Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to qualify for funding from the government's HK$5 billion Innovation and Technology Fund (ITF). According to the Innovation and Technology Commission, only a fifth of applications have been successful since the fund was launched in 1999. By July 31, the commission had received 1,345 applications for ITF funding, worth a total of HK$4.5 billion. Only 295 projects got the green light, with permission granted for projects worth HK$668.3 million. More than 85 per cent of the funding remains untapped, while the success rate for applications was only about 22 per cent. Industry players said getting funding was extremely difficult. 'It needs to be really innovative,' said Judy Leung Wai-chu, vice-president of the Hong Kong Information and Technology Federation. 'The funding always goes to academic research. It is really difficult for normal companies to fit the requirements.' Among the 295 successful applications, 89 were approved under the category of the University-Industry Collaboration Programme, receiving grants of HK$116.4 million. Only 91 of 526 applications were successful in gaining support under the Innovation and Technology Support Programme category. Twenty-six of 187 applications won funding under the General Support Programme and 89 out of 500 were given Small Entrepreneur Research Assistance. Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology Henry Tang Ying-yen earlier said with the reorganisation of the government structure under the new accountability system, 'commerce and industry' and 'technology' would be merged so that innovation, technology, information technology (IT) and SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) support would be 'under one roof'. He promised to improve policy and funding co-ordination so local companies could fully utilise the ITF, the HK$1.9 billion in SME funds and the HK$750 million Applied Research Fund. Speaking at the opening of the IT Expo at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre yesterday, Director of Information Technology Services Alan Wong Chi-kong said local SMEs had not fully utilised what the government had been offering. 'It is not a usual practice for local SMEs to ask for money from the government. Even if there is money available, they do not know how to pick it up,' he said. He added there was an urgent need for local companies to upgrade their infrastructure and equipment as well as receive training if they wanted to be up to international standards. Meanwhile, the Information Technology Services Department (ITSD) has set up information technology management units to streamline its operations and reduce staff numbers. Since the start of this year, 21 bureaus and departments have set up these units. The ITSD is to set up at least four more in coming months. The management units comprise analysts and programmers from the ITSD as well as departmental and contract IT staff. Member numbers range from two to more than 300.