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Healthy Ageing - Trailblazers

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The Healthy Ageing Challenge is now open for business and our Trailblazers competitions are now underway to deliver on the plan announced last month. This is a huge milestone – which we have only achieved thanks to the tremendous support received through our research and market engagement.

Our vision for healthy ageing

In our plan to deliver £98 million of investment in healthy ageing we set out a fresh vision to guide our work, which is:

To enable businesses, including social enterprises, to develop and deliver products, services and business models that will be adopted at scale which support people as they age. This will allow people to remain active, productive, independent and socially connected across generations for as long as possible.

There are three parts of this vision I would like to highlight in particular:

  1. The emphasis on businesses, including social enterprises. This draws on the research I mentioned in a previous blog about learning from the past, and in particular the need to ensure what we do is based on sustainable business propositions
  2. The ambition for scale, where we need to be thinking about impacting the lives of millions within a decade, and therefore promoting the investment and developing the business infrastructure needed to support scale and spread
  3. Use of the phrase as they age. Our principal focus is on people before they become dependent on statutory services, particularly the populations that would otherwise be reaching that stage in 15 years time. This is an opportunity to focus on prevention and intervene earlier in the ageing journey. Most previous initiatives have focused on frailty and the management of chronic conditions and there is still a lot going on across the UK to improve health and care services for those needs. Healthy Ageing is about opening up new opportunities

Three main strands to our investment

There are three principal opportunities to our plan:

  1. Trailblazers large-scale projects,
  2. Investment Accelerator
  3. Research

These will be supported by a Community of Practice and some smaller investments in the development of a pipeline of early stage innovations.


Trailblazers have replaced the previous plan for three large and all-encompassing demonstrators. There will be more opportunities for substantial large-scale projects which are able to define what aspects of the challenge framework themes they aim to impact.

We expect to see some innovative approaches which exploit the complex interactions between the various themes.   The Trailblazers are our main opportunity to businesses with an ambition to scale and spread innovations quickly, building on the foundations laid by previous of investment in early stage businesses.

Trailblazers will cover a spectrum of propositions:

    • from one extreme larger businesses seeking to take an innovative service to scale, and on the way addressing the development of novel business models and supply chains
    • to the other extreme, place-based collaborations of businesses, which may be led by some public sector entities, aiming to impact a particular population through a combination of interventions

In practice, there are likely to be aspects of both in successful bids.

Our approach is to develop the projects in two stages. The initial Discovery Phase will provide funding to develop detailed business plans and demonstrate readiness.  Consortia with a Discovery Stage award will then be invited to apply for the implementation stage, where they will have up to four years to deliver.

By taking this approach we want to ensure we can accommodate a wide range of bidders and be confident that great ideas on paper prove feasible to deliver.

Investment Accelerator

The Investment Accelerator recognises the feedback we received on the need to continue to invest in innovative small and medium sized businesses and help them to grow. By teaming up with investors we aim to provide a more comprehensive package that supports delivery of an innovative project as well as support for business growth. We have set aside £29 million for this, which will attract a further £29 million in up-front commercial investment.

We are looking for the commercial investors to commit to a further £87 million in follow-on funding from across the portfolio. This is not just about securing additional funding, we are looking for investors to demonstrate how they can really add value to the companies they invest in, and will look to create a portfolio that includes social impact investment.

We have launched a competition to secure the private investor partners for our first £12 million and expect to open opportunities for businesses in the Spring of 2020.


We are funding a significant package of social, behavioural and design research to enhance the competitive position of UK-based companies. The programme will be multi-disciplinary and provide opportunities for a range of research organisations.

It is expected to cover a broad range of topics such as understanding what is the optimal point in the life-course to intervene, how people make decisions about how they age, how great design can make what we do more age-inclusive, and how these innovations actually reach the intended end users.

To guide the programme and help refine the scope, we are currently running a competition for a research director.

Ensuring coherence across the challenge

To support these three principal activities, the Community of Practice will facilitate learning and knowledge sharing across the challenge. Part of this will be working with the research director to commission synthesis of existing evidence and undertake responsive research to understand of what is working.

We will be providing support for very early stage innovations through our investments in developing a pipeline of early stage innovations to facilitate international collaborations and to open the way to access global markets.

We will be making announcements on this at a later stage.

Early feedback on our plan

I am often asked questions about scope and the great ideas we are not able to fund. The Healthy Ageing Challenge is just one of the many investments that are contributing to the Ageing Society Grand Challenge mission for people to enjoy five more years of healthy, independent life by 2035, whilst narrowing the gap between the experience of the richest and poorest.

As one of the four Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges it is one of the biggest industrial and societal challenges today and will require sustained action across a wide range of themes like financial well-being in later life, lifelong learning and adapting our health and care systems for ageing populations.

The Healthy Ageing Challenge Framework, developed by the Centre for Ageing Better, indicated where the investment could make most impact.

We have drawn the line so that we will not be funding clinical research or research to gather economic evidence to support changes to tariffs. There are other large and ongoing investments progressing the science of ageing and age-related conditions, and to develop new more integrated ways of working between health and social care providers.

This is a chance to do something much needed and different.

Ready to scale up

The requirements for match funding have also prompted questions recently. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund was established to invest in the world-leading research base and highly-innovative businesses. In the case of the Trailblazers, we are expecting the innovations to be based on technologies at higher readiness levels, working at a small scale and ready to develop to scale.

The innovations are likely to be more about business models, service integration and supply chain development. That is why we are expecting Trailblazers bidders to be prepared to find a greater proportion of the investment than would be the case for earlier stage innovations.  The Investment Accelerator is where we are investing in SMEs with innovative early stage propositions.

Get your applications in!

This is an exciting time to be involved in a global movement to rethink ageing and to see these issues as opportunities offered by ageing populations rather than as problems to be solved.

We look forward to working with businesses and researchers as we strive to fulfill our ambition to impact the lives of millions within a decade. To keep up to date, sign up for the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) Newsletter .

If you are interested in finding potential partners, please register your interest on the KTN’s Healthy Ageing Collaboration Platform


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