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Newton Fund: global opportunities for innovative UK businesses 

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It’s hard to believe that we are already into our third year of delivering Newton Fund activities. When I started as Newton Fund Programme Manager back in 2014, I was told that the job “might be a bit bumpy for a while”. Newton Fund was a new government programme to support international collaboration on science and innovation, and Innovate UK had little experience on that, outside of the EU.

The bumps continue, rollercoaster fashion, to this day! On the plus side, there is never a dull moment in delivering this ambitious programme, and we have achieved and learnt a lot over the past 3 years.

Opening up global opportunities for UK businesses

Global business opportunities
Global business opportunities

For me, what is extremely pleasing are the opportunities that the Newton Fund has opened up for UK businesses interested in exploring international markets, and international collaboration on innovation.

So far, we have opened and closed 14 bilateral funding competitions with 8 different partner countries, and have a number of others open and forthcoming.

These competitions are giving UK businesses a chance to work with overseas partners (and other UK partners) and jointly develop innovative commercial solutions to key societal challenges the partner country is facing. These challenge are as diverse as climate change and urbanisation in Malaysia, non-communicable diseases in South Africa, and industrial waste in India.

What do UK businesses need to go global?

Through delivering these competitions we are learning a lot about what type of UK business is looking at ‘going global’, and what type of support they need.

We know that:

  • the majority of businesses who apply to Newton competitions are micro or small in size
  • nearly half have little experience of working with the partner country
  • some businesses would like to hear and share experiences of entering a new market

A strong partnership is key to successful international collaboration

Malaysia-UK research and innovation bridges competition
Malaysia-UK research and innovation bridges competition

We will continue to refine and develop our nascent support programme – our funding competitions, visits and missions, other advice – so that it drives as much impact as possible for UK businesses, as well as our partner countries.

For example, we are working to allay concerns businesses may have on sharing intellectual property, by connecting them to relevant Intellectual Property Office colleagues for guidance.

And together with the Knowledge Transfer Network, we are looking to improve the activities we run to help UK businesses find the right overseas partners and nurture new partnerships. We understand that a strong, well-founded partnership is key to successful international collaboration.

The imperative for UK businesses to go global has never been stronger

At the centre of all of this lies the size of opportunity for UK business in:

  • going global
  • accessing international markets
  • undertaking international innovation collaboration

A PwC 2017 report on the “The World in 2050” forecasts that the world economy could more than double in size by 2050, with the E7 countries of China, India, Brazil, Russia, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey driving global growth. E7 countries “could account for nearly 50% of GDP in 2050, up from 35% today”. Six of those 7 countries are Newton Fund partners.

Innovative SMEs are more likely to go global

At the same time, evidence from government and independent sources highlights that it is SMEs with a track record of innovation which are more likely to export successfully and are also more likely to generate growth in the UK from exporting.

This appears to be mutually reinforcing: UK firms which conduct R&D are more likely to export, and UK firms which export are more likely to conduct R&D.

The imperative for supporting innovative UK businesses to think, collaborate and go global has never been stronger. Through the Newton Fund, we are working to give UK businesses a chance to do so.

Take a look at our Newton Fund opportunities open and coming up this year.

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