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Delivering economic impact

Delivering economic impact

Sustainable economic growth for developed economies like the UK can only come from innovation – the application of new ideas and knowledge.


A WrightBus operating in London

This is one of the UK’s strengths, but there is enormous potential to go further by unlocking greater economic benefit from our world-class research base and by supporting business to stay at the cutting edge.

UKRI has an important role to play in supporting the UK to become an even stronger knowledge-driven economy. We must support the most innovative entrepreneurs and businesses to succeed. We must also create an ecosystem in which we nurture new innovators to start businesses, grow and flourish.

Encouraging even greater collaboration between business and the research base is key to achieving this ambition. Valuable research and innovation is undertaken in businesses, universities and other research and innovation organisations throughout the UK. We want to enable places right across the UK to use their research and innovation assets to drive economic growth.

Delivering economic growth is a team effort. UKRI will make it easier for businesses and research organisations to collaborate to exchange knowledge, people and ideas to produce innovative products, services and markets. A number of different approaches are needed to address this:

  • Use mission-orientated approaches to tackle specific challenges or opportunities for the UK. We will catalyse different communities to work together towards clear, shared goals.
  • We will complement this with competitive programmes that enable important opportunities identified by businesses and researchers at the front line of innovation to succeed.
  • One important role for us in promoting innovation is backing new general purpose technologies on their route to market.
  • We will champion business-led innovation. We will support the best innovative businesses from all sectors and help them to find the finance they need to grow. We will help businesses to find and connect with the most promising ideas emerging from the research base.
  • We will support and encourage universities and other research institutions to make knowledge exchange and commercialisation an equal priority alongside their teaching and research missions. We will aim to enable all parts of the UK to realise their potential for innovation-led growth.

We want UKRI to deliver a step change in our understanding of how to deliver greater economic productivity in tandem with building the UK’s excellent research base. So, as well as evaluating the outcomes of the work that we support, we will also support research to strengthen the evidence base on the efficacy of policy, financial and other interventions to support innovation. We will make our systems and processes straightforward to navigate, particularly for organisations less accustomed to working with us.

Building a culture of evaluation

All UKRI councils are committed to rigorously evaluating the impact of our investments. We want to build on existing strengths and use the creation of UKRI as an opportunity to raise our level of ambition, using data in new ways to look across the research and innovation landscape to understand the impact of our investments and maximise the return we get.

Robust evaluation of the return on investment in science and innovation is notoriously difficult, for example due to long lags, difficulties in obtaining a true baseline, and difficulties in correctly attributing benefits. However, within UKRI we have extensive experience of evaluating science and innovation investments, and will use a range of tools and approaches to develop a rounded understanding of impact to ensure that our future decisions are based on the best possible evidence.

For new programmes, we will build monitoring and evaluation best practice into the heart of programme design. But this is not just about new programmes – we are also committed to robustly evaluating the impact of our previous investments.

Aside from learning lessons on how best to run programmes, this will also help us demonstrate the economic and social impact of R&D funding, strengthening the evidence base for future decisions.

As part of this, we will develop effective data and metrics to understand the research and innovation landscape in different sectors, technology domains and places, taking into account the role of businesses as well as research institutions. We will seek to go beyond project- or programme-level evaluation, making links and joining up data collection processes to strengthen our understanding of the wider impacts of our investments the UK’s innovation landscape, and our progress towards significant missions, such as the Grand Challenges. To do this, we will work closely with colleagues across the civil service, public sector and beyond.

All parts of UK Research and Innovation are important to this element of our mission:

• Innovate UK will continue to champion and focus on business-led innovation

• The Research Councils will enable researchers to partner with businesses to help to realise the economic potential of their work

• Research England will support and challenge universities to engage with businesses and provide the capacity and capability to support research commercialisation. In doing this it will liaise and work with its counterparts in the devolved administrations.

We are also developing programmes which span multiple councils in order to capitalise on the opportunities from the creation of UK Research and Innovation. These include the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and the Strength in Places Fund.

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF)

The ISCF is a new and ambitious programme that brings together world-class UK research with business investment to tackle the major industrial and societal challenges facing the UK. It will develop technologies that will transform existing industries and create new ones.

It will support the four ‘Grand Challenges’ set out in the government’s Industrial Strategy:

  • AI and Data Economy
  • Future of Mobility
  • Clean Growth
  • Ageing Society

Through these Grand Challenges, the Government seeks to:

  • Put the UK at the forefront of the artificial intelligence and data revolution 
  • Maximise the advantages for UK industry from the global shift to clean growth 
  • Become a world leader in shaping the future of mobility 
  • Harness the power of innovation to help meet the needs of an ageing society.

Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund challenges

Clean growth

Transforming construction

We need to transform construction so that we can create affordable buildings to live and work in that are safer, healthier and use less energy. By taking a lead in the UK, we can increase our ability to export: global demand for efficient buildings is rising rapidly, driven by the pressures of urbanisation, affordability, and the need to cut emissions.

Prospering from the energy revolution

For the majority of our energy to be clean and affordable, we need more intelligent systems. Smart systems can link energy supply, storage and use, and join up power, heating and transport – to dramatically increase efficiency. By developing these world-leading systems in the UK, we can cut bills while creating high value jobs for the future.

Transforming food production

The world will need 60 per cent more food by 2050 to allow us to feed nine billion people. For this to be possible, the way we produce our food needs to be significantly more efficient and sustainable. By putting the UK at the forefront of this global farming revolution, we will deliver benefits to farmers, the environment and consumers.

Ageing Society

Medicines manufacturing

After years dedicated to their discovery, as each new medicine progresses through the stages of clinical testing towards approval, the challenge moves on to how they can be manufactured so that greater numbers of patients can access new drugs and treatments more quickly.

