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Healthy ageing

The healthy ageing challenge asks industry and researchers to develop products and services to help people remain independent, productive, active and socially connected for longer.


Healthy ageing

What is the healthy ageing challenge?

The number of people over 75 in the UK today is one in 12. By 2040, it will rise to one in 7. We’re also living for longer and a third of children born now are expected to live to 100.

This presents a challenge to health services, but it is also an opportunity for businesses and researchers who can help people to stay active and productive as they age.

The healthy ageing challenge will support UK government’s Ageing Society Grand Challenge to ensure people can enjoy at least 5 extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the experiences of the richest and poorest.

The aim of this challenge is to enable businesses, including social enterprises, to develop and deliver products, services and business models that will be adopted at scale which support people as they age. This will allow people to remain active, productive, independent and socially connected across generations for as long as possible

Through the challenge, government will bring together UK businesses and researchers to support people to stay in their homes for longer, tackle loneliness, and increase independence and wellbeing.

It is part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which brings together leading researchers and businesses to tackle today’s most important societal issues.

The intention is to delay the need for additional care and support through the development of new products and services to support an ageing society.

Extensive consultation has been undertaken with the healthy ageing community, including care providers, businesses, investors and third sector bodies, to help shape the content of the Programme, explained by Challenge Director George MacGinnis in his pre-launch blog.

In addition these two reports, commissioned by UKRI, have fed into the Programme development:

What’s the investment?

Up to £98 million will be invested in research and innovation that supports people as they age, while also helping those that care for them.

What are the funding opportunities?

Over the coming years there will be a series of opportunities for UK-based businesses and researchers. The opportunities range from Trailblazers which will focus on supporting the development of near to market propositions with potential to be adopted at scale; Investment Accelerator and early stage support for businesses looking to develop early-stage innovations; and research to further our understanding of healthy ageing.

The Centre for Ageing Better charity has developed a Healthy Ageing Challenge Framework, to stimulate thinking about the ISCF Healthy Ageing Challenge. It focuses on seven themes to stimulate innovation in pursuit of longer, healthier lives for all

  • Sustaining physical activity
  • Maintaining health at work
  • Design for age-friendly homes
  • Creating healthy, active places
  • Supporting social connections
  • Living well with cognitive impairment
  • Managing common complaints of ageing.

All funded projects will need to show how they tackle one or more of these challenges of older life.


The programme’s largest element (£40m) will be the ‘Trailblazer’ projects, which will stimulate new ideas from a wide range of businesses and social enterprises to develop and deliver products, services and business models at a large scale to support people as they age.

The competition will be run in two stages.

  • In the first ‘Discovery’ stage successful applicants will be given 5 months to develop business plans and demonstrate readiness to implement at scale.  
  • The second ‘Implementation’ stage will lead to the award of funding to around 6 projects which will be of up to 4 years duration. Only projects awarded Stage 1 funding will be eligible for the Stage 2 competition.

In addition, the Challenge will consider applications for continuity funding to enable Stage 1 projects that are not successful at Stage 2 to develop alternative investment and delivery strategies.

The first stage of the Trailblazer competition, seeking applications from business and other consortia, opened on 23 September 2019 and closed on 27 November 2019. Applications are under review. Click here to see further information about the matched funding rules (PDF, 185KB) which apply on this scheme. Read more about how Trailblazers will help to deliver the Healthy Ageing Challenge vision in the Challenge Director blog.

Investment Accelerator

This program will catalyse private investment in business-led Research and Development, to grow and take to market innovations for healthy ageing that have clear potential to be adopted at scale. These will focus on product and service innovations, not larger-scale infrastructure.

A total of £29 million in government grants together with matched funding from private investors will be available over the next four years for projects up to £1.5 million in eligible costs.

£13M of grants has already been allocated, alongside private equity from our new Investor Partners from the first competition, which were announced on the 14th May 2020.

They are:

  • Legal and General


  •  Barclays Ventures


  • Northstar Ventures


There will be a series of competitions for eligible SMEs to access funding and private equity, which will be investor – led, through a process of invite only applications.  Further information can be accessed through the investor websites above.

There will also be additional activity to secure further investor partners in a competition due to open in the autumn 2020. Opportunities for businesses to seek investment from those partnerships will open in Spring/Summer 2021.

Social, Behavioural and Design Research Programme

This programme will provide £9.5m (100% fEC) to fund interdisciplinary academic-led teams to carry out research into social, behavioural and design aspects of healthy ageing. The Programme will contribute to the Challenge mission to, ‘ensure that people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent, years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the richest and poorest’ by enhancing our understanding of the aspirations, preferences and needs of the ageing population. Funded projects may address, but are not limited to, the impacts of the CoVID-19 pandemic on social, behavioural and design aspects of healthy ageing. Projects will also be expected to make a significant contribution to disseminating this knowledge, helping to inform innovators and positively influence market behaviours.

Awards up to £2 million (100% fEC) are available for academics based at UK Research Organisations to conduct research into social, behavioural and design aspects of healthy ageing. Proposals are expected to critically engage with businesses, including social enterprises, to enhance their understanding of the needs and opportunities of an ageing population, help inform innovators and to open up creative spaces for businesses and consumers in an ‘ageing market.’ The public sector and charities should also be engaged where appropriate.

The outline stage of the call is open until 7 July 2020. You can find out more details about the call here, as well as viewing our briefing webinar here. A Healthy Ageing Research Director was appointed in early 2020 to provide strong, authoritative leadership on research for the Challenge as a whole.

A Healthy Ageing Research Director was appointed in early 2020  to provide strong, authoritative leadership on research for the Challenge as a whole.

Developing the pipeline: Early stage support

UKRI will provide financial support to academic researchers and small, medium, enterprises working together to develop new products and services. This is early stage innovation activity and it will attract match funding from existing funding streams that focus on digital healthcare and older adults.

A total of up to £12 million will be available through a range of opportunities which will be announced starting in 2020 and run for up to 4 years.

  • Catalyst Awards

UKRI is working with the US National Academy of Medicine (NAM) in the USA as a Global Collaborator in their Healthy Longevity Grand Challenge. We will commission a set of Catalyst Awards to support early stage innovation and stimulate interest in global opportunities. Awards are open for applications until 16:00 on 13 February 2020.

Apply for the Healthy Ageing Catalyst Awards here

  • Design Programme

The Design Programme will capitalise on the UK’s strength in design, in particular early-stage human centred design to maximise the commercial potential of ideas and innovations in the Healthy Ageing sector. The programme will tackle issues in both the supply and demand of design capabilities.

  • Collaborative R&D Competition

The aim of the Collaborative R&D competition is to focus on the high-potential early stage collaborative projects, which address key opportunities that would not otherwise be eligible for funding under the Trailblazer nor the Investment Accelerator programmes.

Community of Practice

This programme will facilitate collaboration across the investment portfolio to maximise impact, facilitate international collaboration, support knowledge exchange and foster a pipeline of early stage innovations.