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SBRI: FOAK 2023 – Customer Experience Rail Demonstrations

Fund Name

SBRI: FOAK 2023 – Customer Experience Rail Demonstrations

Project Length

Up to 12 months

Project Value

Up to £300k



This is a Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) competition funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) with the aim to deliver high-maturity demonstrations of innovations to the UK railways. Your project must support the overarching principle for FOAK (First of a Kind) 2023.

This competition is part of a larger ‘First of a Kind’ demonstrator initiative, on behalf of the Department for Transport (DfT) and High Speed Two (HS2) Limited. The initiative aims to accelerate innovation in the UK rail sector and enable technologies to be readily and efficiently integrated into the railway system.

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Fund details

The overarching principle for First of a Kind 2023 is cost efficiency and increasing value for money with the following priority themes:

  • Theme 1 – Customer Experience (this competition)
  • Theme 2 – Reliable and Easy to Maintain Assets
  • Theme 3 – Optimised Train Operations

You must select which scope theme you are applying for. If a project covers more than one theme, choose one where most of the work is being undertaken.

Your project must:

  • show how the technology delivers cost efficiency and increasing value for money to the railway industry and UK taxpayers
  • gather evidence about the integration challenges and explain how you will de-risk the integration
  • demonstrate to railway stakeholders and customers the commercial benefits of the solution
  • make taking up technologies less risky and faster
  • be pre-commercial
  • collect customer and performance feedback
  • provide a business case for using the solution in a commercial environment
  • consider the priorities of current and future franchises
  • include an evaluation phase, collecting data to support the cost benefit assessment of your proposed solution

You must provide evidence, showing your innovation can attract customers, get insurance, supply warranties, and attract financing.

Your evidence must show:

  • the technology works as designed when integrated into larger complex systems and delivers the expected outcomes
  • the technology is accepted by and delivers benefits for customers and the broader rail industry
  • there is revenue potential for the innovation within a real commercial context
  • the financing and business models can be delivered within a complex programme and consortium structure

You must demonstrate potential benefits to passengers and customers, including:

  • why customers would buy the product
  • how the funding will help applicants grow and result in broader economic benefits

Evaluation activity 

You must complete an evaluation activity at the end of the project, measuring data to anticipate the commercial impact that the adoption of the innovation will have on the railway network. This evaluation must be specific to your project and evaluate the immediate effectiveness of your technology and the project’s direct outputs and activities.

This can include the evaluation of the:

  • increased capacity
  • increased cost efficiency
  • increased process efficiency
  • improved data availability
  • cost differences between the new and old part
  • increased service reliability and improvement in performance measures
  • improved customer experience
  • reduced number of closures or major incidents (absolute number)

This can be a measurement of the time taken to complete a task or the costs incurred before and after the adoption of the technology. Alternatively, the activity might take the form of a survey of railway staff to solicit feedback and to anticipate cost benefits.

In all cases, the collection of objective data where possible is preferred over the collection of subjective feedback.

This information should be used to inform the future business case for your innovation. The involvement of individuals with expertise in designing such evaluation activities will benefit your application.

You must summarise your findings in your End of Project report. The report template will be provided to you at the beginning of your project. Contracts will be given to successful applicants.


Projects must:

  • start by 1 October 2023
  • end by 30 September 2024
  • last up to 12 months


To lead a project, you must:

  • be an organisation of any size
  • work alone or with others from business, research organisations, research and technology organisations or the third sector as subcontractors
  • to carry out your project work and demonstration in the UK

Applicants are welcome from all sectors. You can work alone or with other organisations as a subcontractor.

Your project must involve:

  • an owner of railway assets for example stations, rolling stock or infrastructure
  • an experienced railway organisation
  • a rail organisation that has the potential to become a customer

These criteria can be met by a single organisation or up to three separate organisations.

You must also:

  • include a potential integration partner
  • have a letter of support signed by a senior individual, from a railway organisation with the potential to become a customer

Contracts will be awarded to a single legal entity only. However, if you can justify subcontracting components of the work, you can engage specialists or advisers. This work will still be the responsibility of the main contractor.

If you are awarded a contract, you will be invited to exhibit your project at the 2024 and 2025 Innovate UK annual rail exhibitions, and we also expect you to exhibit at future events once your project is complete. innovate UK will notify you of the date and location of the events, when available.


A total of up to £5.3 million, inclusive of VAT, has been allocated to the 3 themes below.

Innovate UK expect to fund between 10 and 20 projects across the 3 themes. Each project should last up to 12 months.

  • For theme 1 – Customer Experience (this competition) – your project can range in size up to total costs of £300,000, inclusive of VAT.
  • For theme 2 – Reliable and Easy to Maintain Assets – your project can range in size up to total costs of £400,000, inclusive of VAT.
  • For theme 3 – Optimised Train Operations – your project can range in size up to total costs of £400,000, inclusive of VAT.

The total DfT funding may be split between three themes in an approximate ratio of 40% for the Customer Experience theme, 30% for the Reliable and Easy to Maintain Assets theme and 30% for the Optimised Train Operations theme.

Talk to us today if you would like to apply for this opportunity.

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