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Innovate UK’s business-led innovation in response to global disruption

Ian Campbell, Innovate UK

Ian Campbell, Innovate UK

In April 2020, the government charged Innovate UK with delivering £750 million of investment and support for UK businesses driving innovation and development during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alongside grants and loans for existing Innovate UK customers, an early package of funding saw £40 million made available to ‘fast track’ new projects and services specifically designed to boost economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19.

The Innovate UK-managed ‘Business-led innovation in response to global disruption’ competition attracted around 20,000 applications – easily a record – with over 800 businesses awarded funding to bring their exciting products and services to market.

Question and answer with Innovate UK’s Ian Campbell

Dr Ian Campbell, Executive Chair of Innovate UK, answered some questions about this competition, and how these businesses can support economic and societal recovery from the pandemic.

Who has received funding through this rapid response funding competition?

This was the most popular competition we have ever run. Businesses from all over the UK answered our call to meet the challenges we face today, and in the future.

We have funded a huge variety of projects across a range of sectors. Just some examples include:

  • Radical Fibres will create the next generation of personal protective equipment, using materials that capture viruses
  • The National Theatre is developing a cutting-edge entertainment platform, giving performers a digital stage for global audiences
  • Volunteero has developed a social media app to connect local communities and allow volunteers to target support to their most vulnerable neighbours
  • i3d Robotics is building a virtual-reality training and teaching platform that will enable medical students to upskill remotely and perform simulation surgeries.
  • Elchies Estates is setting up virtual farmers’ markets to replace traditional markets that have closed down as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak – providing a platform for local businesses and farmers to sell their produce.

We have been able, through this competition, to further develop equality and diversity across our client base. Great ideas for innovation can come from anyone. If we ignore this we miss out on untapped potential.

Over 21% of applications were led by women, compared to between 2013 and 2016, when this was just 14.3% of Innovate UK applications. We can attribute much of this 70% increase to our focus on programmes like Women in Innovation and Ideas Mean Business.

How can innovation support the nation’s recovery from the pandemic?

Innovation support has been just one aspect of the national response to this crisis. Government has stepped in with unprecedented financial support for companies and employees.

Innovate UK is playing its part by backing businesses throughout this time of national challenge. We can offer more grants and loans to innovators whose ideas will drive the industries of the future.

Why do we need innovation in retail, delivery services and transport?

The crisis has redefined what is understood by the term ‘key worker’.

We all rightly pay tribute to the amazing work and sacrifices of those who work in the NHS and the care sector, but this crisis has shown that key workers are not just nurses and teachers: they are also delivery drivers, retail workers, IT support workers and everybody else whose efforts we rely upon. We are all part of the great national effort not just to beat this disease, but to revivify our economy and society.

The tech sector has a crucial role to play within this.

Our competition focused on projects to build UK resilience following the coronavirus outbreak. We were interested in new technology that would:

  • allow retailers to better respond to spikes in demand and improve deliveries
  • support new services for families to connect with their elderly or vulnerable relatives remotely
  • create educational tools that can seamlessly integrate the classroom with the kitchen table.

The competition was launched in April and is part of a wider investment package of £1.25 billion for innovative UK businesses.

Last updated: 28 October 2020

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