Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Establish an innovation adoption accelerator

Apply for funding to establish one of two social science Innovation Adoption Accelerators in Professional and Financial Services (PFS).

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for ESRC funding.

We will fund one innovation adoption accelerator in each of the two sectors:

  • professional services: legal and accountancy
  • financial services: focused on insurance, lending, advisory, and payment and transaction systems.

The full economic cost of each accelerator can be up to £1,875,000. ESRC and Innovate UK will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Funding is available between May 2023 and September 2025.

Who can apply

The principal investigator (accelerator leads) must be based at an organisation eligible for funding for the duration of the grant. Standard ESRC eligibility rules apply and applicants are encouraged to read the ESRC research funding guide.

Check if you are eligible for research and innovation funding.

We invite submissions from academic-led teams with the necessary knowledge exchange experience and proven skills to lead and manage a programme to support businesses.

Applications may include UK co-investigators across different sectors (business, third sector and government body organisations) or international co-investigators.

We encourage the inclusion of project partners who are able to provide cash or in-kind contributions to increase the potential scale and reach of activities.

What we're looking for

ESRC and Innovate UK invite applications to establish two dedicated innovation adoption accelerators with one accelerator for each of the following two sectors:

  • professional services: legal and accountancy
  • financial services: focus on insurance, lending, advisory, and payment and transaction systems.

ESRC and Innovate UK will fund two accelerators across the sectors, taking a portfolio approach.

Aims of the investment

The aims of the adoption accelerators are to:

  • enable research-led organisations to support businesses in these sectors by designing and delivering a targeted and ambitious innovation adoption programme that will work with and support firms directly, enabling collaborative working
  • unlock the potential of the social sciences to better support firms to innovate, including building capabilities for business impact
  • build on existing experience and success of collaborating and supporting businesses to adopt innovation
  • act as centres of expertise and support to firms in the targeted sectors to help them:
    • be more knowledgeable, confident and skilled in becoming greater adopters of innovation and new, specifically digital, technologies
    • drive their own innovation, research and development
  • provide evidence of what works to help UKRI, other researchers, policymakers and the industry understand the barriers, opportunities and solutions in innovation within these sectors.

You are expected to indicate which sectors you are primarily applying to support. There is flexibility where it is evidenced it is needed (for example, where service innovation in professional services crosses over into financial services or where specific financial services providers operate in a way more similar to a professional services firm).


You must understand the challenges to innovation adoption within the professional or financial services sectors, specifically demand-led services, and evidence of experience of working with and supporting them.

You are also expected to have strong existing connections to businesses and relevant industry bodies in the professional or financial services, a collaborative mindset, excellent research and impact leadership and management abilities.

You should propose your own operating delivery model to meet the aims of the programme above. Proposals are required to achieve the following.

Address barriers to adoption of digital technologies

You are expected to:

  • design programmes to support firms in the professional and financial services sector facing challenges to adopt new technologies. This should address human behavioural barriers and cover relevant aspects of technological barriers to adoption
  • develop suitable delivery plans for an ambitious programme. Delivery should aim at creating lasting change in the businesses that go through the accelerator and building their capabilities to engage with innovation
  • bring a co-design and delivery approach by working with relevant businesses within the target sectors
  • ensure activities address and support diversity and inclusion. You should outline as part of this how you are committed to underserved and excluded individuals, communities and businesses ensure the inclusion of appropriate social science expertise in the design and delivery of the accelerator activities, including any research methods, and use and development of appropriate models of collaborations.

Provide skills development to demand-led service businesses

Accelerators should focus on supporting professionals with building skills that enable them to engage with innovation and to adopt technological solutions. This should be embedded as part of the activities and, for example, may be offered through a training or mentoring programme.

Skills covered may include but are not limited to:

  • using research and evidence to inform business decisions
  • the application of advanced digital technologies within these services
  • designing processes and organisation structures to become more innovative
  • cultural barriers to innovation and how to overcome them
  • business model design
  • managerial skills required to develop and adopt innovation
  • building collaborations.

Engage key stakeholders and beneficiaries

Accelerator leads are expected to:

  • engage and collaborate with businesses and other industry experts in the design of the programme to ensure the programme benefits businesses in the targeted sectors. This may include business partnerships, research technology organisations, Catapult centres, trade and industry bodies, government or third sector. You should evidence collaborating with different partners to bring in appropriate capability
  • have a plan for engagement with potential beneficiaries in place. Plans for engagement should also reflect awareness of timeframes, commitment, incentives and commercial sensitivities
  • work with the other accelerator lead and other funded investments in the five workstreams to ensure exchange of insights throughout the funded programme
  • work closely with ESRC and Innovate UK to share insights and learnings
  • embed the development and implementation of a strategy in the accelerator activities in order to become self-sustaining after the initial funding period.

