The new and emerging challenges faced by society and industry in the midst of COVID-19 demand ambitious and innovative solutions.
The need to stay at home and to social distance or self-isolate presents new threats to a wide range of businesses and services that we rely on. These include those in logistics, food manufacturing, entertainment, financial services, healthcare, hospitality, retail, transport and community support.
Unprecedented response from innovators
We had no doubt that the UK’s talented and energetic business community would be up for developing the solutions required but we were truly humbled by the level of interest we received.
Over 8,500 of you from across the UK applied – no doubt burning the midnight oil to do so – in response to the competition opened last month.
That’s more applications in one go than the total number that came in during the previous 12 months. A staggering mobilisation.
We’ve now confirmed that over 800 companies will receive grant funding of up to £50,000 each, as confirmed by the recent national announcement.
Again, this is twice the number first planned after we worked with Ministers to double the total funding pot from £20 million to £40 million in recognition of the unprecedented demand.
New solutions for post-COVID age
Looking through the projects we will be supporting, we can expect to see solutions such as:
- an entertainment performance platform that allows performers (such as bands and comedians) to perform on a digital stage streamed directly to TV or mobile devices
- the next generation of personal protective equipment with viral-stopping capabilities (and potentially re-usable)
- new software to help UK schools connect with their pupils for interactive home learning, and virtual-reality training solutions to allow remote training for surgeons.
This investment comes as part of the wider £1.25 billion business support package announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak last month, £750 million of which is being delivered by Innovate UK.
With this funding, we can work alongside UK businesses to harness their ingenuity and drive to innovate through the challenges faced.
Existing Innovate UK customers can now apply for ‘continuity’ grants and loans to help mitigate the worst of the COVID-19 impact on their ability to keep innovating in extraordinary times– full details can be found here.
Setting ourselves new challenges
For the Fast Start competition, extraordinary times demanded that Innovate UK devise an extraordinary response. Our staff are incredibly passionate about the power of business innovation in the UK.
Many stepped forward and collaborated to put together a competition that could be deployed quickly and could work effectively for as many businesses as possible, including businesses completely new to us.
We severely reduced the number of questions posed in the application form. The lower value of the grants enabled a rigorous but lighter touch approach to due diligence and funding assurance.
Up-front payments and use of the De Minimis State Aid limit enables us to support business innovation rapidly when cash flow is lacking.
What typically takes six months – from competition design to first funding awards – was, in this case, shortened to six weeks thanks to the dedication and commitment of everyone involved – and burning a fair bit of that midnight oil.
Learning lessons and continuing to improve
Our response, and that of UK businesses, provides us with valuable lessons that will help us to improve our processes for the future. We know it wasn’t all perfect but our drive to accelerate business innovation propels us forward.
We had already embarked on an Operational Improvement Programme before COVID-19 but this will now be heavily informed by what we have learnt in the past couple of months as we embed the most effective ways of working into our ongoing ‘Business-As-Usual’ processes, structure and culture.
The work continues to invest in UK business innovation. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
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You can go to the Innovate UK website