roadmapping

Further details on themes and potential collaboration topics can be found at NICER CE-hub.

Q&A drop-in sessions, 13 and 20 October

If you have any questions about the competition, please sign up to one of these two Q&A sessions:

  • 13 October – 11.00-12.00
  • 20 October – 11.00-12.00

The full briefing for this Innovate UK funding opportunity is available for on-demand viewing below and we recommend you watch it prior to attending one of these Q&A sessions as we will not be running through this content.

Register here for the Q&A sessions.

Watch the NICER video briefing below.


[00:00] Introduction

[04:52] Case Studies from Round 1 (TechTakeBack, Minviro, Pennotec)

[17:52] Competition Scope [25:40] NICER Centre Details and Example Collaboration Areas

[38:20] Eligibility Criteria [43:55] Innovation Funding Service (IFS)

[53:56] Assessment Overview

[01:01:15] Additional Support (Innovate UK EDGE, Innovate UK KTN)


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