Supporting our next generation of young innovators in 2021

With a record number of award winners this year, Simon Edmonds features five beneficiaries of Innovate UK’s Young Innovator Awards, all of whom are using this vital funding to launch their products to market.

With the last 12 months proving to be an incredibly difficult year, maintaining our focus on encouraging the next generation of young innovators seems more important than ever. It was therefore very encouraging that Innovate UK’s Young Innovator Awards, a programme we run in conjunction with the Prince’s Trust, received an unprecedented level of entries, with an 87% increase in applications year-on-year.

Sixty-four young people have started the New Year with a boost after getting the coveted award. This is double the number of award winners/recipients of previous years.

The Young Innovators’ Awards recognise young people from across the UK with great business ideas who have the potential to become successful entrepreneurs and future leaders in innovation. The awards look set to tackle some of society’s biggest challenges, including reducing plastic, tackling loneliness in care homes and helping new-born babies, wheelchair users and stroke survivors.

The inspiring young people will each benefit from a package of support that includes a £5,000 grant, one-on-one business coaching and an allowance to cover living costs. The programme is set to continue awarding young people from diverse backgrounds until at least 2023.

Following are a few of the fantastic examples of young people being supported this year.


Valentina DipietroValentina Dipietro Innovate UK

26-year-old Valentina is a materials designer, researcher and graduate of the Royal College of Art in Textiles (MA) and NABA Milan in Fashion Design (BA). Adopting an experimental approach, Valentina works at the intersection of biology and design to explore innovative and disruptive sustainable designs for products, interiors and architecture. She is the founder of Mykor, a biotechnology and design company which has digital design and biofabrication at its core, inspired by nature. Mykor is a biocomposite material made of wood waste, natural dyes and mycelium – the ‘root’ of mushrooms. The mycelium behaves like a natural glue and binds the wood. The resulting materials are fire retardant, insulating and sound- absorbing and are available in a range of attractive colours.

Nina BirchardNina Birchard Innovate UK

24-year-old Nina is a product design engineer from Scotland who is using her design skills to address the global issue of infant mortality. She is developing the Newborn Rescue Towel, a low-cost emergency medical device designed to tackle the challenges of performing newborn resuscitation in low resource environments. The Newborn Rescue Towel has the power to help health professionals save lives.

Penelope RobertsPenelope Roberts Innovate UK

Penelope is a PhD student at the University of Essex, working on the development of robotic companions for care homes and hospitals. Her company RoboNurse4NHS aims to provide socially-aware robotic companions for people at home, in hospitals and in care. Due to an ageing population and longer life expectancy, the demand for care for long-term health conditions in the UK increases each year. Semi-autonomous robotic companions offer users a customisable and personalised assistant, reducing cost and the demand on current services. It will also allow users to retain their independence for longer, providing customisable companionship.

Greg ShortGreg Short Innovate UK

25-year-old Greg, from Newcastle- upon-Tyne, has always been fascinated by the way things work and the benefits they can bring to our lives and society. The electronic engineer was particularly intrigued by hydroponics and vertical farming, with the positive impact it has had socially and environmentally around the world. Greg aims to develop user-friendly, plug and-play vertical hydroponic systems at an affordable price. Vertical farming today is mostly achieved in huge facilities requiring large start-up costs, energy supplies and widespread distribution. By decentralising vertical farming and making it affordable on a micro level, it can be integrated into urban society in an ultra-local model, providing fresher, tastier and more nutritious foods.

Ameenah BegumAmeenah Begum Innovate UK

Ameenah lives in the South East and is turning cosmetics waste into art materials. Her company Cos Colours creates one- of-a-kind artists’ materials suitable for all abilities. They are zero waste and eco-friendly from production all the way to packaging. Her goal is to mass- manufacture an array of unique and sustainable palettes for artists all over the world, utilising partnerships with cosmetic retailers, independent galleries and art stores.

Funding opportunities

The next round of funding for Innovate UK Smart Grants is open. This is an opportunity for UK registered organisations to apply for a share of up to £25m from Innovate UK to deliver game-changing and commercially viable R&D innovation that can significantly impact the UK economy. The closing date for applications is Wednesday 26 May – for more information please see www.bit.ly/InnovateUKMarch01

To find out more information about how Innovate UK supports young innovators, or to read about all 64 young innovators please see www.ktn-uk.org/programme/young-innovators/


Simon Edmonds is Innovate UK’s Deputy Executive Chair and Chief Business Officer

All photos courtesy of Innovate UK