The Biggest Innovate UK Grants of 2021

| Beth Longman

Between January and October 31st 2021, Innovate UK deployed 2,117 grants, across 1,433 companies. Almost half (903) of these grants went to high-growth UK firms tracked on Beauhurst (769 companies)—together, these totalled £269m. 

Every private company in the UK that has received an innovation grant over £100k has a deep data profile on the Beauhurst platform. In this article, we look at why Innovate UK grants are a good indicator of startup success. We also profile the 15 companies that received the largest grants from Innovate UK between January and October 2021 (based on their most recent data).

What is Innovate UK?

Innovate UK has been designed to promote businesses’ growth through experimental development of new products, services or processes. Created in 2007, it aims to facilitate an “innovation ecosystem that is agile, inclusive and easy to navigate.” Innovate UK connects firms to partners and funders, whilst supporting new business and research collaborations, and awarding Innovate UK Smart grants. Since 2007, Innovate UK has invested around £2.5b, with match funding from industry investors resulting in a sum of £4.3b for UK companies. 

Innovate UK is a subsidiary of the government-funded public body UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Under the Government’s vision for the UK to become an innovation hub by 2035, UKRI and Innovate UK are driving economic growth by enabling businesses to realise new ideas. UKRI was launched in 2018 to support research organisations and funding opportunities across higher education institutions, as well as to aid Innovate UK programmes.

Why do we track Innovate UK grants? 

As the UKRI makes clear, “innovation is the lifeblood of business”. Indeed, innovation funding has the potential to provide rapid momentum to business growth and the future UK economy. Innovate UK grant recipients typically have very specific and ambitious research and development projects in the pipeline. In this way, Innovate UK funding outcomes provide good insight into future growth and investment trends.

Whilst eligibility for Innovate UK funding is an early indication of a game-changing company​​—a sign of growth that can quickly escalate​​—we also track other forms of grant funding on the Beauhurst platform. These include large innovation grants awarded by H2020/FP7, Scottish Enterprise, Development Bank of Wales, and Invest Northern Ireland.

Top sectors for Innovate UK grants

The 769 Innovate UK grant recipients currently tracked on the Beauhurst platform operate across a broad range of R&D-intensive industries:

  • Manufacturing and engineering (125 companies)
  • Analytics, insight, tools (99 companies)
  • Software-as-a-service, or SaaS (79 companies)
  • Research tools/reagents (55 companies)
  • Mobile apps (50 companies)

The 15 biggest Innovate UK grants of 2021

Now let’s explore the high-growth UK companies that received the biggest grants from Innovate UK between January and October in 2021.

  • VPI
  • GKN Aerospace
  • Magtec
  • Bamford Bus Company
  • Impact Solutions
  • TISICS
  • British Lithium
  • Ecomar Propulsion
  • Libertine
  • Brits Energy
  • Exemplas
  • River Lane Research 
  • my mhealth
  • CCm Technologies
  • iCOMAT

1. VPI

Based in Yorkshire and the Humber, VPI operates heat and power plants for electricity supply, and is one of the leading Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) operators in the UK. A key part of energy systems of the future, a CCGT can produce up to 50% more electricity using the same amount of fuel as a simple cycle plant. Founded in 2013, VPI has secured a total of four large innovation grants so far.

To help accelerate the UK Government’s Net Zero plans, VPI has been awarded with an Innovate UK grant worth £8.24m, for their Humber Zero project. This will involve the decarbonisation of the industrial complex based in Immingham, creating a platform for demonstrating decarbonisation technologies on an industrial and commercial scale. It will also provide regional jobs in low carbon infrastructure development.

2. GKN Aerospace

Founded in 1939, GKN Aerospace is a West Midlands-based firm that develops and distributes a range of components for the aerospace industry. This predominantly includes engines, fuel tanks, and landing gear, with 41 manufacturing locations in 13 countries.

GKN was awarded a £5.46m Innovate UK grant at the start of 2021, to accelerate their Aerospace and Automotive Supply Chain Enabled Development (ASCEND) project. This will develop the UK’s composites capability to meet the requirements of future markets: advanced, lightweight structures that meet demand in electric and hybrid propulsion aerospace structures. 

The company has been awarded an impressive 63 large innovation grants to date, totalling £140m. GKN is also partnering with the University of Birmingham, as part of UK research into hydrogen propulsion systems for aircrafts.

3. Magtec

The UK’s largest supplier of electric drive systems and hybrid solutions, Magtec has been designing, developing and manufacturing components for a range of vehicles since 1992. Headquartered in Yorkshire and the Humber, Magtec’s components are developed and manufactured in Rotherham, and used in everything from commercial heavy goods to tracked defence vehicles. To date, the company has secured 13 large innovation grants, worth £17.7m, on top of a £300k equity fundraising in 2018.

Magtec’s latest R&D project looks to develop an interactive tool for decision makers in electric commercial vehicle fleets. It would help them to assess the journey towards HGV electrification and to achieve rapid charge capability. The company has been awarded £3.48m from Innovate UK for the HGV project. It will also be supported by data science organisation Dynamon and UK Power Networks, whilst Yorkshire Purchasing Organisation and AF Blakemore will be trial partners, replacing several of their diesel vehicles with Magtec equivalents.

