Following on the success of its pilot scheme, Innovate UK has formally kicked off its Innovation Loans programme. From now until 11 September, businesses can apply for a share of £10m to work on highly innovative, late-stage projects.
Too often, innovative ideas are scuppered, not through lack of will or trying -- but simply a lack of capital. Businesses, tied down by the day-to-day realities of staying afloat, aren’t always able to chance their arm.
What we’re left with is a treasure trove unrealised ideas and innovations that could have, as the old Silicon Valley cliche goes, made the world a better place.
Google’s co-founder Larry Page has gone on the record about what he calls “moon shots”. These are ideas that are singular, and not interested in only incrementally improving on a competitors product.
“[I]t's always about the competition,” Page told Wired Magazine. “But it's hard to find actual examples of really amazing things that happened solely due to competition. How exciting is it to come to work if the best you can do is trounce some other company that does roughly the same thing?”
In other words, real breakthroughs are a conscious effort driven by something more intangible than just market competition. The audacity and the will to make these breakthroughs exists already, what’s needed now are effective mechanisms to channel resources to fund these ideas.
That is what Innovate UK’s SME loan programme is trying to address. For businesses who receive the funding, the loans will be used to support cutting-edge innovations become successful commercial realities.
What does it mean for SMEs?
There is a pot of £10m available, and micro, small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who are conducting highly innovative, late-stage projects can apply for loans between £100,000 and £1m are per project. To be considered, your project needs to demonstrate:
- A clear game-changing idea
- How the idea can lead to innovative products, processes or services significantly ahead of the current field
- Practical financial plans
If that sounds like you, then definitely apply! Beyond Innovate UK’s programme, however, there is still plenty to do about the UK’s SME funding shortfall.
By now, we’re all familiar with the challenges innovative SME businesses face accessing funding. Programmes like Innovate UK’s are welcome, but its also up to the entire SME funding ecosystem to catch up. Over half (55%) of UK SMEs are unable to access the funding needed to grow.
As the country faces up to economic challenges in the months and years ahead, The UK cannot afford its potential being constricted by a funding infrastructure not fit for purpose.
Incidentally, it was fifty years ago this year that the original moon shot paid off: The world watched the Apollo 11 crew set foot on the moon in 1969. We have to keep that spirit of big ideas and bold ambition alive. The UK’s businesses are ready, the rest of us need to catch up.