Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Investor partnerships future economy programme

This programme brings together Innovate UK’s use of grant funding, and investor partners’ aligned funding and expertise.

Its aim is to stimulate research and development in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, whilst accelerating equity investment into those companies so that they can grow more rapidly through innovation.

The overall budget for this programme is £80 million over three years
Ongoing initiative with regular competitions, running from 2022 to 2025
Partners involved:
Innovate UK

The scope and what we're doing

The investor partnerships model is aimed at highly innovative micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who:

  • are carrying out research and development projects
  • also seek aligned equity funding to deliver their technology or research.

The model not only allows Innovate UK to directly fund companies who have a research and development project, but also encourages companies to seek equity investment so that they are not just funding their project, but also accessing capital from equity investment to grow their business.

Innovate UK is selecting a ‘pool’ of investor partners who demonstrate that they have the credibility, capability, capacity and appetite to invest in innovative, technology-led businesses in areas that align with our objectives in programme areas.

The investor partners will work with Innovate UK to consider innovative businesses that apply for grant funding alongside their investment. The investor partners include venture capital funds, corporate investors, business angel groups and social impact investors, coming from across the UK, Europe, and the US.

A new three-year programme is launching in 2022 with the scope focused on the Future Economy described in Innovate UK’s plan for action. This focuses on the following themes:

  • net zero
  • health and wellbeing
  • next generation digital technologies
  • technology families.

During the investor partnership programme, we will identify further areas of specific scope focus. These are likely to include:

  • net zero:
    • green finance
    • critical circular materials
    • resource efficiency for materials and manufacturing
  • health and wellbeing:
    • innovative solutions to health and healthcare challenges (Biomedical Catalyst)
    • improved delivery of mental health and wellbeing services, through the application of immersive technologies
    • novel low emission production systems, including vertical farming and alternative proteins
  • next generation digital technologies:
    • innovation in the creative industries (Creative Catalyst)
    • adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies in targeted industries
  • equality, diversity and inclusion:
    • diverse founders of innovative businesses
    • innovative products or services that support diverse groups
    • diverse investors.

Since the pilot launched in 2017, Innovate UK has run investor partnership programmes in the following areas:

  • health and life sciences
  • precision medicine
  • healthy ageing
  • transforming food production
  • transforming foundation industries
  • audience of the future
  • clean growth innovation fund
  • quantum technologies.

Why we're doing it

The investor partnership programme tackles the challenges faced by highly innovative UK businesses with strong growth potential in accessing the finance required to grow and scale.

It does this by leveraging Innovate UK’s expertise, connections and grant funding whilst encouraging commercial investors to provide finance and business acumen to younger businesses operating in underserved markets.

Investor partnerships aim to address the ‘equity investment gap’ by encouraging highly innovative micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to attract investment that is aligned to research and development grant support at an early stage, so that they are also better able to attract the necessary level of follow-on investment as they scale and grow.

This alignment aims to deliver impact through economic growth by ensuring that innovative businesses are adequately capitalised and by attracting additional equity investment into risky SMEs from (or led by) selected investor partners.

In line with Innovate UK’s plan for action, the £80 million programme helps deliver towards the following three priority themes:

  • future economy: a new three-year programme has been developed with the scope focused on the future economy
  • growth at scale: the programme will be used to accelerate investment into innovative, high-growth-potential businesses
  • innovation ecosystem: leveraging private investment to innovative businesses to provide capital for research and development and growth.

Opportunities, support and resources available


Investors can apply to become one of Innovate UK’s investor partners through an application process.

The next available process opens on 4 October 2022 and closes on 2 November 2022. We will open further selection processes quarterly. We will share the link when it’s available.


We encourage micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to work with Innovate UK EDGE before considering applying for a grant or engaging with investors. This will help you to find out if your business is suitable and ready to take on external investment.

The first stage in a grant application is for one of our investor partners to submit an expression of interest, where they will describe your proposed research and development project, and set out their possible interest in making an investment.

As a result, SMEs must engage with our investor partners before considering applying for a grant. All our investor partners have produced a public summary that describes their firm, their investment areas of interest and the amounts that they typically invest. These summaries also set out how they wish to be contacted about the programme. We will share the link about our investor partners when it’s available.

The Innovate UK Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) is also developing an investor engagement programme to help in this process.

Businesses will be able to apply for grant funding through regular future economy investor partnership competitions. We will share the link for the future economy investor partnership grant when it’s available.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

In 15 investor partnership programmes between 2017 and March 2022:

  • Innovate UK has awarded £42.8 million in grant funding to 162 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
  • 28 investor partners have made or led £123 million in aligned equity investment into those SMEs.

Over £373 million in subsequent additional follow-on investment from investor partners or other investors has been raised by SMEs involved in these programmes.

An interim evaluation of the initial pilot programme, carried out by independent consultants SQW, confirmed that overall, the pilot played a fundamental role in enabling or accelerating early stage, very technical research and development which was deemed too risky or early stage for private investment alone.

The pilot has accelerated access to finance, with a direct impact on projects’ technological progression and on the businesses’ development.

Who to contact

Customer support service


Phone: 0300 321 4357

Governance, management and panels

Investor partners are chosen, following an application process, by an expert investor selection panel from Innovate UK and UKRI, with independent sector expertise when required.

Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) may be offered grant funding for their research and development project, following an application and independent assessment process.

SMEs must receive investment from (or led by) one or more investor partners to align with the grant funding offer to start their project.

Last updated: 30 September 2022

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