The UK’s Most Innovative Startups (by R&D Spend)

| Ella Morgan

Research and development (or R&D) is undertaken by ambitious startups and high-growth businesses looking to introduce new products or services. Here at Beauhurst, we use R&D expenditure as an indicator of a company’s growth trajectory, and its ability to innovate within competitive markets.

Recognising how instrumental it is for economic growth and the wider startup ecosystem, the UK Government encourages R&D investment through various incentives and tax relief schemes, including R&D tax credits for SMEs and the Research and Development Expenditure Credit (RDEC) for large companies. 

Meanwhile, a record amount (£22b) of public spending has been committed to R&D this year, with the launch of the Government’s new Innovation Strategy. Alongside this, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng laid out further plans to capitalise on the UK’s successful vaccine response, aimed at boosting private sector investment post-Brexit. Reforms are expected to include greater access to capital, pro-innovation policies, and a reduction in red tape. 

Looking to “rekindle our country’s flame of innovation and discovery”, the Innovation Strategy will focus on seven key industries for UK innovation: Advanced Materials and Manufacturing; AI, Digital and Advanced Computing; Bioinformatics and Genomics; Engineering Biology; Electronics, Photonics, and Quantum; Energy and Environment Technologies; Robotics and Smart Machines. 

We’ve put together a list of the UK’s 14 most innovative startups, based on their total R&D spend last year. These top startups, defined as those in the seed or venture stages of evolution, will play a vital role in shaping the UK’s position as a global leader in innovation. Despite the wealth of sectors that benefit from research and development, biotech, pharmaceutical, and software tech startups dominate the ranking, all operating in R&D-intensive industries.

Most Innovative Startups in the UK (By R&D Expenditure in 2020)

Rank Company Name 2020 R&D Spend
Gyroscope Therapeutics
GammaDelta Therapeutics
30 Technology
Oxford Nanoimaging
Quell Therapeutics
Gyroscope Logo

1. Gyroscope Therapeutics

R&D spend in 2020: £13.7m

Gyroscope is one of 54 life sciences companies spun out of The University of Cambridge. The startup was founded in 2016 by David Kavanagh and is paving the way for a new era of precision medicine. Headquartered in Suffolk, Gyroscope develops gene therapies to tackle age-related macular degeneration, with the aim of giving its patients ‘Vision For Life’. It acquired US startup Orbit Medical in 2019, which enabled the company to integrate its clinical, manufacturing, and delivery capabilities.

To date, Gyroscope has secured over £164m in equity investment, across three funding rounds (more than any other entrant in this list), and £373k worth of innovation grants. And in March 2021, it secured a £108m ($148m) Series C round to fund further R&D, before announcing plans to IPO in New York back in May, with an offering price expected to be between $20.00 and $22.00 per ADS.

GammaDelta Logo

2. GammaDelta Therapeutics

R&D spend in 2020: £11.5m

Biotech startup GammaDelta Therapeutics was established in 2016 by co-founders Professor Adrian Hayday and Dr Oliver Nussbaumer, at King’s College London and the Francis Crick Institute. The Cancer Research UK spinout hopes to transform the treatment of patients living with hematological and solid cancers, by delivering highly effective allogeneic immunotherapies and paving the way for gamma delta T cells research. 

GammaDelta has so far made one acquisition and secured four equity fundraisings, worth a total of £36.2m. The company recently appointed a new Chief Business Officer, and received the go-ahead and support from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to trial its unique T-cell therapy in humans. This trial will investigate early indications of efficacy in people with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

30 Technology

3. 30 Technology

R&D spend in 2020: £7.61m

London-based 30 Technology is disrupting the healthcare industry through its range of nitric oxide-based therapeutics. These include EdixoMed, a nitrous oxide-generating wound dressing for diabetic patients. 30 Technology was founded in 2009 by Christopher Wood and Hugh Griffith, and has since gone on to develop partnerships with leading names in UK healthcare, including the NHS and Department of Health and Social Care. 