Focus on impact

You will need to ensure you have an effective approach to tracking and evidencing impact and effectiveness of your support interventions for beneficiaries, and evidence the commitment to learning from activities, including successes and failures, and sharing insights.

Have support from your research organisation

Support from the host organisation will be essential in ensuring the success of the accelerator. As such, we require a letter of support from a named senior contact supporting the application and outlining how the institution will be providing support to the applicant to ensure its success.

Provide appropriate branding for the accelerator

The branding of each accelerator must include reference to ESRC and Innovate UK.

Funding available

The full economic cost of each accelerator can be up to £1,875,000. ESRC and Innovate UK will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Project partner contributions are treated as additional to the full economic cost of the proposal submitted to ESRC. Project partners have an integral role in a grant and provide specified cash or in-kind contributions.

For more information on project partners, see the ESRC research funding guide.

Costing should be justified according to the different aspects of delivery. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • principal investigator and co-investigator time
  • the management of the programme and administrative support: a sufficient level of administrative support should be requested to ensure the coordination, management and smooth running of the programme. Reasonable costs for monitoring and dissemination of the programme’s outputs can also be included
  • knowledge exchange and communication activities
  • programme of activities: you are encouraged to think creatively about the range of activities that could support the delivery of the innovation adoption accelerator aims
  • directly incurred costs, for example delivery activities, travel and subsistence, arranging workshops and meetings.


Accelerators are expected to start by 1 May 2023 and funded activities are expected to be completed by 30 September 2025.


A webinar to support applicants was held on 17 October 2022.

Watch webinar recording on Zoom (passcode: VRvL56=T)

Please email if you have any further questions.

How to apply

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

You can find advice on completing your application in:

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

When applying:

  1. Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  2. Select ‘call search’.
  3. To find the opportunity, search for: ‘Innovation Adoption in Professional and Financial Services 2023’.

This will populate:

  • council: ESRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: research grants
  • call/type/mode: Innovation Adoption in Professional and Financial Services 2023.

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

Je-S currently requires one nominated principal investigator. Please add one of your co-principal investigators as the principal investigator and the other as a co-investigator.

In the case for support, please note which co-principal investigator will be acting as a co-principal investigator in Je-S. ESRC will then treat that person as a co-principal investigator throughout the application process.

Including partner organisations in your application

Project partner organisations do not need to be based at an eligible research organisation or have a verified Je-S account. You are advised to consult the Je-S guidance for applicants (DOCX, 87KB) for instructions on how to input project partners on a grant proposal.


ESRC must receive your application by 13 December at 16:00.

You will not be able to apply after this time. Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.


Proposals should address the aims of the opportunity and must include the following:

  • case for support (maximum of 12 sides of A4)
  • CVs (maximum of two sides of A4 per person)
  • justification of resources (maximum of two sides of A4)
  • letters of support (maximum of one side of A4 each).

Other optional attachments should be included where necessary. Please see the Je-S guidance attachment.

The Je-S guidance for applicants (DOCX, 87KB) for the opportunity provides details on the information that you are required to submit as part of your proposal. You are also strongly advised to consult ESRC’s research funding guide which sets out the rules and regulations governing its funding. However, please note that opportunity-specific guidance supersedes standard guidance where there is a conflict.

How we will assess your application

Assessment criteria

Fit to scope of the opportunity

This includes the extent to which the proposed work addresses the aims and requirements as set out in this funding opportunity. This should include how it will address barriers to adoption and using innovation in the targeted sectors, and how it will bring in social science research expertise.

Relevance of experience and expertise

This includes:

  • existing connections to the industry and industry bodies, and previous experience of collaborating and engaging with business to support innovation adoption
  • demonstrating an understanding of support requirements and barriers to innovation adoption specific to the professional and financial services and the value of social science expertise to this industry (including consideration of time, resources, incentives and on-going support)
  • evidence of appropriate research methods to gain insights into what works in the accelerator approach.

