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£125 million cash boost for game-changing UK innovators


  • £100 million in grants for businesses across the UK to fuel pioneering research and development projects as part of the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy
  • £25 million investment also available through Innovate UK for leading SMEs to turn late-stage research into commercially available products 
  • Previous success stories include a machine learning image processing company sold to Twitter for $150m 

Businesses large and small across the UK are poised to receive a £125 million cash boost to turn their innovative ideas into new products and services on the market.

This significant cash injection will cover businesses of any size at various stages of innovation. £100 million will be available as part of the government’s ‘Smart’ grant programme, helping businesses take initial ideas from concept stage to full commercialisation - while a further £25 million is also available through Innovate UK for late-stage research and development projects. The funding boost aims to keep the UK at the forefront of new technologies - a key aim of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy.

Innovative ideas can be submitted from businesses, for independent expert assessment, with the aim of securing investment to propel them to international success - boosting the UK economy along the way.

Previous beneficiaries of government financial support include:

  • 3D printing company Photocentric - which expects to sell over £8 million worth of its products by 2020;
  • Machine learning company Magic Pony Technology, which was sold to Twitter for $150m after impressing them with their algorithms that can understand features of imagery, and;
  • Cobalt Light Systems, whose grant helped the company to develop a prototype for screening liquids to identify explosives at airports. They have been acquired by Agilent – a US analytical laboratory technologies company - for £40m.

Each of these companies benefited from ‘Smart’ grant funding, which helped turn their concepts into marketable products.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said:

“I am extremely proud of the UK’s reputation as one of the best places in the world for budding entrepreneurs to start and grow a business, with one business starting every 80 seconds in 2018.

“Through our modern Industrial Strategy we are backing our homegrown businesses to boost productivity and create jobs, growth and opportunity in every part of the UK. This includes one-to-one mentoring from successful businesses, peer improvement networks and the government-backed British Business Bank awarding over 60,000 Start-Up loans since 2012 - worth half a billion pounds.

“We are investing record amounts into R&D. This new £125m boost will give enterprising businesses a launch-pad for their cutting-edge ideas and enable them to develop the products and services of the future.”

Over the last 12 years, the Government has invested over £2.2 billion in more than 11,000 projects focusing on technological innovation, generating up to £16 billion for the UK economy and creating 70,000 jobs.

The cash available forms part of the Government’s modern Industrial Strategy, which is committed to keeping the UK at the forefront of research and development while boosting people’s earning power. 

Dr Ian Campbell, Executive Chair of Innovate UK, said:

“Both our successful grants and loans schemes are popular with businesses because they help great ideas get to market faster.

“Smart grants are an excellent way of supporting innovation in single companies or, generating collaborations between companies, working with our world-class research base. Our Innovation loans suit late-stage-development businesses about to become, or just becoming, revenue earning. Both are awarded to projects that will make a real impact on the UK economy.”

Describing Innovate UK’s support for Magic Pony Technology, Rob Bishop, now Director of Product Infrastructure at Twitter, said:

“We were fortunate to gain a development of prototype grant from Innovate UK’s Smart grant scheme in 2015, which provided us with essential funding to help turn our research ideas into a functioning product – ultimately leading to Magic Pony Technology being acquired by Twitter in 2016.”

This boost comes in addition to a new £3m investment accelerator scheme, the Regional Angel Investment Accelerator Pilots, which will encourage Business Angels across the country to channel investment and expertise into pioneering small and medium-sized companies.

Due to the Smart grant scheme’s popularity with businesses, there will be a rolling schedule of competitions throughout the year, with the latest round now open for applications until 24 July. The competition to win an innovation loan opens on the 8th July.

Notes to editors

1. The next round of funding for Innovate UK smart grants is now open.  All proposals must be business focused, rather than pure research. Applications can come from any area of technology (including arts, design, media or creative industries), science or engineering and be applied to any part of the economy.

Whilst the Government welcomes projects that overlap with the Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge areas, it is also keen to support projects that are entirely outside these. Working in these areas is not a requirement to be eligible.

This competition closes at noon on Wednesday 24 July. For more information about how to apply please see https://apply-for-innovation-funding.service.gov.uk/competition/346/overview

2. Smart grants provides funding for innovative R&D from early stage feasibility (including market research), through to technology or prototype testing and development stages up to (but not including) commercialisation. The programme offers investment to support R&D projects that can cost up to £2 million.

3. Smart grants awarded over the last decade have proven to help UK businesses innovate and grow. Previous successes include:

  • Digital Shadows in the last 2 years alone raised an additional £20m in investment for the innovation developed through their Smart grants and grew from 2 people to 150 - with offices not only in London but also in the US.
  • Oxbotica spun out of the Oxford Robotics Institute in 2014 and is now a world-leading autonomous vehicle software provider. Using the latest in computer vision, machine learning and artificial intelligence, Oxbotica enables vehicles to operate autonomously in any vehicle, and on any terrain. The company has grown from four to over 100 staff since it formed and has exported its software to four continents.
  • London-based start-up Fidel developed a platform which helps consumers to receive rewards for their purchases. They have now secured further capital from one of the largest venture capital firms in the world, Horizons Ventures, that is helping them grow and commercialise the service in UK and internationally.
  • Oxford-based company, Oxehealth used funding from Innovate UK to support the development of a way to improve the care of patients by combining computer algorithms with optical sensors.
  1. About Innovate UK’s innovation loans programme: Innovate UK’s innovation loans programme will receive a £25 million extension into 2019/20. This follows the £50 million that Innovate UK has committed to 74 businesses so far in the pilot. Loans are aimed at businesses with innovations that are near to market, with the next competition to open on 8 July.

Businesses that have received innovation loans so far since the scheme launched last year have come from across the UK in sectors including clean growth, advanced manufacturing, healthy ageing and AI and data analytics. Examples include:

  • Lightfoot, an Exeter-based company that is extending its ‘Fitbit for cars’ technology which rewards better driving - helping drivers to use less fuel, reduce harmful emissions and stay safe. The loan is helping Lightfoot expand the technology beyond businesses to the consumer market. 
  • Callaly, an award-winning innovator in feminine care that is developing and scaling its manufacturing capacity for its novel ‘tampliner’ product.
  • Catagen, is using its expertise, software and patented testing technology to reduce exhaust fumes, and meet the needs of customers for a ‘clean air partnership’

5. About the Regional Angel Investment Accelerator Pilots: The Regional Angel Investment Accelerator Pilots will receive £3m of Innovate UK funding to encourage Business Angels in the regions to bring investment and expertise to pioneering innovative small and medium companies. The businesses will also benefit from government grants to deliver innovation projects with a view to longer term business angel involvement and future commercial success in the regions. Each of the angel investor partners (AIPs) will work with local angel networks and groups to identify suitable investment opportunities and investors.

The three AIPs are:

  • University of Bath for the SETsquared Partnership, which are collaborating with the UK Business Angel Association (UKBAA) and regional angel networks;
  • North East Business and Innovation Centre, which is collaborating with the UKBAA, the Innovation SuperNetwork and North Invest, along with a number of local angel networks; and
  • Northstar Ventures Limited, an established equity fund with a strong track record of funding alongside local angel investors

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