The ambitious healthtech startup was named on SyndicateRoom’s Top 100: Britain’s Fastest-Growing Businesses list in 2017. 30 Technology has secured five equity funding rounds so far, totalling £30.6m, from investors such as Alida Capital. Alongside this, it has received an additional £650k in innovation grants. 

Genomics Logo

4. Genomics

R&D spend in 2020: £4.73m

Genomics is also working to redefine the healthcare industry by using genome sequence data to predict and prevent disease. Spun out from the University of Oxford in 2014, Genomics’ analytical tools are used to calculate the risks associated with conditions such as cardiovascular disease and common cancers. 

Co-founded by Peter Donnelly, Gilean McVean, and Christopher Mcdermott-Spencer, the biotech scaleup has secured £66.2m in equity fundraising so far. This includes its £21.4m ($30m) funding round in March 2021, backed by numerous investors, including Lansdowne Partners, Oxford Sciences Innovation, and US funds Foresite Capital and F-Prime Capital.

Oxular Logo

5. Oxular

R&D spend in 2020: £4.72m

Founded in 2014, Oxford-based Oxular is developing treatments to target tissues involved in retinal diseases. Founded by Thomas Cavanagh, the company aims to transform the lives of patients with sight-threatening diseases. It’s also developing programs for rare and orphan conditions (those that lack both research and investment due to limited financial incentives). 

Oxular’s treatments have been praised for being more effective, safer (through reduced treatment side-effects), and longer-lasting. To date, the company has raised £2.81m worth of innovation grants, and £49.6m in equity investment. It secured a £27m round back in March 2021, led by one of Europe’s leading life sciences venture capital funds, Forbion.

Congenica Logo

6. Congenica

R&D spend in 2020: £3.20m

Congenica was established in 2014, based on research carried out by Wellcome Sanger Institute and the NHS. The company’s genome analysis tool provides molecular diagnoses of genetic diseases, enabling physicians to better tailor treatments. Congenica’s platform is well-regarded for its ability to expedite overall lab efficiency and analytical yield, and is validated by the Genomics England 100,000 Genomes Project.

The company spun out of the University of Cambridge in late 2017, and has attended the NHS Innovation Accelerator, which aids the development and implementation of innovative ideas across the NHS and wider healthcare system. Congenica’s total funding amounts to £67.8m in equity investment and £2.62m in innovation grants.

Traydstream Logo

7. Traydstream

R&D spend in 2020: £2.82m

Traydstream has developed enterprise software to help companies in the financial services sector to digitise documents and verify their compliance with market regulations. The London-based fintech startup was founded in 2016, and has since grown its global presence to four different continents and 17 markets. Traydstream’s software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform is powered by artificial intelligence.

To date, Traydstream has raised £10.3m in equity investment and £445k in innovation grants for its online platform. Its Series A round in May 2021, which totalled £5.6m, saw participation from several investors, including US-based Spearhead Capital and Hong Kong-based AFG Partners, a specialist fintech VC fund.

Adlens Logo

8. Adlens

R&D spend in 2020: £2.34m

Based in Oxfordshire, like many of the tech companies in this list, Adlens is developing adaptive lens tech for eyewear, virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR). The company’s Adlens TaskMaster offers an alternative to traditional varifocals, occupational eyewear, or wearing multiple pairs of glasses, whilst Adlens VR ProOptics offers custom performance optics, replacing the need for users to wear glasses under a VR headset. Founded by Yue Chen in 2004, the innovative technology company is yet to secure any known equity investments, but has seen impressive growth, achieving 20% scaleup status.

Celixir Logo

9. Celixir

R&D spend in 2020: £2.32m

Launched in 2009, Celixir develops cell and gene therapies to treat incurable or poorly-treated diseases. Celixir operates several companies under its brand: Celixir Innovations, Desktop Genetics, Cell Therapy, and Sirna. Their R&D activities are focused on bringing life-saving regenerative medicines to market. 

Based in the West Midlands, Celixir attended the London Stock Exchanges Group’s ELITE accelerator in 2017, an 18-month programme supporting growing companies. And with more than £10.2m of equity investment raised so far, alongside £222k in innovation grants and 20 tissue-specific regenerative medicines in the pipeline, we can expect big things from the pharmaceuticals company.