Appropriateness of proposed activities

This includes:

  • evidence of consideration of commercial sensitivities connected to working with businesses
  • capacity building for those that will benefit from the accelerator and those that will work on the accelerator (this includes businesses, social science researchers and admin support staff)
  • balancing scalability against intensity of the business support you are delivering.

Leadership and management

This includes:

  • appropriate structure to manage the activities as well as roles and responsibilities among members of the team and partners
  • evidence of appropriate support from your institution
  • evidence of a consideration of equality, diversity and inclusion, and ensuring that any partnerships are equitable
  • timescales of the proposed programme of work.

Plans for communications, engagement and impact

This includes:

  • evidence of a strong engagement with potential partners and beneficiaries of the programme at the project planning and inception stages through to completion and impact of the project
  • evidence of a considered and realistic engagement and dissemination strategy, and clear plans to maximise academic and societal or economic impact
  • evidence of a considered plan to measure the effectiveness and impacts of your accelerator programme and how the insights will be shared with ESRC, Innovate UK and relevant stakeholders.

Justification for resources and value for money

This includes:

  • appropriate expertise and resources for undertaking the work within the required timescale
  • ensuring that the support from the host research organisation is appropriate to ensuring the successful delivery of the grant and achieving the aims of the funding, in a clear and transparent manner, meeting ESRC’s expectations
  • value for money.

Assessment process

Your application will be assessed by a panel of academics, business professionals and knowledge exchange experts. This is a two-stage application process where applications will go to the panel for shortlisting.

Shortlisted applicants will go through to interview with the panel, and ESRC and Innovate UK representatives.

Shortlisted applicants will be invited to interview in mid-March 2023. Funding decisions are expected to be available in late March or early April.

Grants will commence by 1 May 2023.

Innovate UK and ESRC will be awarding grants to two applications which cover the portfolio of professional and financial services.

Innovate UK and ESRC reserve the right to modify the assessment process as needed.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Business engagement and innovation team


Include ‘innovation adoption’ in the subject line.

Get help with applying through Je-S



01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

This opportunity is a workstream within a wider programme that aims to transform UK professional and financial services by responsibly developing and deploying digital technologies to deliver world-leading services that:

  • increase the UK’s productivity and competitiveness
  • drive economic growth
  • underpin societal and economic resilience.
  • increase the productivity of firms that supply these services
  • improve access to the services for underserved and excluded individuals and businesses.

The five workstreams of the programme are:

  • support for adoption in demand side firms
  • a collaborative research and development innovation support programme for Lawtech, Accountech and Fintech
  • data access in cross sectoral areas of professional and financial services
  • connecting, disseminating learning and building community through the AI for Services network
  • international collaboration.

The UKRI Next Generation Services Industrial Strategy Challenge fund (completed in 2022) identified a critical area of need to develop support and capability for firms in the professional and financial services. This funding is building on the evidence of this need and the capabilities of the social science community to deliver support to these firms.


Digital technologies (artificial intelligence, and digital and advanced computing) can transform the professional and financial services sectors, increasing productivity, competitiveness, resilience and access (particularly for the excluded and underserved). While Fintech has flourished in daily banking, other areas need addressing (savings, pensions and investments, loans, legal and advisory).

Barriers for investing in innovation within these sectors are:

  • asymmetry of understanding and low skills to innovate
  • low business model innovation, delivering services through long-established methods
  • firm structures, for example partnerships, and limits to strategic expenditure on research and development
  • low digital skills and awareness amongst sector decision-makers
  • career pathways that focus on narrow specialisation
  • lack of common data standards and interoperability of new digital products
  • limited or asymmetric access to data (for example court records and client data) limits to artificial intelligence development
  • risk aversion driven by professional training
  • regulation lagging technology thus limiting trust and confidence.

Raising the professional and financial services sectors’ capability to engage and invest in innovation will drive economic growth, secure UK capability and underpin economic and societal resilience:

Themes raised by industry during the Next Generation Services programme include:

  • understanding how to innovate and what technologies like artificial intelligence can realistically do
  • need to build their absorptive capacity
  • guidance and support to adopt new business models and delivery methods
  • development and use of new technologies to increase productivity and expand offerings into otherwise less profitable areas (excluded communities and underserved businesses)
  • convening stakeholders to address data access, realising value for data holders and tech suppliers while maintaining privacy and concepts like client privilege.

Supporting documents

Je-S guidance for applicants (DOCX, 87KB)
ESRC research funding guide
Equality impact assessment (DOCX, 42KB)

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.