Innovate UK vs the EU – Benchmarking Innovation Part One

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Innovate UK is going through some changes, but what can they get better at? And how does it compare to funding agencies in other EU countries? Dr. Caroline Elston, Senior Innovation Manager at Ayming UK, gives you the low-down on how Innovate UK is doing at financing our innovators.

This is the first article of a two-part review of Innovate UK. Take a look at part two here!

As many will know, Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency and business funding body. Its remit is to drive innovation in science and technology, leading to new products and services on the market, boosting skilled jobs and the UK economy overall. However, this is far from unique: in fact all E.U. member states have a national funding body to incentivise R&D and Innovation (such as BPI in France or Vinnova in Sweden). The overarching European funding body for R&D is of course the European Commission, via Horizon2020.

As we vie for position and future relationships once the Brexit-blur resolves in to crystal-clarity, now is a good time to benchmark our innovation funding performance against some of our neighbours.

Innovate UK vs the E.U.

Innovate UK has recently made some noticeable improvements, bringing it in-line with some Innovation front-runners. Here are three key areas where Innovate UK is performing well, benchmarked against its European counterparts:

#1 – Opportunities for ALL innovative companies

The expected broad sectors of health, life sciences, emerging technologies, materials, renewable energies etc. are funded by Innovate UK.

But Innovate UK also caters for all the other incredible, innovative companies out there who don’t clearly align with the above sectors. An “Open” programme is available to encourage all ground-breaking, disruptive business ideas.

Benchmark: Leading the Pack

We see this as a very positive point, as it allows companies from ‘other’ sectors which innovate or develop new, ground-breaking products to also win funding, such as the creative industries. The Open programme is similar to the “User-driven Research-based Innovation” programme run by the Research Council of Norway, or the SME program from ‘Business Finland’ (ex Tekes).

#2 – Going online

In 2017, Innovate UK launched its new, interactive online platform for companies to submit their grant applications and manage funded projects.

Benchmark: Keeping up with the neighbours

It was long overdue…this brings us up to date with the likes of BPI France, Business Finland and the European Commission.

#3 – Innovative funding streams

Alongside the ‘usual’ sector competitions, Innovate UK recently launched two funding streams offering different solutions to barriers a company may be facing:

Example 1:Analysis for Innovators” (AfI), where companies explained an existing problem and the added-value its resolution would bring to their business. Some top UK R&D facilities (such as National Physical Laboratory, NPL) then evaluated which technical challenges they could help companies with, giving their time, facilities and expertise to overcome the problem.

Example 2: A national funding body launching a joint competition with a Seed funder? Well it did happen. Innovate UK partnered with Rainbow Seed Fund (Now UK Science & Innovation Seed Fund) to fund innovative high-risk projects and invest in companies with good growth potential. By joining some dots on the finance landscape, they also bridged the ‘match-funding’ gap.

Benchmark: Top of the Class

Proof that Innovation agencies can be innovative themselves and move with the times. And we think we’re right in saying that there are not that many other funding agencies in Europe that do this.

With some kind of Brexit looming, Innovate UK’s role and remit actually becomes even more important. This is because there is a direct link between the money the UK spends on boosting R&D outcomes, and how attractive we are to companies wanting to maintain investment in R&D and manufacturing here. In turn, these are the companies who will employ skilled people, coming from UK or EU Universities, nurturing future talent to work on the big challenges affecting our society.

The three strengths we’ve discussed show that Innovate UK is doing a fine job helping less-obvious businesses benefit from innovation funding through their ‘Open’ programme; future-proofing itself by developing digital tools; and finally leading the industry by launching funding streams that are innovative in their own right.

However, when you look at this bigger picture of Innovate UK’s broadening landscape and remit, even small improvements can make a big difference.

Take a look at our next article where we discuss two areas of Innovate UK’s offering that could be improved upon.

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