08 Jan 2024
by Rory Daniels

Institutions of Innovation: Innovate UK (week 1)

Learn about what Innovate UK does and how it enables innovation.

'Institutions of Innovation' is a new series of monthly interviews with the institutions driving the UK’s innovation policy.

This is piecing together the UK's innovation landscape; setting out the key actors, what they do, where they sit and how industry can engage, including through techUK.

This month features a special weekly miniseries dedicated to the UK's national innovation agency, Innovate UK.

The institution's responses have been provided by Esra Kasapoglu, Director of AI and Data Economy.

Esra is leading the development of AI, Digital Technologies and Data Economy and manages the innovation portfolio supporting UK businesses to grow and develop. 

She has extensive experience of leading technology and innovation programmes working for the Big Tech and global technology and consulting firms. Much of her time spent in pioneering novel innovations and shaping the future of business in multiple industries. 

Esra brings her experience, thought leadership and strategic insights to multiple innovation and advisory boards on which she sits. She provides counsel to Boards, Senior Leaders, and C-suite on building an innovation culture in environments that are changing at pace.

Week 1: What does Innovate UK do and how does it enable innovation?

I see Innovate UK's work involves “help(ing) businesses grow through the development and commercialisation of new products, processes, and services, supported by an outstanding innovation ecosystem that is agile, inclusive, and easy to navigate.” What does this mean in practice

Innovate UK, as the UK’s National Innovation Agency, inspires, involves and invests in businesses developing life-changing innovations to create a better future. Providing sectors with expertise, facilities and funding, Innovate UK helps test, demonstrate and evolve ideas, driving UK productivity and economic growth. Innovate UK’s network and communities of innovators realise the potential of ideas and accelerate business growth. 

What this means in practice is that Innovate UK takes a very diverse approach to innovation as each business faces very different barriers to innovation, even when working in the same industry or challenges area. 

Innovate UK plays a critical role in providing funding to innovative companies through the early stages of idea development, and to commercial success. This is achieved through responsive and challenge-led competitive grant-funding programmes, pre-commercial procurement contracts and loans. 

Innovate UK’s programmes are based on identified needs within UK government strategies and policies to match the industry and business needs in the UK.  The responsive tools, including both grants and loans recognise that innovation is often born within an organisation and not in response to government need or wider policy. This often drives the third approach Innovate UK takes, bringing investors closer to innovators by creating investor partnerships to better manage the risks of investment in innovation or de-risk innovation or cutting-edge technology programmes. 

To find more about public funding options and support for innovation, please visit the Innovation Hub powered by Innovate UK. This is an online Innovation Hub that provides innovators with a complete view of government-backed funding options and sits alongside and complements the British Business Bank’s existing Finance Hub.

Funding alone is rarely the answer and innovation requires a more diverse approach focussing on skills and knowledge transfer also.

Innovate UK funds partnership with universities that can help and supports for commercialisation of products and services through programmes such as the Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research (ICURe), and Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) which ensures a flow of people with expertise from academia to business. 

Innovate UK KTN connects innovators with new partners and new opportunities beyond their existing thinking – accelerating ambitious ideas into real-world solutions. It provides the networks, links and guidance, often crucial at the start of an innovation journey. Uniquely Innovate UK KTN maps across all high innovation sectors so accelerates cross sector technology adoption.

The next leg is Innovate UK’s Catapult Network, providing the infrastructure facilities, deep technical expertise, and networks within a defined area of potential, need or rapid growth. From manufacturing to offshore renewable energy, Catapults provides focus in their sectors to drive change and harness all available innovation tools. 

The final part is the most tailored. Innovate UK EDGE that provides business wrap around support and leadership and management skills they require to scale up, commercialise, access new markets and internationalise, and Innovate UK’s Global Incubators, Globe Explorers and Bilateral and International Programmes help businesses and industry work with international partners.

