15 Jan 2024
by Rory Daniels

Institutions of Innovation: Innovate UK (week 2)

Learn how Innovate UK interacts with the UK's public sector innovation ecosystem.

'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 2: How does Innovate UK interact with the UK's public sector innovation ecosystem?

What kind of relationship does Innovate UK have with it's closest institutional neighbours?

Innovate UK works closely with a wide range of public sector organisations, public bodies, government departments and agencies nationally and internationally on policy and programme delivery in the relevant areas of interests. Innovate UK (IUK) has a strong relationship with Engineering and Physical Sciences Research council (EPSRC), Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and other UKRI sister councils working collaboratively to form and deliver against the National UK strategies such as AI, Cyber, Quantum and delivering investments with DCMS, DSIT, OAI, OLS, PNT, and other key departments across the UK.

Innovate UK supports industry collaboration and collaborates with large companies, SMEs and charities across a range of themes and develop a talent pipeline with strong industry links in the areas of Digital, Digital Health, Life Sciences, Net Zero, Trustworthy AI, Quantum, Cyber, Security, Responsible Innovation and other related themes.

Innovate UK makes investments in billions of pounds, and they range from small, short-term projects that solve a particular problem to multi-million-pound innovation programmes.

For example:

  • The Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) are working together with Innovate UK to offer Defence Innovation funding. This service provides an opportunity for small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) with mature innovative solutions to Defence themed problems to apply for a Defence Innovation Loan of between £100,000 and £2 million.
  • Since inception in 2008, Innovate UK and the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council has supported Queen’s University’s Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) in Belfast, one of seven UK Innovation and Knowledge Centres (IKCs). Innovate UK is additionally delivering £11 million funding in CSIT from the New Deal for Northern Ireland on behalf of the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO). The investment has created a new Cyber-AI Hub where companies and academia collaborate on the advancement and demonstration of AI and Cyber Security research, innovation and skills.
  • Innovate UK in collaboration with NPL and STFC and other partners investing in ‘Analysis for Innovators’ (A4I) small collaborative innovation projects. The aim is to match the businesses with the world-leading UK scientists and cutting-edge facilities to solve complex analysis or measurement problems.
  • Through the National Timing Centre (NTC) programmeNPL is partnering with Innovate UK to deploy grant funding for UK innovation in resilient time, frequency and synchronisation (TFS). This provides opportunities for UK businesses and research organisations to collaborate in the development of new products and services that contribute to time dissemination and application. This funding is being provided by the UK Government’s Strategic Priorities Fund.
  • Earth Observation (EO) is a vital service and a growing industry. Innovate UK , The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) RAL Space and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) along with UK Space Agency, the European Space Agency and the MET Office are supporting the UK’s growing EO industry. Innovate UK receiving part of the UK government’s £200m investment in the Earth Observation sector focuses on protecting UK talent and industry.
  • Innovate UK works closely with EPSRC to lead UKRI’s response on AI. Leading the constituent Councils of UKRI in a comprehensive review of AI across portfolios, the development of UKRI’s position statement: Transforming our world with AI (ukri.org) and the delivery of investments against this strategy. AI is context specific with AI solutions being developed through tackling real-world problems in application domains, but importantly doing so in a way that ensures that AI is trustworthy and adoptable. UKRI delivers. Many of the recent flagship AI investments cover the breadth of UKRI’s interest in AI, from the Innovate UK BridgeAI Programme, the Turing AI Fellowships, AI Centres for Doctoral Training, or Technology Mission Fund investments in Responsible AI UK, AI for health and AI for net zero projects.

Innovate UK’s and UKRI’s research and innovation investments in AI encompasses a range of vehicles that are designed to enable industry to work flexibly with researchers to drive the development and commercialisation of new products, processes and services. One of these vehicles is the Innovate UK BridgeAI programme that aims to promote the adoption of AI technologies in high-potential growth but low AI maturity sectors.

The programme is focused on priority industries such as transport, including logistics and warehousing, construction, creative industries and agriculture and food processing, with the goal of increasing productivity and supporting the transition to an AI-enabled economy.  It also facilitates engagement between AI developers and adopters, supporting the development of new AI solutions to address sector-specific challenges, promoting responsible AI innovation and addressing technical and business skills gaps that limit diffusion of AI solutions. In collaboration with DSIT, there is also business competency framework for AI skills being built.

  • The Biomedical Catalyst (BMC), launched in 2012 is our flagship R&D programme supporting UK health and life science SMEs focusing on innovation in Therapeutic, Medical Technology, Digital Health. Since its inception, the BMC has allocated over £345 million in funding awards to over 650 highly innovative projects. The programme also includes themed accelerators which provide early-stage businesses with invaluable knowledge and skills to develop their innovative ideas. In addition, a successful BMC funded Investor Partnerships programme is supporting businesses, combining investment with R&D Grant funding.
  • The Create Growth Programme was launched in 2022 by the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) in partnership with Innovate UK. It was designed to support the development of creative industries with high-growth potential across England, outside of London and set to be completed in March 2025. This programme is a £17.5 million investment in the sector, with up to £7 million provided by Innovate UK. Eligible businesses in Create Growth regions can apply to Innovate UK for grants and investor partnerships.

