Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Business innovation

Innovate UK supports the development of new approaches in a range of technologies including advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, digital, electronics, sensors, biosciences, quantum, and advanced computing.

Partners involved:
Innovate UK

The scope and what we're doing

Business innovation is the commercially successful application of ideas. We all see it in the new or improved products, services, processes and business models provided by companies that enhance our lives.

Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency. We exist to help companies in any part of the UK grow through innovation. We are a key delivery body for the government’s innovation strategy, UK Innovation Strategy: leading the future by creating it.

We support businesses through a range of interventions. We help them to find the right partners so they can innovate more effectively. We help them find access to the right expertise and equipment. We help them with the financial resources and investment needed, through grants and loans that we provide, and by connecting them to the wider community of investors.

Our approach is laid out in our Plan for Action for UK Business Innovation, 2021 to 2025. It describes our priorities, our five themes and our strong foundations.

Priority themes

We focus our main activities in the following five strategic themes:

  • future economy – what the UK economy will be like in the future
  • growth at scale – how companies can grow and scale up
  • global opportunities – helping build new supply chains, positioning UK companies as the partners of choice and attracting inward investment
  • ecosystem – working with partners to ensure our system offers excellent support for business innovation
  • government levers – helping government support business innovation through procurement, standards, codes, regulation and other levers.

Future economy

We will focus on opportunities for the future economy.

To understand what the UK economy could be like in future, we look at the trajectory of global markets, the likely evolution of technology, and important societal issues and trends.

To help realise the opportunities we will run programmes in five areas.

Net zero plus

We will help the UK achieve a net-zero carbon economy in 2050 and better protect the environment. We will invest in green energy, reducing the impact of materials and processes, better processes for agriculture and food production, and helping companies with heavily capitalised infrastructure.

Health and wellbeing

We will support healthy life in the UK and beyond. We will invest to tackle ill-health, enhance wellbeing, and improve diet and food.

Technologies

We will help UK companies deploy technologies more effectively in their businesses, with a focus on the seven technology families of particular UK strength and opportunity identified in the government’s innovation strategy and on next generation digital technologies.

Horizon scanning and foresight

We will look ahead to what comes next, in markets, societal trends and technology.

Missions

We will help the government to identify and deliver important mission programmes.

Growth at scale

We will support businesses to grow rapidly. We are focusing on helping companies grow and scale through innovation.

Our focus is on the capability and talent of people within companies and supporting their development. It is also about providing expert support to help companies overcome challenges and create opportunities for growth. We aim to ease their access to markets and to the finance (for example, grants, loans and equity) they need to grow.

Global opportunities

We will help businesses to succeed on the international stage.

We will encourage UK companies to participate in innovation activities across national boundaries, helping them build and participate in the supply chains of the future.

We will work to position the UK as the partner country of choice for global collaborations, working alongside the relevant government departments such as the:

  • Department for International Trade
  • Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

We will support innovation projects that help tackle global challenges and achieve the UN Foundation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Innovation ecosystem

We will make it easier to gain innovation support.

We will help enhance further the UK’s outstanding innovation ecosystem, to ensure that it is agile, inclusive and easy to navigate. This ecosystem is made up of many actors, from public agencies to businesses, academia, infrastructure, charities, and the regulatory environment.

A key part of this will be our work with partners to ensure good signposting to those bodies best placed to help. We will make it easier to find and access the right equipment and expertise, and encourage a national culture of innovation.

Government levers

We will help the government use its power to support innovation.

The UK government is committed to helping businesses located here to innovate more successfully.

We will help them to deliver on that commitment, through supporting their work on public sector procurement, standards, regulation and in intellectual property. We will deliver managed innovation programmes on behalf of government departments.

Strong foundations

Our strong foundations are fundamental to each of the priority themes. They are UK assets that can be leveraged in support of business innovation or values we hold to be true to inform our work. We run programmes in these areas so that businesses and society can derive the maximum benefit.

There are six strong foundations:

  • UK science and research – maximising innovation benefit to UK business
  • design – creating more value through deploying excellent design earlier
  • responsible innovation – ensuring wider societal impacts are taken into account
  • innovation talent and skills – enhancing people’s capability
  • equality, diversity and inclusion – being inclusive and fair, and bringing in under-represented groups
  • place and levelling up – building and benefitting from local strengths.

Science and research strengths

We will help UK businesses benefit from the excellent research base.

The quality and quantity of UK research is second to none. With 1% of the world’s population and 3% of global research and development (R&D) spend, we produce 14% of the world’s most cited academic papers. We have four of the top 10 universities in the world.

We will help the output of researchers to find its way to market, and UK companies to benefit from it.

Design

We will help businesses make better use of design.

Companies that make use of excellent human-centred design create products and services that are more successful commercially. Their customers are more satisfied and they create more shareholder value. Yet too few companies use design optimally and they often use it rather late in the innovation process.

We will support companies to use human-centred design earlier in the innovation process, where it can add most value.

Responsible innovation

We will use responsible innovation to take account of wider societal impacts.

