Finance · 5 August 2016

Innovate UK launches £1.2m fund to get small firms thinking globally

The new Innovate UK fund recognises a need encourage small firms from any sector to think more globally

The UK’s innovation agency – Innovate UK – has launched a £1.2m fund to give a boost to pioneering small businesses seeking international expansion.

The fund will help small business owners travel overseas and build networks of international partners, and set up commercial and development research initiatives to test how innovative new products translate to different markets.

Small business owners from any sector are eligible to apply for funding, with the maximum amount available for any one project limited to £20,000.

Funding periods will last for four months and are available for owners’ travel and subsistence expenses, as well as to set up partnership agreements with overseas ventures – exploring ideas and collaborating in the context of foreign markets.

Launched via Innovate UK’s website, a deadline to register to compete for funding has been set for midday on 21 September 2016, with a deadline to submit applications on 28 September.

An Innovate UK spokesperson told Business Advice that all applicant businesses will be put through a rigorous screening process to determine which should win funding, and that the fund was expected to be oversubscribed by between 15 and 20 per cent.

The reasons for pursuing specific markets must be made clear in applications, as does the likely impact of funds and any follow-on business activities after the competition.

Commenting on the fund’s launch, the agency’s chief executive Ruth McKernan said that it was now more important than ever to get innovative UK firms thinking internationally. “Business, like science, is a global endeavour,” she said.

“This competition is about pushing out the horizon for companies that haven’t had the means, or inclination to do so in the past.”

The new fund builds on past Innovate UK initiatives to encourage cross-border collaboration and international trade among Britain’s smaller firms.

Entrepreneur Missions have regularly helped startups secure foreign sales and investment in recent years, and 2015 saw the agency run Future Cities and Space Missions – two sector-specific initiatives that helped set up collaborative partnerships between British entrepreneurs and international counterparts.

The launch of this latest fund can be considered a gear-change for Innovate UK, which has so far focused on specific industry-led schemes that impact a small section of the UK economy.

The agency’s spokesperson told Business Advice that, in light of the Brexit vote, government needed to do all it can to encourage businesses from any sector, and of any size, to think more broadly. “Brexit means we now have to create those opportunities for businesses to think globally,” they said.

Commenting on the fund, science minister Jo Johnson added: “As research becomes more international we want to encourage innovative companies to forge collaborations across the globe that will help bring their products to mass market. By supporting them to showcase innovation, we can create jobs and grow the economy.”

Take a closer look at the funding options available via Innovate UK

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Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

Business development