Since their launch, Innovation Vouchers have made a huge difference to a variety of businesses across Britain.

The scheme from the UK government’s innovation agency, Innovate UK (previously the Technology Strategy Board), was originally launched in the second half of 2012, giving startups and SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) the chance to apply for a voucher to the value of up to £5,000. The money is specifically to pay for an external expert to help businesses expand and develop.

“Innovation Vouchers are available to businesses who are looking to source help from an external expert to meet a business challenge”

 

Previously, these vouchers were only open to certain industries such as Space, Built Environment and Agri-Food, but soon expanded to include other areas. Now, however, anyone who owns and runs a micro-business or SME from anywhere in the UK, in any industry, can apply.

What are the criteria?

Innovation Vouchers are available to businesses working across all sectors who are looking to source help from an external expert to meet a business challenge. Every three months – in January, April, July and October – approximately 100 applications are accepted to receive a voucher of up to £5,000 to spend on working with an external supplier of the company’s choice.

In order to apply, there must be a requirement for external help: to get advice on a new and innovative idea; to develop new prototypes; to hire equipment, or a variety of other purposes.

“The voucher must be used to make a real change, and not just to make minor improvements to what is already being done”

 

The key thing here is that the voucher must be used to make a real change, and not just to make minor improvements to what is already being done. Applicants must not be previous recipients of an Innovation Voucher, and must choose a knowledge supplier who they have never worked with before.

How to apply…

iv-application-flow-diagram-web.pngApplications are open at any time of the year, and can be made through the Innovate UK website. Those who apply will need to register to become part of the connect network before applying, a kind of ‘Linkedin for innovators and mentors’, which will also give them access to plenty of useful information and business contacts.

The application form itself will ask questions about the idea for which the business is seeking funding, including details of the idea itself, how it will help the business and the type of external expertise that the business owners are seeking.

To judge eligibility, the applicant will also be asked about previous funding that they have received, as well as questions around the size of the business.

Local success…

Since the launch of the Innovation Voucher scheme, a number of companies across the Bristol and Bath area have been able to reap the benefits. One such company is Bristol-based Tuffscreen, a small business that specialises in producing dual layer screen protectors for all electronic devices, which protect these devices without affecting their performance.

Tuffscreen used their Innovation Voucher to work with the Bristol Centre for Functional Nanomaterials (BCFN), part of the University of Bristol, to aid their business development and sales processes by undertaking rigorous testing of the physical properties of the product. Such testing included areas such as materials toxicity, scratch and bacterial growth resistance and impact resistance.

“By using our Innovation Voucher with the University of Bristol, we have an independent set of results that adds plenty of gravitas to our marketing efforts”

 

Says Tristan Fowler, founder and director of Tuffscreen: “Being able to work with a credible institution such as the BCFN enabled us to fully test the physical properties of Tuffscreen, which led to the ability to put together strong marketing videos which have helped to grow our business no end.

“By using our Innovation Voucher with the University of Bristol, we also have the full dataset from the testing: an independent set of results that adds plenty of gravitas to our marketing efforts.”

So real, tangible change. The question is, how would you use yours?

For more information and how to apply, visit the Innovation Vouchers website. And for up-to-date South West tech news, why not come and follow TechSPARK on Twitter.

Emily Knight