Have you read our latest report on UK spinouts?

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OMass Logo

10. OMass

R&D spend in 2020: £2.23m

OMass (previously Oxford Mass Technologies) is another successful spinout from the University of Oxford. Co-founded by Carol Robinson, Idlir Liko and Hsin-Yung Yen, the company develops a native mass spectrometry device, which provides insights into how molecules respond to therapeutics. It remains headquartered in Oxford, at the Oxford Science Park. 

To date, OMass has secured £426k worth of innovation grants and over £42.4m in equity investment, with backers including Syncona Partners and Oxford Sciences Innovation. Its most recent fundraising, in February 2020, saw the company raise £27.5m in an extended Series A funding round. The purpose of this R&D investment was to progress a pipeline of therapeutics and advance OMass’ lead programme to pre-clinical development.



R&D spend in 2020: £2.18m

NURVV is innovating in the wearables and mobile apps space, through its smart running insole. With support from the UK’s top sports and science universities, NURVV was co-founded in 2019 by Jason and Ulrica Roberts. Based in London, the sportstech startup is applying machine learning technologies to deliver real-time data and guidance to its users. NURVV aims to help runners enhance performance whilst also reducing the potential risk of injury. 

Kelly Holmes, the running intelligence company’s global ambassador, has praised the brand on social media as a ‘game changer’. Available from Amazon and other e-commerce retailers, NURVV has also been backed by England Athletics and the PM’s personal trainer. Following its £6.93m ($9m) equity investment from Hiro Capital, amidst the start of the pandemic, NURVV joins a growing club of innovative small businesses setting out to disrupt the UK’s fitness industry.

ONI Logo

12. Oxford Nanoimaging

R&D spend in 2020: £2.02m

Oxford-based spinout Oxford Nanoimaging (ONI) develops super-resolution microscopes. The Nanoimager, ONI’s flagship product, is the world’s first desktop super-resolution microscope, capable of visualising, tracking, and imaging individual molecules in living cells with 20 nm resolution. And throughout the pandemic, ONI has focused its collaborative and R&D efforts on combating COVID-19.  

The biotech company was founded by Bo Jing in 2016, and its innovative technologies are now used by organisations around the world, including Cancer Research UK, AstraZeneca, and numerous universities (namely Imperial College London, Harvard University, the University of California, the University of Hungary and Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan).

PredictImmune Logo

13. PredictImmune

R&D spend in 2020: £1.96m

Cambridge-based PredictImmune develops prognostic tests for immune-mediated diseases (conditions for which a specific cause is currently unknown, such as IBS). Still in the seed stage, PredictImmune was spun-out of the University of Cambridge in 2017. It was co-founded by Eoin McKinney, Kenneth Smith, and Paul Lyons. 

PredictImmune has raised £15m in total funding so far, and has received £4.37m worth of innovation grants. In May 2021, the company secured a £5m equity round with Parkwalk Opportunities EIS Fund, and other undisclosed investors. Meanwhile, recent news highlighted the halfway mark for their PROFILE (Predicting Outcomes for Crohn’s Disease using a Molecular Biomarker) trial, which aims to demonstrate that a prognostic biomarker can enable the delivery of personalised therapy for Crohn’s.

Quell Therapeutics Logo

14. Quell Therapeutics

R&D spend in 2020: £1.31m

Founded in 2019, biotech company Quell Therapeutics is another impressive academic spinout to make the list of most innovative startups. It develops Treg cell therapies for the treatment of a range of different conditions, such as solid organ transplant rejection. Quell’s business model focuses on positioning the company as the leading cell therapy player in the immune dysregulation field. 

The UCL spinout was founded in partnership with six prominent immunological experts from King’s College London, UCL and Hannover Medical School. Quell’s initial equity funding round (series A) saw Syncona commit £34m, with an additional £1m contributed by UCL Technology Fund. Thanks to a £25.8m follow-on investment in February 2021, the company has now raised a total of £60.8m to date. 

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