By Nigel Walker, Access to Finance Manager, Innovate UK

Small and medium sized businesses are the foundation of the British economy. The technology they develop employs millions of people across the country and puts the UK on the world map as a centre of innovation. Very often those innovative businesses group together in clusters.

Supporting these companies is crucial for our future economic success and that is why the Government is doing all it can to enable these fledgling firms to flourish. Innovate UK’s Launchpad competitions form a key plank of this support and it is therefore highly important that all those that are eligible for the funding, business advice and mentoring on offer are made aware of these opportunities.

The Launchpad programme is targeting clusters of businesses in which we believe the UK has a competitive advantage, from internet technology, to healthcare and the space sector. When companies group together they often collaborate and compete at the same time. Collaboration can be about building a network of like-minded professionals, making the sourcing of specialist services and networking far easier. Competing can be about attracting the best staff and can also result in attracting customers who are able to identify the best suppliers in a similar location. Tech City in London is a perfect example of this, but other clusters are flourishing around the UK; digital and creative firms in Manchester; healthcare companies in Wales, high performance engineering companies in “Motorsport Valley” and cyber-security specialists in the Severn Valley to name but a few. This can only be a positive development in enabling accelerated growth and knowledge sharing as success breeds success with new entrepreneurs encouraged to set up their own SMEs in the growing areas.

Funding innovative research and development projects in these sectors will enable the commercialisation of products and services that may not have otherwise come to market. To date, the Launchpad programme has resulted in up to £7.6million of funding for 84 companies in seven separate competitions, with further investments planned through further Launchpads in the future.

The early-stage funding of start-ups is not as mature as in other countries like America, which can make turning cutting edge research and development into a viable business difficult for many British firms. Innovate UK’s Launchpad programme is specifically designed to help overcome this by offering a structured programme of business and investment support in conjunction with a “cluster champion” who can engage other vital players in the cluster. We encourage investors such as business angels and venture capitalists to match the funding award or invest in the future growth of these innovative early stage businesses. We run dedicated events where our Launchpad winners present to investors, with tailored advice and training before this showcasing to ensure the greatest possibility of success. By also providing broader business assistance we are looking to help these companies achieve sustainable growth that goes way beyond the initial funding award.

With upcoming Launchpad competitions planned for diverse sectors such as healthcare technologies in Wales and manufacturing processes in the North-East of England, and past winners going from strength to strength, we are confident that Innovate UK’s Launchpad programme will continue to fulfil a vital role in enabling British SMEs to flourish in an increasingly competitive global economy. More information on Innovate UK’s Launchpads programme can be found here.