In November 2021, Innovate UK published its 5-year plan for action, outlining how it will help businesses to grow and thrive, and contribute to the UK becoming a global hub for innovation by 2035. Since then, the agency has expanded its range of funding opportunities and services.

What is the aim of Innovate UK?

Innovate UK supports business-led innovation in all sectors, technologies and UK regions. It helps businesses grow through the development and commercialisation of new products, processes and services. The agency is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), a non-departmental body of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

As the UK’s major innovation agency, Innovate UK has identified three key areas of opportunity for the UK economy: Net Zero; Healthy Living and Agriculture, and Digital and Technology. Projects in these domains will be given priority for funding.

Who can apply for Innovate UK funding?

Innovate UK is focused on helping small-and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) develop through innovation and by enabling them to develop the new products, services, and processes they need to grow and scale up. It offers various kinds of funding opportunities known as competitions, which eligible organisations can apply to through a competitive process. Each competition has its own eligibility criteria and scope: applicants must refer to the competition brief for specific guidance. Information about competitions currently available can be found via the Innovation Funding Service (IFS) or UKRI’s funding finder.

Which projects are funded?

Innovate UK manages various types of funding opportunities, including the UKRI Challenge Fund, which brings business and research together to tackle issues aligned with the major industrial and societal challenges of our time; Innovate UK Smart Grants, which support game-changing, highly disruptive and commercially viable ideas that have the potential to positively impact the UK’s economy and growth; and the Small Business Research Initiative, which allows SMEs to apply for funded procurement contracts with government organisations to develop their innovative ideas.

Other funding options available from Innovate UK are innovation loans, which aim to provide affordable and flexible capital to SMEs, and support late-stage research and development projects with a clear route to commercialisation and business growth through innovation. In addition, there are sector-specific funding opportunities: businesses working on innovative healthcare technologies can apply for the Biomedical Catalyst, while those developing innovative energy technologies can take advantage of the Energy Catalyst.

Does this also apply to projects with international partners?

Innovate UK has a number of initiatives to help businesses access international opportunities and partners. These include Horizon Europe, EUREKA Eurostars and the Newton Fund, which are open to a range of organisation sizes and types. UK businesses, researchers and scientists have access to EU funding for Horizon Europe on equivalent terms to organisations in EU countries.

Innovate UK’s Global Business Innovation Programme currently has opportunities for partnerships in Australia, Taiwan and Singapore, among others. This programme is run by Innovate UK EDGE, a publicly-funded service available to all high potential, innovation-driven SMEs. Innovate UK EDGE helps businesses exploit innovation, intellectual property, and connections in the UK and abroad, enter new markets, access funding and finance and get investment ready.

Innovation partners

Innovate UK works with a number of partners to further support UK SMEs. Innovate UK KTN offers support to businesses who want to drive positive change through innovation, whether these are sole entrepreneurs, pre-seed, early stage, growth stage or scaling up their business. With its wide network and deep sector expertise, Innovate UK KTN can connect businesses to people and organisations to help accelerate their ideas and solve technology problems, as well as directing them to the latest funding opportunities available, and advising on how to apply.

In addition, the national network of Catapult centres supports UK innovation through access to expertise and cutting-edge technical capabilities. The network manages over £1.3bn of research and demonstration facilities, and has significant engagement across the world, including within European programmes and bilateral initiatives.

Catapult centres currently support nearly 12,000 SMEs and foster collaboration with industry, academia and research, among others. Their facilities also attract investment from international companies in the UK, including Boeing and Fisher BioServices.

Where to find out more

Live funding opportunities can be found through the Innovation Funding Service, which also gives details of eligibility. The Innovate UK also has useful information on funding, strategy and resources, as well as the latest events aimed at businesses, and links to the Innovate UK blog.