How Innovate UK can help your startup

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Dr Ian Campbell, Interim Executive Chair for Innovate UK, on what financial and advisory support is available and how to access it.

Read time: 4 minutes

  • The various grants and competitions currently available for startups

  • How to apply for the support and be successful

  • The criteria that needs to be met and increased competition due to Covid

How does Innovate UK support startups?

I think you could summarise our headline activities in three words: inspire, involve and invest. We want to inspire businesses to take R&D risks that can result in new products and services. We want to involve all of the community and all the geographies, inclusive of all types of diversity, from gender to ethnicity, and to invest in companies through grants, investor partnerships, and loans. We want to offer the right support to the right company at the right time.

What does that mean in practical terms?

Do you need a grant?  Do you have a high-risk project? Do you need equity investment to go alongside grant funding, or do you actually need a loan because you're at a stage in your business where you really could do with capital? Everything that we fund has innovation at its core. Whether that's producing a new component, whether that's diversifying your business model, whether that's trying to attract new markets – as long as it's innovative, Innovate UK wants to be in a position to support you.

We're measured by increasing productivity, and by creating jobs and economic growth through supporting business-led innovation –that's what's distinctive about Innovate. We want companies to take risks that they wouldn’t take unless Innovate supported them, because this is not incremental R&D, this is innovation.

Above all else it is about connecting the right people, be that business-to-business, business-to-academia, startup-to-large company, or large company-to-university. The aim is to create an innovation ecosystem that accelerates the potential exploitation of ideas. We define innovation as ‘the successful commercial exploitation of good ideas’. The type of innovation doesn’t matter. It doesn't have to be a physical widget – it could be a business model, it could be an online service offering, it could be a new way to transact, it could be a new way to generate power.

What funding is available and how can startups apply?

All of Innovate UK competitions, and indeed UKRI competitions can be found on the UKRI website, which has a Funding Finder landing spot Like all Innovate UK competitions, businesses apply through the Innovation Funding Service (IFS) on – the UKRI website will link you to this.

Typically, for any grant competition, we will ask you 10 questions; around your idea, your business model, when you expect to make money, why the grant will make such a difference to your business, and what outcome you expect to see from it. Those questions are assessed independently by five assessors who score the application out of 100. Each of the ten questions is marked out of ten. Anything above 70 is considered a fundable application.

I recommend people sign up to the UKRI ‘news and funding alerts’, to keep themselves up to date with the latest competitions.

How has Covid affected competition for grants and loans?

In the last six months, because of Covid and the response that we have put in place, we secured an extra £750m of funding across grants and loans to help businesses to survive and thrive. We have done three years’ worth of work since March. The application numbers are incredibly high, so in order to be successful, you've got to write a very compelling case. While 70 is the quality threshold, 80 and above is really hitting the mark.

It really is ultra competitive, which for us is great because that means that we're funding brilliant innovation. The downside is we have to disappoint an awful lot of applicants because they're in a very competitive field. So it's very important for your audience to realize that it is a competition and as such, not everybody can be successful.

Do you see positive trends for innovation in 2021?

I see great opportunity in the coming months and years around both digital formats and new technologies for sustainability, In times of crisis, great ideas and technologies come to the fore quicker than ever before. It really is an opportunity for truly disruptive innovation –for innovative businesses to not only continue to do R&D, but to get products out there that are going to make a difference and impact both society and people's lives, and hopefully create wealth.  Through Innovate UK funding we are truly helping businesses to build back better, build back greener and build back faster, improving lives and livelihoods across the nation.


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