Innovate UK announces Women in Innovation funding

Innovate UK is continuing its mission to challenge disproportionately low numbers of women entrepreneurs in the UK, with the announcement of the 15 inspirational winners of its inaugural Women in Innovation competition.

Women In Innovation Winners - Innovate UK
The 15 winners were selected from a total of 34 finalists – image courtesy of Innovate UK.

Launched in May 2016, the nationwide Women in Innovation competition is aimed at addressing the problem that very few funding applications to Innovate UK come from women.

The 15 winners, who were selected from 34 finalists, were unveiled at a high-profile announcement event at London’s Royal Society of Arts on November 15.

Each winner will be awarded £50,000, a tailored business support package and be paired with a business mentor.

Chief executive of Innovate UK, Dr. Ruth McKernan explained: “From air quality monitors, to fully autonomous drone software, affordable solar power technology and a digital education portal which engages school children with the molecular world, the calibre of winners is an eye-opening view into the talent and vision of the UK’s female entrepreneurs.”

The wider economic impact of addressing this gender imbalance is significant, with research suggesting that if participation is increased to the same levels as men, women-led SMEs could potentially contribute a massive £180bn GVA to the UK by 2025.

Redefining perceptions of “the entrepreneur”

Despite women moving beyond dated “gender norms”, limiting perceptions of innovators and entrepreneurs as “male”, still remain. Recent research reveals that only 14% of all people working in STEM are women and the proportion of working-age women engaged in early-stage entrepreneurialism is 50% less than that of their male counterparts.

Representing all areas of STEM, these inspirational winners join a growing movement of female innovators who are redefining the role of the “entrepreneur”.

They include:

  • a chocolate enthusiast who has invented a new chocolate modelling technique
  • an Afghan woman whose personal loss inspired her to improve cancer survival rate
  • a woman working out of a Shepard’s Hut in Wales creating a new approach to measuring alpha radiation
  • a design engineering student whose passion for solving a large volume waste problem has led her to identifying a circular economy opportunity in converting chicken feathers into an insulation product.

This varied cross-section of women are unified in their visionary ideas, passion and impressive business skills.

Removing the barriers for female entrepreneurs

Part of Innovate UK’s infocus campaign, an umbrella initiative to encourage diversity in innovation, the Women in Innovation awards shine a much needed spotlight on these future leaders. In doing so, it helps directly address the key barrier to female entrepreneurship: limited access to relevant role models and identification with entrepreneurs as “women like me”.

Not only that, but with women less likely to seek external sources of finance than men, the infocus campaign is an important opportunity to drive awareness of the how simple it is to apply for game changing funding, in turn, helping pave the way for future female-led businesses.