UK firms championing inclusive innovation awarded £2.5 million

Wheelchair user charging their electric car

Innovate UK is helping 50 companies to develop inclusive innovations, from smart gloves that translate sign language to digital assistants for people with dementia.

Fifty pioneering companies across the UK have each been awarded £50,000 to further develop their inclusive innovations that include universally accessible electric vehicle chargers and curriculum-aligned mobile games that are revolutionising learning.

These companies are winners of the inaugural Inclusive Innovation Award announced today by the UK’s national innovation agency Innovate UK.

The value of inclusive innovation

The Inclusive Innovation Award encourages all parts of society to engage with innovation as a process that they can both benefit from and contribute to.

Inclusive innovation rejects the notion that a product or service should be designed around the ‘average customer’.

By ensuring that accessibility and inclusion are considered from the outset of innovation design, businesses can maximise the chances of commercial success by broadening their potential customer base. It also mitigates the risk of creating innovations that deepen existing inequalities and widen societal gaps.

Exclusive innovation, on the other hand, results in aspects of modern living being inaccessible to certain people, and to communities missing out on opportunities.

One example of an exclusive innovation went viral when a video of sinks at a hotel in Atlanta was posted online in 2015.

The video shows a soap dispenser failing to detect dark skin but working well on light skin. This is just one of many innovations designed without all users in mind, resulting in products that are not fit for purpose.

Diverse range of innovations

The Inclusive Innovation Award winners breaking ground in inclusive innovation include:

  • Duku: radically-new charger that makes electric vehicle charging accessible to all, including to those with limited mobility
  • Adapt: dynamic revision app, already used by over 500,000 GCSE and A-Level students, currently incorporating machine learning to generate personalised learning pathways for students with special educational needs or disabilities
  • GG Care: empowering people with dementia to live more independently with interactive voice reminders
  • The BrightSign smart glove that translates sign language into over 40 spoken languages. Credit: BrightSign Technologies

    BrightSign: artificial intelligence (AI)-based smart glove enabling sign language users to communicate via voice technology, without an interpreter

  • Coracle Inside: reducing the digital skills gap amongst the prison population with safe smart devices delivering educational content
  • Human Beauty: breaking down barriers in the cosmetics industry with adaptive products for disabled people, such as an omni-directional mascara wand
  • Mumbli: using state-of-the art sensors to help event venues assess their acoustic performance and noise levels in specific areas to help them make better decisions about accessibility and inclusion
  • An olive green stylish mobility walking frame

    Zeal Lifestyle are applying contemporary design and modern engineering to mobility aids. Credit: Zeal Lifestyle

    Zeal Lifestyle: stylish, sustainable mobility aids, breaking down barriers and combating stigma in the assisted living sector

  • MeVitae: using cutting-edge technology to mitigate cognitive and algorithmic bias in hiring, helping businesses build the best teams in the fairest way possible
  • NextUp Comedy: subscription video service known as the ‘Netflix of comedy’, live streaming from the best venues and festivals in the UK, making live comedy more accessible to all
  • SensoRail: using AI vibration technology to convert non-verbal sounds into dynamic vibration patterns, enabling deaf people deaf to engage more fully while watching TV

Spanning the whole of the UK

There is a high level of diversity among the leaders of the winning businesses:

  • 67% are women
  • 38% are Asian, Black or another ethnic minority group
  • 52% have unpaid care responsibilities
  • 22% identify as disabled

There are also multiple winners in every nation and region of the UK, including:

  • Phoenix Instinct: innovators in wheelchair design and accessories based in Forres, Scotland
  • Energy Local: a network of clubs helping rural communities access local energy, which started in Bethesda, North Wales
  • Green Bean Studios: inspiring young people to champion inclusivity, diversity and sustainability, located in Manchester

Giving a voice to everyone

BrightSign founder Hadeel Ayoub said that her company’s award will help it make its life-changing technology more accessible to the most vulnerable in society. She commented:

We are working towards making our innovation as affordable as possible, so that every person who could benefit from a BrightSign glove is able to access one. Our hope is that one day, we can help to give a voice to everyone, everywhere.

Improved life chances

Coracle Inside, which is taking its innovation into 85 prisons across England and Wales and has recently been awarded a King’s Award for Promoting Opportunity through Social Mobility, has ambitions to further tackle the digital skills gap. James Tweed, Coracle founder explained:

We want to help more people gain access to education and develop digital skills. By helping prisoners, we hope to help them leave a life of crime. Currently, the UK loses £18 billion per year in reoffending.

Breaking down barriers

Human Beauty founder Millie Flemington-Clare, whose goal is breaking down barriers in the cosmetics industry that prevent disabled people being included and represented, commented on winning the Inclusive Innovation Award:

This award will help me achieve my long-term ambition for my innovation, which is to establish my brand as the go-to source for authentic and innovative adaptive beauty products.

Further information

Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, is investing in inclusive Innovation across the UK.

For the inaugural Inclusive Innovation Award in 2022 to 2023, UK registered businesses were eligible to apply for a share of up to £2.5 million for scale-up of existing work, or development of new work, on inclusive innovations.

Applications were assessed by five independent assessors.

Learn more about the Inclusive Innovation Award.

Top image:  Accessible EV charger trailed in Dundee. Credit: Duku EV

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