From data to early diagnosis and precision medicine

The challenge is to combine the wealth of data created by UK researchers with real-world evidence from our health service. This will allow industry to create new products and services that will diagnose diseases earlier and help clinicians choose the best treatment for individual patients. This will save lives and set the UK at the forefront of a growing global market in diagnostics.

Healthy ageing

The challenge is to develop new products and services that offer choice, meet the aspirations of older people, and support an independent lifestyle through better, more effective care. By working together, the government and industry can address the challenges of ageing whilst capturing a growing global market.

Future of mobility

Faraday battery challenge

The Faraday Battery Challenge aims to develop world-leading batteries, designed and manufactured in the UK, to fully exploit the industrial opportunity of vehicle electrification. It will tackle air pollution as well as enable UK businesses to make the most of the opportunities presented by the low carbon economy.

Extreme robotics

Robotics and artificial intelligence have the potential to revolutionise our public services and infrastructure, and hugely benefit industries working in extreme conditions such as nuclear energy, offshore energy, deep mining and space. The aim is to create a safer working world for people; improve productivity; and support advances in industry and public services.

National satellite test facility

A satellite test facility will be established. This will support new launch technologies, manufacturing and testing capabilities to construct future satellites and deliver payloads into orbit.

AI & data economy

Audience of the future

The challenge is to bring together creative companies, researchers and technologists to create striking new experiences that are accessible to the public. This can create the next-generation products, services and experiences that will capture the world’s attention and position the UK as the global leader in immersive technologies.

Next generation services

Pioneer funding will help service industries to identify how application of technologies can transform their operations. This will help to place UK service industries at the forefront of developing and using innovations.

Quantum technology

Pioneer support will help us understand how a new set of products can be developed from medical devices to sensors and safer communication systems. The potential is huge but still largely in the lab environment. We will bring new disruptive companies together with existing businesses to understand how this emerging technology can be turned into products.

Business-led Innovation

Within UK Research and Innovation, Innovate UK’s role remains focused on innovative businesses, enabling them to achieve their ambitions to increase productivity and tap growing markets.

Funding, in the form of grants and loans, provides opportunities for business-led, high-value innovation in any sector. Innovation and business networks, supported by Innovate UK, enhance connectivity between innovators, researchers, investors, sectors, government, and potential customers in the UK and around the world.

We will continue to promote and accelerate the commercialisation of the best ideas across sectors by:

  • Investing in open programmes to support the best innovative ideas from all sectors of the UK economy
  • Investing in the Catapult network, to attract private investment into innovation
  • Improving business access to investors through our investor accelerator programme
  • Increasing the talent pool of innovators developing exciting ideas in the UK through diversity campaigns
  • Piloting a £50 million programme of loan commitments from 2017-2020, deployed over up to three years with terms extending up to 10 years.

Knowledge Exchange

UK Research and Innovation is committed to enhancing the contributions made to the economy and society by the research and innovation we fund. A core role of universities and other higher education and research institutions is engagement with the outside world. They import, educate, train and export skilled people locally, nationally and internationally. They make the knowledge that they generate useful to society.

Substantially increased support for higher education institutions in England, through Higher Education Innovation Funding, will enable universities to increase their capabilities and the commercial exploitation of their knowledge and expertise. We will use the new Knowledge Exchange Framework to provide more information for the public and businesses on the performance of universities in knowledge exchange – how they share knowledge, expertise and other assets for the benefit of the economy and society. Complementing this, UK Research and Innovation will continue to support individual academics with commercially promising ideas to move out of the lab and into the marketplace through an extension and expansion of Innovate UK’s ICURe pilot.

ICURe helps to bridge the gap between research, innovation and commercialisation by providing academics with the necessary training, support and space to determine the right route to market for their commercially promising ideas.

UKRI is open for business

Through ISCF challenges UKRI will continue to support business-led innovation across the Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge areas

  • With an emphasis on growing and scaling businesses Innovate UK will continue to offer financial support for business-led innovation through initiatives including collaborative research and development grants
  • Innovate UK will offer Innovation Loans to transform ambitious business looking to grow and scale, and will provide connectivity through its business networks, such as the KTN and EEN.
  • The Catapult Network will continue to provide collaborative assistance for businesses seeking unlock sector specific barriers
  • UKRI will provide business leaders with easier access to leading-edge research in academia and be a single voice to enable better connectivity to policy makers.
  • UKRI will make it easier for businesses and research organisations to exchange and translate ideas, know-how and people from across the UK and all sectors, and to unlock more value from them for economic and societal benefits.
  • UKRI will support the UK research and innovation community to tackle sector and societal challenges and to turn these into significant market and export opportunities for UK businesses.
  • UKRI is primed to position the UK as a leader on the global stage and attractive to international partners and investors.

Supporting Growth across the UK

World-class research and innovation is undertaken in universities, research organisations and businesses throughout the UK and we are determined to support this excellence to grow. We want to enable regions right across the UK to realise their potential to drive innovation led economic growth. That is why we are launching the Strength in Places Fund.

This is a new UK wide competitive programme that will take a place-based approach to research and innovation funding. It will build on local business strengths and pockets of research excellence, supporting collaborative proposals from consortia of publicly-funded research organisations, businesses and local civic leaders to undertake research and innovation that will have a demonstrable impact on local economic growth.

We are learning from the valuable evidence base provided by the Science and Innovation Audits, which help us understand where the opportunities lie for investment in research and innovation to drive growth. We will continue to support locally-focused activity of our research institutes and science and innovation campuses and ensure the UK’s excellent research infrastructure has the support it needs to make an even greater impact on local economies across the UK.

We will engage with government and other partners to drive the impact of our investments, and further develop our place-focused policies through, for example, local industrial strategies.