Recent events have shaken the world and brought significant changes to our society and economy.
In particular, the disproportionate impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have brought into sharp focus inequalities that cannot be ignored.
Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) are being talked about everywhere.
Tear down the barriers
My work at Innovate UK is all about promoting EDI in business innovation.
As the UK’s Innovation Agency, we have a responsibility to address the system-wide inequalities in research and innovation.
Based on current under-representation in business innovation compared to the UK population, there is a significant, under-utilised opportunity for positive economic and societal impacts in the UK.
Over the last decade progress towards a more diverse and inclusive innovation system has been slow and there is a danger that the impact of recent events could push back any progress that has been made.
However, I would like to think that the opposite is true, right now people and organisations within the system want change and businesses are responding.
We are keen to work with partners, stimulate efforts and make strides forward towards an innovation system in the UK where:
- Anyone with a great idea for innovation, from any background has an equal opportunity to be successful
- Innovative businesses fully embrace the strategic importance of EDI as a means of competitive advantage and to attract and retain the best talent
- New innovations are developed to involve and benefit all parts of our society.
It is not going to be a quick fix, but it is worth putting sustained effort in because all of this will bring huge economic and societal gains.
A long way to go
We know that we can do more to make our systems and processes more inclusive and also that we can do more to incentivise and reward diversity and inclusion.
In a recent blog I talked about the Power of Diversity Data and the need for appropriate data.
Armed with this we will be able to target action in the right places to influence positive change and track progress.
I also explained how we have incorporated EDI into the questions that Innovate UK asks applicants in our funding competitions and how we influence businesses at a point when we know it will have an effect.
The environment is changing and so are our societal values.
The way that people want to live their lives is changing. We need new innovations and businesses to move in line with this.
Empowering the next generation
Our research shows that half young people feel that age is a barrier to setting up a business and that not knowing where to get support and lack of confidence are real challenges.
This is why, in partnership with the Princes’ Trust, Innovate UK founded the Young Innovators programme and #IdeasMeanBusiness campaign, to empower aspiring young entrepreneurs (18-30 year olds) from diverse backgrounds across all parts of the UK.
The young innovators programme provides tailored business mentorship, financial support and professional connections to enable young people to turn their ideas into successful and sustainable businesses.
The programme also fosters an army of role-models and using their stories to inspire the next generation of forward-thinking innovators.
The pandemic has triggered a surge of entrepreneurialism in the UK, leading to a record-breaking number of applications to our Young Innovators programme.
In response, we doubled our investment, enabling us to support 64 aspiring young innovators in 2020/21.
From plastic alternatives made from seaweed to socially aware robotic care assistants, our Young Innovators are driven by a strong purpose to make the world a better place.
The will to change
We know that we need to work harder to reach new audiences.
We need to tailor our communications and make our support more inclusive and accessible.
With our Women in Innovation and Young Innovators programmes we have managed to engage with over 7500 women and 2500 young people.
We run regular events for these communities (with lots of online engagement at the moment).
This is about providing inspiration, practical advice and highlighting opportunities for innovation support. It’s also about providing a platform for peer networking. I have outlined just a few examples of our work here.
We will continue to take action to level the playing field, address inequalities in the innovation system and open up access to funding and finance for innovative businesses led by under represented/overlooked founders.
Huge thanks to all our amazing partners who support our EDI programmes. We are looking forward to opening our next Young Innovators competition in Spring/Summer 2021.
You can go to the Innovate UK website
You can go to the Innovate EDGE website
You can go to the UKRI website