The programme aims to drive innovation and investment in the sector. Through investor networks, connecting businesses across regions, building new supply chains, and creating pathways for future founders, creative businesses can explore new innovative projects that will stimulate growth and attract private investment.

  • The Creative Catalyst Programme, launched in 2022 is a £30 million programme of phased financial and non-financial activities to provide end to end innovation support for high potential businesses in the creative sector. The financial support is made up of a £10 million (pa) fund, which allows companies to apply for (up to) £50k grants. The non-financial support includes high-growth business support through Innovate UK EDGE, Peer Networking and workshops through Innovate UK KTN, International partnering opportunities through Innovate UK’s Global Business Innovation Programme, and an industry-challenge fund led by Creative UK. This funding runs until March 2025.
  • Innovate UK, EPSRC and other sister councils in addition to Innovate UK’s Catapults have been instrumental in developing the Cyber Physical Infrastructure strategy with DSIT; setting out a plan to work with industry and academia to tackle systemic challenges and maximise the value to the UK and globally. Cyber-physical systems connect the physical and digital domains. Data shared between physical system their digital counterparts produce insights and feed decision-making: from scenario modelling and collaboration across locations and platforms, to optimisation and autonomous operations. An ecosystem of networked systems becomes a type of infrastructure on which future products, services and decision-making processes are built on. Thus,  “Cyber-Physical Infrastructure” is sometimes referred to as the cyber-physical internet. 
  • In collaboration with the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, Innovate UK’s Privacy Enhancing Technology (PET) competition aimed at promoting the development and implementation of privacy-preserving solutions in data-driven applications. The competition invited businesses and organisations to propose innovative technologies that protect individuals’ privacy while enabling the use of valuable data for beneficial purposes, addressing key privacy concerns in the digital age. The activity focused on two case study areas: Financial Crime Prevention & Pandemic Forecasting. This activity was delivered bilaterally with the US White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
  • In collaboration with DSIT, Home Office and GCHQ the aim of the Privacy Enhancing Technology competition was to enhance the UK’s capabilities in protecting children online. The competition funded the development, prototyping and evaluation of innovative ways in which sexually explicit images or videos of children can be detected and addressed within end-to-end encrypted environments, while ensuring user privacy is respected. 
  • UKRI and Innovate UK have a strong relationship with the British Business Bank (BBB). The funding programmes they can deliver together support innovation-led businesses and enable them grow and succeed with new ideas and discoveries. The funding enables the translation of blue-sky research, skills and know-how in the UK universities and research centres, to support businesses by de-risking bold R&D projects, to help ensure innovative businesses have access to the right kind of external finance to grow. For example, the ‘Research council spinouts’, that have emerged from UKRI research grants, which also have received funding for innovation projects from Innovate UK and/or investment backed by the BBB show better business survival rates and generated more jobs.
  • British Standards Institute and Innovate UK are working together to create new standards earlier in the development of new technologies. By creating standards early in the emergence of new technologies, the UK can become the leader in these areas and gain 'first mover advantage'.

The collaboration between two institutes began in July 2013 to foster collaboration between BSI and Innovate UK to accelerate development of standards in four key areas (synthetic biology, cell therapies, offshore renewable energy (ORE) and independent living) and is expanding to support BridgeAI activities on development of standards in coordination with the AI Standards Hub.

A recent independent report from the Centre for Economic and Business Research found that standards act as a catalyst for innovative activity. Standards facilitate innovation by reducing the time to market for new products, promoting the diffusion of innovative products, levelling the innovation playing field between big and small companies, and facilitating the inter-operability in network industries thus creating the environment for the development of new products.

  • Innovate UK directly works with Department for International Trade (DIT) to attract foreign direct investment and to support the retention of mobile R&D investment in the UK.
  • The Innovate UK Smart Grant supports SMEs and their partners in developing the best game changing and word-leading ideas and innovative R&D projects. It focuses on developing disruptive innovations with significant potential for rapid economic return to the UK.

Beyond DSIT, what are the key departments that Innovate UK works most closely with? 

Innovate UK collaborates with a wide range of public sector organisations, public bodies, government departments and agencies including but not limited to the following:

  • Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ)
  • Department for Education (DfE)
  • Department of Business and Trade (DBT)
  • Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
  • Department for Transport (DfT)
  • Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)
  • National Health Services (NHS)
  • Devolved Administrations
  • British Business Bank (BBB)
  • British Standards Institution (BSI)
  • Office of Life Sciences (OLS)
  • Office for AI (OAI)
  • Office for Quantum (OfQ)
  • Military of Defence (MoD)
  • Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl)
  • Defence and Security Accelerator
  • Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Office
  • Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)
  • National Physics Laboratory (NPL)
  • Alan Turing Institute (ATI)
  • OfGem
  • Intellectual Property Office (IPO)
  • Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)
  • UK Space Agency (UKSA)
  • Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI)

And other major organisations.

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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