Explore the ScaleUp Annual Review 2021

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Innovate UK and the Innovation Strategy

Inspire, involve, invest

Appointed CEO of Innovate UK in May 2021, Indro Mukerjee is leading the innovation agency’s focus on driving economic growth. He talks about the agency’s priorities and the importance of supporting scaleups.

On the role of Innovate UK

I’ve been with Innovate UK now for just a little over five months and it’s been quite an incredible experience. We’re living in a time of real challenge and massive change but also of significant opportunity – both to help improve the present and to create the future. The kind of future we want for the UK is prosperity, good health, respect for our planet and environment and one of fairness, diversity and equality. Innovation – the process of translating science into something of added value – is a vital ingredient in creating that future. 

As the UK’s innovation agency we drive productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses to develop and realise the potential of their new ideas, including those from the UK’s world class research base. 

In describing what we do, we use three words: inspire, involve and invest. We work to inspire innovative businesses to create value through innovation. We involve talented organisations and people to create a vibrant and successful innovation ecosystem. We invest in innovation to make a tangible and positive impact on the UK economy and society. 

The Government’s recently published Innovation Strategy provides a fantastic platform and framework to turbocharge how we look at innovation in the UK. It mandates Innovate UK to deliver on fulfilling that strategy. That’s a fantastic opportunity for us to provide the support that innovative businesses need to grow and to scale in the UK and globally. 

On the Innovate UK EDGE programme

Growth at scale will be a big priority for our work and a really essential element of our plans. This will include expanding Innovate UK EDGE. We will build on our work with the investment community to leverage private capital as well as public investment that can be targeted into innovative businesses. We want to improve our links with private investors so that they can see the businesses in which we have invested through grants or loans or in our non-cash support such as Innovate UK EDGE. This will be an important focus. 

We recognise the challenges faced by businesses looking to scale. We aim to help scaling businesses to access international markets; to access government procurement such as the SBRI programme; to gain customers through encouragement, networking, coaching and general support; and to increase the talent and skills that are needed to underpin their growth.

The Innovate UK EDGE programme is an essential part of what we do to support UK business. It signals a strong decisive and step change in how we intend to support these brilliant companies beyond funding, giving them guidance and networks to help them fulfill the promise of their innovations. It’s really important to understand the challenges that small growing businesses face in dealing with larger organisations; Innovate UK EDGE works with them to help them in areas such as access to procurement or establishing joint ventures. And in providing that support, we work very closely with our partners in the ScaleUp Institute. So these companies literally get an edge from Innovate UK. 

On making Innovate UK open to businesses

As a public service, Innovate UK needs to be open to all UK business. And there’s always more that can be done to make access to public support easier for business. I’m really keen for Innovate UK to have a very clear shopfront so that businesses can understand what we offer, how we can work together and how we can go on their innovation, startup and scaleup journeys with them. 

On the power of partnerships

In order to create that, links and partnerships are vital. We will continue to work with partners such as the ScaleUp Institute to build a strong community. One example is the way we want to work in a collaborative, joined-up way with the British Business Bank so that businesses can clearly see the offer that we can jointly make and then find that through our shop front in a coherent way. This will ultimately lead to the creation of more successful significant businesses in the UK. 

The UK has a vibrant mix of innovation institutions, world class universities and research establishments; Innovate UK wants to make seamless connections to join this ecosystem together and help UK businesses through their innovation, startup and scaleup journeys. 

We want to build good relationships with all universities and work through our knowledge transfer network to bring together communities of innovators and support them. We have some excellent global names and brands among our universities. I’d like there to be greater respect and recognition for the whole of our university system. There are many universities who play a vital role in talent development and skills for business innovation. Many play important local roles with local business, with initiatives like our Knowledge Transfer Partnership, that form a strong base and foundation for innovation. We are very committed to helping businesses to access the broadest range of talent – and it’s another reason why we should have respect for all of our universities because many provide fantastic, local-for-local service and support.

We also have a very strong Catapult network that can help businesses in their scaleup journey with advice, equipment and connections with industry. They are an important part of our networking ecosystem.

On supporting all UK regions

It’s really important that we harness the rich seams of talent that run throughout our country and maximise all opportunities for economic growth and societal improvement. The question of how we access that talent is one for all of us. Innovate UK already supports the whole of the UK, with our support for business and the spread of our people, Catapults and Knowledge Transfer Networks already well placed throughout all UK nations and regions.

We will continue and build an even stronger focus on place over the year ahead and beyond.

Planning for Action

We will soon be publishing our Plan for Action for business innovation, which sets out how we will deliver on the Government’s Innovation Strategy for the UK. This Plan will include commitments to UK business and will then be followed by annual delivery plans once the full spending review implications are clear.

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