4. Bamford Bus Company

Bamford Bus Company is an Oxford-based holding company for the bus manufacturer Wrightbus (headquartered in Northern Ireland). Founded in 2019, Bamford is developing single and double-deck fuel cell electric buses for the UK market and for export. In June 2021, the company was awarded £3.21m as part of an Innovate UK grant to boost hydrogen-fuel technology. 

The Innovate UK project will see fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) driving us towards a low-carbon hydrogen economy. By replacing diesel vehicles, global FCEV sales are estimated to mitigate 15.6m tonnes of CO2 and 5,744m litres of diesel by 2031/32. And in strengthening UK-based assembly and manufacturing capabilities, the project will also create over 2k production jobs and safeguard more than 1k R&D and manufacturing positions.

To date, Bamford Bus Company has been awarded a total of 10 large innovation grants, totalling £7.09m. And in the last year, CEO Jo Bamford has launched a unique asset finance company (FUZE) that will offer funding solutions for zero-emissions buses.

5. Impact Solutions

Based in the East of Scotland, Impact Solutions work across plastic testing, development and research. The company’s solutions include recyclable plastic, baffled oscillation separation systems (BOSS technologies) which use water to separate plastics, and energy saving and waste reduction services. Founded in 2002, as a spinout from BP Chemicals, it’s been awarded £5.22m so far from 25 large innovation grants, alongside an additional £3.48m worth of fundraisings. 

Impact Solutions are working to develop a prototype plant that uses BOSS technologies to recycle a stream of sterilised clinical medical waste from an NHS Scotland contract. The company’s been awarded £2.99m in Innovate UK funding for this project. It will see the design and prototyping of a first-to-market process that will divert significant volumes of medical waste from incineration.

6. TISICS

TISICS is a Farnborough-based metal composite designer and manufacturer, focused on the aerospace and energy sectors. The company has been delivering high-strength metal composites for space and aircraft components for over 15 years. It secured a £204k funding round back in 2010, and has also been involved in two national SPRINT business support programmes. TISICS has also been awarded £7.12m in additional funding, across 40 large innovation grants. 

In May 2021, TISICS was awarded a £2.94m Innovate UK grant for its LightLand project, which will explore opportunities to make aircraft components (such as landing gear systems) more lightweight and to improve functionality. With compression strength of 50% to 100% greater than steel, the company’s metal composites offer a promising alternative to current materials. TISICS is working with Safran Landing Systems on the project.

7. British Lithium

As the first company to find and extract a lithium deposit in the UK, British Lithium is currently undertaking industrial research to use lithium for battery power. Founded in 2020, and based in the South West of England, the company is now looking to pilot production of lithium from UK granite at scale. The company’s unique process would allow for the extraction of lithium at low temperatures, without toxic chemicals. In the future, they plan to transition to an electric vehicle (EV) model, creating batteries for EVs which are currently created overseas. 

In line with the UK Government’s 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution, which includes the acceleration of charging infrastructure, British Lithium was awarded a £2.90m Innovate UK grant in March 2021. This will be used to produce Europe’s only supply of lithium. This will be crucial as the UK’s automotive sector recovers from COVID-19, as the proposed quarry and refinery would meet one third of the country’s requirements. British Lithium has been awarded three large innovation grants so far, amounting to £3.31m.

8. Ecomar Propulsion

Based in the South East, Ecomar Propulsion is developing zero emission hybrid propulsion systems for commercial ship operators. Founded in 2019, the company’s ambition is to remove 1m tonnes of CO2 from the marine industry, within 10 years, through their innovative solutions. Ecomar Propulsion has secured £4.76m in grant funding so far, across five large innovation awards. This is on top of a £55k equity fundraising from Minerva Business Angel Network (managed by the University of Warwick Science Park) in July 2021.

Supported by an Innovate UK grant worth £2.59m, Ecomar Propulsion’s latest project focuses on electrifying and decarbonising high-polluting marine engines. This will not only protect the environment, but it will also support jobs, international trade, and the economy within the marine sector. Building on successful feasibility studies, the project will deliver prototypes to be trialled in real-world environments.

9. Libertine

Libertine creates linear generator technology for distributed generation and heavy duty powertrains in vehicles. Founded in 2009 and based in Yorkshire and the Humber, their generators provide at least 30% more power from the same fuel input and are cleaner and quieter. Crucially, they also offer greater fuel flexibility to accelerate the adoption of renewable fuels. Libertine has attended the Climate-KIC Accelerator, secured £3.17 worth of investment, and been awarded 10 large innovation grants, totalling £4.55m.

In March 2021, the company was awarded an Innovate UK grant worth £2.54m, to develop a prototype for an internal combustion engine with an alternative piston motion. This project, which will demonstrate a variable compression ratio range extender engine optimised for heavy duty vehicles with renewable fuels, could play a key role in a fossil fuel-free future. The UK Government is funding this as part of a Europe-wide decarbonisation program.

