Stand out from the crowd – what makes a successful Spark application?

Stand out from the crowd – what makes a successful Spark application?

In its fourth year, Design Council Spark has become a leading UK product innovation support programme and fund. It provides design expertise to help shape business opportunities and develop product innovations.

Through its intensive 16-week process, Spark gives access to specialists across business, IP, investment, and marketing. Funding of £15,000 to develop the product is also available as well as the opportunity to pitch for a share of up to £200,000 of further funding to fast-track the product to market.

1. First things first – check that you’re compatible

Design Council Spark is open to anyone over 18 years of age and from any walk of life as long as they have a brilliant idea for a physical product that could disrupt the UK market. We don’t mind where you’ve come from or what you do, we just want to find the best products, the best individual or team of innovators, and candidates who show the right amount of passion and who will genuinely benefit from the support programme and funding.

So step one is to find out if we’re compatible: 

  • You are based in UK and intend to develop your Intellectual Property (IP) or start-up in UK
  • You are over 18 years of age
  • You have a physical product idea (it can have a corresponding digital aspect but must be predominantly physical)
  • You are able to illustrate your idea visually – suggested minimum is an early/2D sketch that provides clear explanation
  • You have included the required 1-minute video – see tips below
  • You have met the initial eligibility criteria on the application form.

Meet all of these?

If so, great! Now on to step two.

2. Innovation is key

We are looking for innovative people with an innovative idea – and we don’t necessarily mean out-of-this-world ideas (although we are open-minded), but ideas for products that provide solutions to everyday problems or which offer a significant improvement to an existing product.

We believe an innovative product is: technically feasible, desirable from a consumer perspective, and viable from a business perspective.

Therefore, the best way to engage our interest is to paint a very clear picture of the market you believe your product would benefit, provide a clear example of the problem that needs your idea to solve it and how you believe you could achieve this. The bigger the impact you can describe the easier it is for us to visualise the next steps you could be taking.

Ultimately, we want to see that you’ve done your homework and can convince us that your idea is different to anything that currently exists and will improve people’s lives, so make sure you take every opportunity to show us that you are confident in your products ability to achieve this, and provide evidence wherever possible.

3. Be people centred

At the heart of good design is a relentless focus on who will be using your product, so don’t be shy when it comes to user-testing. As Mark Sheahan, an inventor in residence at the British Library told us: “Too many inventors get caught up in their idea and are really protective of it. Because they don’t share it, they don’t develop it”.

We recommend that all innovators take necessary steps to protect their ideas and IP, and this is something that we provide detailed guidance and support for throughout the Spark programme. However, the more evidence you can provide – even if anecdotal at this stage – that potential users of your product idea believe that they would benefit from it and can envisage it providing positive change within the specific field, the better.

Your friends and family are likely to be the kindest critics, so widening the net to request open and constructive critique from more independent industry focussed sources will put you in a stronger position to back your idea all the way to production and beyond.

Similarly, we believe that ‘feedback is the breakfast of champions’, so if you feel too wedded to an exact or fully developed version of your product then Spark may not be the programme for you. We work as collaboratively as possible with all of our ventures, and inevitably those that reach the farthest in the programme and beyond are those that understand how constructive critique of an idea they’re exceptionally passionate will accelerate its successful development.

4. Are you a bright Spark?

The clue is in the question! As well as meeting the basic eligibility criteria above, we will want your application to give us as much detail as possible about you and the other potential parties associated with your product – be that an individual, a team or any other stakeholders that need to be considered. Wherever possible, clarify the level of commitment that can be offered by team members to attend the programme, and aim to highlight the different areas of expertise or experience that you can equally offer the programme.

We are not experts in every field, so don’t underestimate how powerful your lived experience of any other markets can still be to the development and success of a product – for example, if your day-to-day work experiences are completely unrelated to your product idea. Ultimately, we are looking for the best creative and entrepreneurial minds who believe in the product and the need in the market, commit to the workshops and associated programme work and develop personal resources to make it happen.

The success that you earn through the hard work that you put into Spark will lead to us being able to grow the programme and provide the same support to many more ventures in future. With that in mind, we believe that it’s only fair to support applicants who indicate in their application that they want to be part of the ongoing Spark legacy and share its benefits with the growing Spark Community.

5. It’s good to talk

Whether you are a keen and regular public speaker or have never presented before we require a 1-minute video to validate your application so now’s your time to shine.

As clear a picture as we want to see in your answers, the video allows us to get a final understanding of the idea you are presenting and your understanding of how it could be successful within the Spark programme.

We ask that you prepare what you want to say before recording, you have exactly 1 minute and any videos longer than this will not be viewed, so getting the most valuable information across clearly and accurately is vital. A simple smart-phone is sufficient as long we can clearly see and hear you. Please read the guidelines on the application form clearly.

Obviously, if you have an existing professional video then feel free to submit this but it is vital that all of the requested information is covered.

Hopefully, you’re now ready to take the next steps, so we look forward to receiving all applications by midday on 21 November. If you have any further questions or need assistance with completing your application form, please visit our FAQs or contact us at

Good luck from the Spark team!