About the VocTech Activate Grant Fund

What is the purpose of VocTech Activate grant funding?

VocTech Activate is our test bed where the first spark of an idea can be scoped and tested in the supportive environment that Ufi funding provides. This grant call supports projects with innovative ideas for solving real, practical problems in UK adult vocational learning.

We encourage ideas which have the potential to transform how vocational learning happens, rooted in a real-world understanding of the problems, issues and opportunities in the vocational sector. Projects will need to show us how the idea is novel – show us that you understand the market you are looking at and why this is better than anything that has been thought of before.

Ufi’s focus is on learners aged 16+. We are especially interested in supporting learners or users in sectors and locations that have not been well served by mainstream provision. Projects will need to show why the learners or users being targeted have been overlooked.

We can support ideas for new tech, new markets, new communities of learners and we’re happy to welcome new project teams. The emphasis here is on the ‘new’. VocTech Activate has been designed to support innovation and we are ok with risk. This is about sharing that risk in order to encourage the development of creative new digital vocational learning tools, enabling organisations to test new ideas and work out the next steps necessary to plan a route to market and long-term success.

VocTech Activate funding is to support for the development of early-stage ideas, small scale testing, proof of concept work and the development of strategies to scale once Ufi funding has ended. VocTech Activate enables new ideas to reach a point where they can demonstrate their potential to customers or funders by proving a concept, its impact on the learners and/or different stakeholders and planning a route to market.

How much funding is available?

Grants of between £30,000 to £60,000 are available for projects of between three and 12 months duration.

The funding offered for any individual project depends on the problem being addressed, and the nature and scale of the proposed solution. Each is considered on its merits and the costs assessed against the proposed work plan and timetable.

What is VocTech Activate looking for?

We want to see innovative digital vocational learning ideas which are:

  • Genuinely innovative in their overall approach, their technology, or the sector or community of learners to which they will be applied.
  • Ideas where people are really thinking differently about how to use technology to deliver effective vocational learning at scale.
  • Ideas which have a strong evidenced connection to a clearly defined learner group, and a clear understanding of their challenges, barriers to learning and barriers to adoption of technology-based approaches.
  • Projects that look at any and every aspect of vocational learning, including (but not limited to) design and development of learning tools, new delivery models, evaluation and assessment, accreditation and recording evidence of achievement.
  • Projects targeted at extending learning provision to sectors, industries and communities of learners that currently lack good access to vocational learning due to factors including market/sectoral structures, cost, time, distance or language.

We are keen to draw upon the insights we have gathered from market intelligence work and engagement with stakeholders. These have highlighted areas where we feel there is a both a need for innovation in adult vocational skills and opportunity for scale. Issues, for example, include:

  • Innovation in assessment, enabling learners to access feedback and content tailored to them, when they need it.
  • Innovative use of data, including AI and big data to improve outcomes for learners.
  • Making it easier and cheaper for trainers and teachers to develop their own high quality, interactive e-learning content for vocational learners.
  • Working with relevant employers and learning organisations to create new ways for people to validate their skills and create pathways to work, or to allow people in work to transition to new opportunities.

What will VocTech Activate grant fund?

VocTech Activate will grant fund the design, development and early stage testing of novel approaches to digital vocational learning; helping to take those ideas through basic prototyping to the next stage of 'seeding the market' by delivering a first proof of concept prototype and planning a route to market. This could include:

  • Design, development, and prototyping.
  • Refining learning design.
  • Small scale testing with users.
  • Planning a route to market & strategies for scaling.
  • Project Management.
  • Evidencing impact & what works.

Projects must:

  • Focus on adult vocational learning in the UK (be aimed at adults 16+).
  • Offer new learning tools, not just new learning content.
  • Show real innovation and risk to justify Ufi funding.
  • Show a clear understanding of the vocational learning market, have evidence of a defined learning need and describe how they expect the tech will improve outcomes for learners, in addition to the technical advances.
  • Show real innovation and risk to achieve a step change beyond normal business development to justify Ufi funding.
  • Have a strong evidenced connection to a clearly defined learner group, and a clear understanding of their challenges, barriers to learning and barriers to adoption of technology-based approaches.
  • Have plans for testing with relevant learners/trainers/employers and for incorporating feedback from testing into product development.
  • Show ambition and vision for how the project could get to market and be eventually scaled up to reach a large number of learners, if the proof of concept proves successful.

Ufi does not grant fund...

  • Core costs/general overheads of non-charities.
  • Training places for individuals – we focus on the potential for long term impact for many.
  • Standard ‘content’ projects, for example a project purely to address coding or entrepreneurship skills. If you are teaching a digital skill it isn't enough to assume that this would be a project Ufi would fund. We are interested in how the innovation in the approach, using technology, improves outcomes for vocational learners.
  • Basic digital skills – using Office, getting online.
  • Schools. Sometimes there are spill over benefits for those aged 14 -16, but this must not be the focus of the project.
  • Routine business or product development where there is no public benefit case for charitable funding.
  • Research projects.
  • Degrees / degree level studies.
  • Projects for beneficiaries outside the UK.
  • Generic employability skills such as CV building or time management.
  • Enterprise or entrepreneurship.
  • Life management skills such as getting online, but we will consider funding soft skills development in a vocational context. Generally we do not look to fund skills that are above level 3 or equivalent.
  • Applications around careers advice or matching. Our focus is on opening up access and opportunity for people to develop vocational skills.

If your organisation is not a charity

Ufi funds projects involving charities, private companies, community interest companies and other not for profit organisations. As a charity itself, Ufi must ensure that any grant given to any organisation that is not also a charity demonstrates public benefit.

This means being able to see evidence of how the proposed approach will benefit learners, how the community of learners has been defined and the total size of the group the project could reach. Projects must always explain clearly why they need Ufi funding to support their project and how Ufi’s charitable funding will make a difference. Finally, we need to make sure that our funding is not more than is necessary to deliver the project and is not replacing private funding. The questions we ask in our application forms help us understand how your proposal can have a beneficial public outcome, both immediately and in the longer term.

Is your company looking for investment rather than a grant? Ufi Ventures, the UK’s specialist investor in EdTech for adults, might be able to help.

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Continue reading about the VocTech Activate Grant Fund.