A year in focus – Innovation continues despite pandemic

Innovate UK COVID-19 support continues to help companies across Britain, with over £750m investments awarded since the start of the pandemic.

Simon Edmonds, Innovate UK’s Deputy Executive Chair and Chief Business Officer rounds up the latest collaborations and funding opportunities.

The pandemic has done many things. What it hasn’t done is stop innovation. At Innovate UK we have been amazed at the brilliant ideas that have sprung from this crisis. The organisation has been there to help businesses through the pandemic and help businesses help people through the pandemic too. I am immensely proud of the resilience, dedication and achievements of every member of Innovate UK.

Collaboration is at the heart of innovation and through our collective efforts we have enabled businesses to radically develop new products and services that are truly transforming lives and livelihoods and contributing to economic growth. In a year, we have doubled the number of projects we fund.

One year on, Innovate UK has delivered a £750m investment at pace with agility to support thousands of companies to survive and thrive through COVID-19. To mark the first anniversary of COVID related funding reaching UK businesses, Innovate UK has commissioned a series of online videos which celebrate the ingenuity and resilience of innovative businesses it has funded right across  the UK.

These include:

  • Radical Fibres: Which will create the next generation of personal protective equipment, using materials that capture viruses.
  • FartStart programme:  Which supported Fernhay to respond with an updated electric assist, emission free eQuad now in production.

As well as grants and loans for existing Innovate UK customers, £40m was made available to fast-track new projects and services specifically designed to boost economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19.


The emission-free Fernhay eQuad - Courtesy of Fernhay
The emission-free Fernhay eQuad

The Business-led Innovation in Response to Global Disruption competition attracted a record 20,000+ applications, with over 800 businesses awarded funding. In addition, on 29 June 2020, Innovate UK launched the Sustainable Innovation Fund to help power economic recovery by developing new sustainable opportunities for businesses, and to help the UK meet its ambitions to cut carbon emissions to net zero  by 2050.

In November 2020, it was announced that nearly 1,200 companies across the UK would receive a share of the £134m of phase 1 of this fund. Feedback from businesses is still being collected and analysed, yet early data suggests that, of the 4,340 of companies supported through the COVID-response programmes to-date:

  • 78% said Innovate UK support helped them safeguard staff
  • 81% were able to develop new products and services
  • 88% secured new customers or entered new markets
  • 10% penetrated overseas markets for the first time
  • 74% said that their innovations would not have been possible (or at least not as timely) without Innovate UK’s support.

Post-pandemic, ‘business as usual’ will not be enough – the game has changed. However, the companies that embrace innovation as a strategic priority are laying the foundations of enduring success. Innovate UK will continue to bring together industry, government and academia, to unleash business-led innovation in all areas of the UK.

How to apply for the latest funding opportunities

Young Innovators Awards 2021/22 – Young people can apply for an award to make their business idea a reality, which includes a grant for £5,000, a living allowance and tailored business support. The aim of this competition is to find a new group of young innovators that, with our help, can turn their great ideas into successful businesses.

Innovate UK Smart Grants – UK registered organisations can apply for a share of up to £25m for game-changing and commercially viable R&D innovation that can significantly impact the UK economy.

ISCF smart sustainable plastic packaging, business-led R&D – UK registered businesses can apply for a share of up to £7m for R&D projects with the potential to significantly impact the 2025 UK Plastic Pact targets. This funding is from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.


Images courtesy of Fernhay