With Innovate UK EDGE tools, expert help is on hand to help innovators get their business ready to exploit the R&D they are undertaking, from IP audits and filings to investment readiness or even restructuring the international team and tools to work with department for International Trade to identify and importantly validate potential innovation partnerships, before taking businesses overseas on trade missions to build new and novel innovation partnerships. 

It is worth highlighting that no two innovating business will have had the same pathway of support from Innovate UK, but each will have been through the same mechanisms and signposting to create their own innovation journey.

Moreover, Innovate UK plays an important leadership role in identifying emerging and critical innovation skills gaps and voice on future skills implications for businesses. It does it via networks of engagement and partnerships across key sectors to provide fore-sighting and evidence gathering, and feedback to businesses, training providers and funders on skills implications to ensure both current and future skills gaps are met. 

Innovate UK week 1 insight image 1.png


More broadly, how does Innovate UK work with external stakeholders, including industry, to drive innovation? 

To drive innovation, Innovate UK engages with industry and works with external stakeholders through a range of activities including:

  1. Funding innovation through grants or loans,
  2. Accelerating innovation through building partnerships between companies, research organisations, academia, governments, regulators and investors,
  3. Directly engaging with micro and small sized organisations, start-ups and spin-outs to understand innovation barriers and bottlenecks,
  4. Providing access to knowledge, expertise, capabilities, facilities, equipment and world class innovation centres
  5. Representing thought leadership on advisory boards, charities, and industry bodies across health and life sciences, financial services, creative industries, manufacturing and sectors such as energy, agriculture, transport and logistics and others,
  6. Commissioning and developing technology- and industry-specific reports in collaboration with partners,
  7. Events, webinars, a newsletter, social media, conferences and consultations, and
  8. Convening collaborative workshops and facilitating roundtables with industry and other external stakeholders to inform future strategies,
  9. Supporting participation in Horizon Europe. The team of National Contact Points (NCPs) for Horizon Europe at Innovate UK and UKRI play a key role in supporting UK organisations to engage with their European counterparts, join and lead collaborations, and enjoy access to European expertise and supply chains to help develop and commercialise their research.

You can find out more about Innovate UK by visiting their website here.

Redefining web 3.0: Emerging economies, metaverse technologies, and the new age of the internet (with Shoosmiths)

Want to hear Esra's thoughts on gaming, metaverse & web 3.0 technologies?

There are still a few tickets left for techUK's Redefining web 3.0 event, taking place at Shoosmiths' London offices on 31 Jan.

Attendees will learn how these technologies will interact to spark innovative business models and new opportunities.

Sign up free to attend the presentations, panel discussions, networking session and tech demo area.

Click below to view our other Supercharging Innovation series:

techUK – Supercharging UK Tech and Innovation

The opportunities of innovation are endless. Automation, IoT, AI, Edge, Quantum, Drones and High Performance Computing all have the power to transform the UK. techUK members lead the development of these technologies. Together we are working with Government and other stakeholders to address tech innovation priorities and build an innovation ecosystem that will benefit people, society, economy and the planet - and supercharge the UK as a global leader in tech and innovation.

For more information, or to get in touch, please visit our Innovation Hub and click ‘contact us’. 






Rory Daniels

Rory Daniels

Programme Manager, Emerging Technologies, techUK

Rory joined techUK in June 2023 after three years in the Civil Service on its Fast Stream leadership development programme.

During this time, Rory worked on the Government's response to Covid-19 (NHS Test & Trace), school funding strategy (Department for Education) and international climate and nature policy (Cabinet Office). He also tackled the social care crisis whilst on secondment to techUK's Health and Social Care programme in 2022.

Before this, Rory worked in the House of Commons and House of Lords alongside completing degrees in Political Economy and Global Politics.

Today, he is techUK's Programme Manager for Emerging Technologies, covering dozens of technologies including metaverse, drones, future materials, robotics, blockchain, space technologies, nanotechnology, gaming tech and Web3.0.

[email protected]

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