There is no such thing as good or bad technology. What matters is how it is used or misused. An innovation is most successful when it is accepted and adopted by all actors in the value chain. This includes suppliers, customers, shareholders and wider society. It requires responsible behaviour by innovating companies and by users of a technology.

We will help companies to think through the potential effects of their proposed innovation on wider society, and how they might achieve the benefits of their innovation and avoid or mitigate possible downsides.

Innovation talent and skills

We will help businesses enhance the capability of their people.

Innovation is difficult. Growing a company is difficult. Having a brilliant idea or a great technology is only part of the picture. The company needs the right team, with the right talent and skills.

We will help companies develop the capability of their people to grow and scale their businesses more effectively, and help them identify skills they will need in the future to adopt and deploy new technologies.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

We will be inclusive and fair, and bring in under-represented groups.

It is important for the UK that people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to contribute to our national innovation activity. Sadly, not all groups are equally represented currently. This is wrong for them and also wrong for business. All the data shows that diverse companies make better decisions and are more successful.

We will encourage the participation in UK innovation of those of all backgrounds.

Place and levelling up

We will help build local strengths and help businesses benefit from them.

Everything happens somewhere and the UK has strong innovation capabilities in multiple places across the UK. The opportunity exists to make better use of our local business, research and innovation strengths as part of our national capability.

We will also help build innovation capacity more widely in places across the UK, to support local economies and help businesses to benefit from this.

Our approach

In each of our work areas, we help companies, through three strands of activity:

  • inspire – to make the opportunity visible and compelling
  • involve – to bring relevant organisations and people together
  • invest – to convene the resources needed, including our own.

We work with leading innovators, industry bodies, academia and our own in-house experts to make opportunities visible, inspire, through blogs, publications and the scope of our investment competitions. Our involve work centres around businesses in the first instance, and this is amplified through working with our partners. Our work with the investment community makes our invest work more impactful.

Why we're doing it

Innovation is the life blood of the economy and an essential activity for businesses so they can grow (or even survive, over the longer term).

It is responsible for a third of total productivity growth in the UK, with firms that consistently invest in innovation being 13% more productive than those that don’t conduct research and development.

Developing a new product or service is difficult to do. Numerous things have to come together for the product or service to be commercially successful. And failure in any one of these things can bring down all of the others.

Companies that receive innovation grants grow their turnover by 28% more than companies that do not, and their employment and productivity by 23% and 6% respectively.

Opportunities, support and resources available

We provide support to companies and innovators in a number of ways, including through grants and loans. Some of our investment is focused on specific opportunity areas for UK business innovation, such as:

  • net zero
  • health and wellbeing
  • advanced technologies
  • challenges and missions.

Other investment is ‘open scope’, available to support innovators in any technology or market so long as their idea has sufficient ambition and potential.

Our support is available across the UK.

There are more innovative ideas than we have resources, so we run competitions to identify the best ideas to support. Our assessment is based on our four criteria:

  • size of the market opportunity
  • business capability
  • appropriate timing
  • value-add for our involvement.

Innovation is often more successful when businesses work on the best opportunities with the right partners. Many of our grants support collaborative work between businesses; or between businesses and knowledge-base partners. Our Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) builds innovation networks in high potential areas and helps innovators find the right partners.

Find out more on our Knowledge Transfer Network website.

Catapults provide access to equipment and expertise in areas of strategic importance. This can be an important step to validate ideas before companies make their own capital investments.

Find out more about the Catapult Network on its website.

To grow a business through innovation takes more than a research and development (R&D) project. Innovate UK EDGE provides expert innovation support to help innovative companies grow and scale.

Our investor partnerships programme connects companies seeking growth capital with fund managers and investors looking to make investments – increasing and accelerating overall innovation investment.

Our innovation partners can also help, in areas such as:

  • use of standards
  • identifying, protecting and managing intellectual property
  • use of measurement technology to solve business problems and enhance performance
  • bringing civilian and defence uses of technologies closer together.

Search for Innovate UK funding opportunities.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Information about all of our awards are made public in our transparency data.

We commission and publish independent evaluation of our impact, using established and published protocols.

You can find particularly good examples of the work done by ourselves or the companies we support on:

Who to contact

Ask a question about business innovation

Customer Support Services
Email: support@innovateuk.ukri.org
Telephone: 01793 361000

Governance, management and panels

Our assessment criteria

Global opportunities for business, and the demand for public sector innovation support, are immense. We must prioritise our resources. In making invest decisions, we take account of:

  • the size of the opportunity – the size of the accessible global market
  • the relative strength of UK capabilities, in both industry and academia – compared to other territories
  • whether it is the right time for business to act
  • added-value – whether the case for public sector intervention is strong, including consideration of the wider environmental and societal impacts.

Our innovation partners

The UK has a range of organisations that comprise the innovation ecosystem.

Each has a dedicated mission and contributes to the national endeavour, but the system is not always as easy for ‘time-poor’ companies to navigate as we would like. We also see opportunities to make it easier for companies to access simultaneous input from multiple organisations. We and our partners will work together to implement this action plan. This includes our work to make it easier to navigate the innovation ecosystem and find support.

We are joined in our work by our innovation partners:

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.