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Commercialisation and the new normal

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Amidst the Covid-19 health emergency, the likes of which no one had faced before, the UK population adapted and responded to a fast-moving situation. In March 2020, the UK government imposed a stay at home order, banning all non-essential travel and physical contact with people outside one’s home.

There were unknowns and uncertainties, and while we were not physically together, we certainly worked together to minimise disruption. With people confined to their homes, applications (apps) that allowed us to stay in touch became central to our day-to-day lives.

In our droves, we turned to video communications to conduct business meetings, catch up with our family and friends, continue schooling our children, and attend group fitness classes. This significant step to online engagement has been heralded by many as the ‘new normal’, impacting retail, education, health, and business as we know it.


It was no different at Innovate UK and for the delivery of ICURe. Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe) is Innovate UKs programme of commercialisation support.

ICURe was established for teams of academic researchers who wish to explore the commercial potential of their research.

It aims to improve commercial awareness amongst academic personnel, to develop and enhance the entrepreneurial skills of early career researchers, and to strengthen links between academic and industrial communities.

It is premised on the theory that while the UK has an internationally competitive base of scientific research, more should be done to create a commercial demand for university engagement to which they are already primed to respond.

About the programme

ICURe involves tailored support to develop the commercial awareness and skills of project team members and introduces an understanding of appropriate commercialisation strategies for research.

While several programmes offering financial and business support exist in the UK, few focus on the development of a commercial team and global market engagement. ICURe is the only open scope, proof of market pre-seed accelerator programme offered by UKRI.

The closest programme is Cyber-ASAP; created in the first instance by the ICURe team, and developed and delivered by Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which unlike ICURe is sector specific.

Those who undertake the ICURe programme, dedicate three uninterrupted months to customer discovery and the market validation of their research. Before Covid-19, this meant over 100 face to face meetings globally with potential customers, partners, regulators and investors in order to help our teams validate their business ideas.

Now, with the stay at home order and a limit to overseas travel, we have had to adapt how we do this. Because one thing that remains constant when trying to commercialise early stage technology is the need to secure early evidence of product-market fit.

Our team in action

As our entrepreneurial teams continue to seek meaningful engagements, the delivery partners of ICURe have adopted a sustainable and efficient solution to market validation.

With an increased use of data driven market intelligence, and a combination of video and collaboration tools, our NxNW partner transitioned seamlessly in June to the wholly online delivery of the first of our 2020/21 cohorts.

Our Midlands partner followed suit a month later, and our SETsquared partner is soon to announce the participants for the third of this year’s cohorts. Early feedback from teams and those engaged externally indicate that the ‘new normal’ holds significant advantages in scale and reach.

Teams are now benefitting from having volunteer members in other countries, something that was unattainable before because of our face-to-face training delivery.

New parents and carers, who previously could not afford the three months to travel the world, are now undertaking the programme. We have seen a record number of applications to ICURe in this financial year, and a record rate of success for female applicants.

What was initially viewed as an obstacle in programme delivery, has brought many positive outcomes. We have improved the diversity of entrepreneurial teams, lessened our impact on the environment, and tested a new model for the training and upskilling of early career researchers.

Final thoughts

It has been well documented that the number one reason why early stage ventures fail is an absence of product market fit. With the economic downturn that Covid-19 brings to the UK, the aims of ICURe are more important than ever before.

ICURe is an effective instrument for accelerating the commercialisation of academic research. ICURe produces a range of wider benefits in strengthening links between academia and industry and enhancing the entrepreneurial skills of early career researchers.

ICURe is key to helping researchers re-think what creates value and what is critical to future customers and partners.

For further information on ICURe, or the commercialisation of academic research, please contact

Dr Emma Burke, Innovation Lead Commercialisation,


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