10. Brits Energy

Founded in 2017 and based in Milton Keynes, Brits Energy is an energy solution provider that seeks to find efficient data-driven solutions across a range of markets. Their solutions include electric vehicles aids, smart grid accelerators, and a sustainable food production system (or SFPS). In May 2021, Brits Energy was awarded a £2.54m grant from the UK’s innovation agency to support this system. To date, the company has been awarded five large grants, worth more than £3m in innovation funding.

The UK’s food sector currently accounts for around 26% of all greenhouse gas emissions. For this reason, it’s a key focus in the move towards carbon neutrality. And by 2025, it’s anticipated that the agricultural technology sector will be worth more than £136 billion globally. Brits Energy’s SFPS will enable farmers to use digital tools to farm indoors, and to develop an energy procurement systems which delivers net-zero carbon products, whilst reducing consumption.

11. Exemplas

Based in the East of England and founded in 1992, Exemplas provide advisory services across the UK. They work to build relationships with SMEs to strengthen their value propositions and with students to help them grow and innovate. Owned by the University of Hertfordshire, their RTO growth catapult scheme provides a new outlook on service differentiation, client acquisition, and client retention to help businesses scale.

In line with the UK Government’s drive to support small SMEs amidst the coronavirus pandemic, Exemplas was awarded with a £2.36m Innovate UK grant in April 2021. This took their total number of innovation grants to 22, worth a combined £11.7m.

12. River Lane Research

Founded in 2016, River Lane Research is the world’s first quantum engineering company, working with the chemical, pharmaceutical and materials industries to improve algorithms and specify early applications of quantum computers. The University of Cambridge spinout’s transformational quantum software involves the commercialisation of experimental solutions. River Lane Research has so far secured five large innovation grants, worth £2.68m, and 2 fundraisings, worth £17.7m.

River Lane Research recently secured an Innovate UK grant, totalling £2.24m, to explore the potential of quantum within battery technology. The company hopes to use the properties of quantum systems to provide a battery material screening product that provides significant improvements to computational speed and accuracy. This will address current industry bottlenecks in which researchers struggle to efficiently identify new battery materials.

13. my mhealth

my mhealth is a leading provider of digital therapeutics solutions. Previously known as Healthquest Solutions, my mhealth creates and develops mobile applications that provide healthcare patients with ongoing support. This includes features such as lifestyle analysis and wellbeing calendars—solutions that not only improve outcomes for patients but also reduce medical costs and increase healthcare capacity. 

Based in the South West of England, my mhealth was founded in 2011 and spun out of the University of Southampton. The eHealth company works with the NHS and several other partners to provide around-the-clock access to medical interventions. It previously attended the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA) programme, and has secured four large innovation grants to date, worth a combined £2.41m. 

In April 2021, my mhealth was awarded a £2.17m Innovate UK grant to develop an application to support patients requiring cardiac rehabilitation. This is part of a larger, Europe-wide project.

14. CCm Technologies

Based near Swindon and founded in 2011, CCm Technologies are a cleantech and sustainability technology organisation. Reducing negative environmental impacts, CCm’s solutions convert industrial CO2 byproducts into materials with a commercial value. This includes the creation of fertiliser, plastics, and energy storage solutions. The company attended the SME Leaders Programme accelerator in 2018, and has secured over £8m worth of investment to date, across 10 funding rounds.

The company’s innovative ideas saw it awarded with a £2.08m Innovate UK grant in May 2021. With this new funding, CCm Technologies aims to utilise its Carbon-Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) technology to support the Net Zero movement. This will incorporate the decarbonisation of waste processes through circular carbon capture and storage technology as well as the scaled production of Net Zero carbon fertilisers. 

CCm Technologies are currently in phase 2 of this Innovate UK-backed project, which involves the detailed design and manufacture of the CCUS to fertiliser prototype. This will then be able to be operated on-site. The company was also recently awarded The Spectator’s Economic Innovator of the Year Award and has raised a total of 10 large innovation grants including its latest, worth a total of £3.20m.

15. iCOMAT

iCOMAT creates innovative production equipment for the manufacturing of stronger, lighter and more cost-effective carbon fibre composite parts. The company was founded in 2019 and is currently based in Bristol, having spun out from the University of Bristol. It also attended the SME Leaders Programme accelerator. 

In March 2021, iCOMAT was awarded £1.94m by Innovate UK for their Lightweight Automotive Fibre-Steered Structures (LeAFS) project. Designed to facilitate lightweight benefits of composites in the automotive sector whilst saving costs, LeAFsS incorporates iCOMAT’s novel manufacturing technology, Rapid Tow Shearing. The funding will accelerate phase 2 of the project which focuses on research and development to solve existing implementation challenges. 

iCOMAT’s technology will one day allow for state-of-the-art manufacturing capability for lightweight vehicles and green mobility. The company has raised a total of £2.93m in large innovation grants so far, and £230k worth of investment, across two funding rounds.

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