innovation and business

Dr David Wilkes of Innovate UK explores the importance of driving UK productivity and economic growth by supporting innovation and business

Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency. We are government funded, but business focused, and innovation and business led. Since 2007, Innovate UK has been driving UK productivity and economic growth by supporting businesses of all sizes to realise the potential of new technologies, develop ideas and make them a commercial success.

The impact of innovation on the productivity and performance of businesses is clear. We know that businesses that innovate grow faster and export more than those that do not innovate. We also know that innovation accounts for between 25-50% of productivity, and firms that innovate are more productive than their competitors. The robust programme evaluations that we carry out prove what Innovate UK does works – significantly boosting jobs, turnover and productivity – and, as we look to the future, we have a strong foundation to build on in the years ahead.

Our work is also backed up by independent research. A recent study done by the Enterprise Research Council – ‘Assessing the business performance effects of engagement with publicly-funded science’ – looked into research and development grants over a 13-year period. It tracked the impact of grants totalling £8 billion, which went to nearly 15,000 firms. Included in this number were grants from Innovate UK.

The findings showed, across all grant recipients, employment grew by 6% in the short-term and 23% in the longer-term (after 6 years), turnover grew by 6% in the short term, and 28% in the longer term, productivity grew by 6% in the longer term and an estimated 150,000 new jobs were created, many in highly-skilled sectors such as biotechnology, medical equipment, engineering, life sciences and high-tech manufacturing.

Innovate UK can help companies overcome some of the most significant barriers which businesses report, from lack of finance to access to markets. Our grant funding helps to de-risk innovation projects sufficiently to bring in private sector investors. It also helps to support collaborations within supply chains, between sectors and, critically, enables businesses to work closely with the research base. Without the incentive and support of the government, many of these collaborations would never get off the ground.

In the past ten years, Innovate UK has invested around £2.2 billion in businesses right across the country, matched by £1.6 billion from those businesses. We’ve helped more than 8,000 organisations and created around 70,000 new jobs; with a return on investment of more than £7 for every £1 of government money.

We have also established the world-class Catapult network , which ensures that UK businesses have access to state-of-the-art facilities wherever they are in the UK. They provide a perfect environment for university and business collaboration.

innovation and business
David Wilkes, Deputy Director – Connect Portfolio at Innovate UK, 21 March 2017.

Connectivity and competition

Innovate UK currently runs funding competitions across four broad sectors (emerging and enabling technologies; health and life sciences; infrastructure systems; and manufacturing and materials) as well as an open category for projects regardless of their technology or sector.

We also help companies by connecting them to the partners they need to innovate, whether they are researchers, suppliers, customers, or collaborators. This is primarily through our two business facing networks – the Knowledge Transfer Network and the Enterprise Europe Network . We can help businesses to find the right expertise, facilities, financiers and influencers that can help them bring their ideas to market.

We are also innovating ourselves, in the way that we finance innovation, including through innovation loans (with a £50 million pilot programme from April 2018) and engaging with the Venture Capitalist community to provide the match funding for small businesses undertaking early stage feasibility projects.

Looking forward, Innovate UK has a vital role to play as the government continues to develop its Industrial Strategy. To support this ambition, the government has committed an extra £4.7 billion over the next 4 years.

We are transforming existing industries and helping to create completely new ones through the new Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, delivered by Innovate UK and our colleagues in the UK’s Research Councils. It aims to tackle the biggest societal challenges and technology opportunities facing the UK such as efficient medicines manufacturing, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) and better batteries for electric vehicles.

It is important we are developing UK industries that are fit for the future, driving progress in technologies where the UK can become a world-leader in their research and commercialisation.

This significant commitment and confidence from the UK government enables Innovate UK to identify opportunities across our economy so that we can support businesses to grow, create more highly-skilled jobs and spread the benefits of our economic success right across the country.

For further information and to stay updated on our latest news visit, follow us on Twitter at @innovateuk or subscribe to our YouTube channel at


Dr David Wilkes

Deputy Director – Connect Portfolio

Innovate UK

+44 (0)300 321 4357


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