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Developing a Business Plan for Innovator International

Find out more about developing your plan for our Innovator International or StartUp+ programmes and our assessment criteria.

Do you need guidance in developing your plan for our Innovator International or StartUp+ programmes?

Asking someone whether they have a business plan can, potentially, be one of the most misleading questions. The reason for this is that there are so many types of business plan. The contents of a plan for your own personal use will inevitably differ from that expected by a bank manager, investor, potential business partner or entry onto a specific programme.

We receive between 50 and 75 applications every month for our programme, with business plans ranging from 5 – 100 pages. The quality varies greatly, but most interestingly very few ever have two key components – a basic project plan and a risk register. These aspects are paramount in letting the reader know (a) you’ve got a plan to make things work, and (b) you know what you’re going to do if things veer off track.

Bearing that point in mind, this guide is written to help you develop a business plan specifically for entry on to the Innovator International programme, which can subsequently lead to you receiving your Endorsement for your Home Office Start Up of Innovator Visa application.

Our Assessment Process

When we’re assessing the suitability of projects for our programmes, we consider ten key areas. We grade each of these areas from 1-10 on our ‘business maturity matrix’ which lets us know how advanced the business is in each area.

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The marks are based on objective statements to ensure consistency across all projects. Within this guide we provide hints and tips on the level of information expected to meet the Start Up and Innovator criteria for our programme and subsequent endorsements.


This is NOT a guide detailing how any individual or business can develop a plan which will result in an endorsement. As any business plan (and particularly those developed using this methodology) has to be based on factual statements and supported by evidence, it is intended as a way to present the state of your business and your ambition in a clear and concise manner. This subsequently maximises your chances of being successful in your application for a position on an Innovator International programme

Setting the Scene

Think of your business plan as you, at an interview. How do you look? How do you talk? How long do you have? Do you provide underwhelming “yes and no” answers or an unnecessary excess of information? Do you think about what you’ve been asked and try to answer all aspects of every question?

Bearing this in mind, let’s start with the following basics:

  1. Your business plan should be the right length – 15-30 pages is a convenient length to get your story across for our purposes, depending upon your style of writing. What’s most important is the quality of the content, not the length. It’s OK to send a little more if you need to provide additional information, but you might want to consider placing it in an appendix or additional reference document.
  2. It should be smart and easy to read, like a good book. Open with a punchy executive summary, and take the reader through a journey. Anyone reading your plan wants to be as excited about your idea as you are.
  3. Add pictures – but only where they’re necessary. A picture can help your reader visualise what it is you’re trying to achieve and also makes the document more readable
  4. Pick a decent font in a good size. Don’t write everything in bold, but do use it on your key points you want to be noticed.
  5. Provide the information that the reader wants, but don’t go overboard by using too many words. Every section should be short, impactful and let the reader fully understand the situation without tiring them. Keep their attention!
  6. Think about your attention to relevant detail. We don’t need to know if you’re spending £500 on a printer, but if you’re developing a product or piece of software, we do want some insight on the development process, timeframe and costs. Tell us what matters!
  7. Pay attention to your timeframe and make sure it’s realistic. You’re highly unlikely to achieve your optimum sales targets in Month 1. Especially if you have to develop something which takes 4 months.

The Document Contents

Now you’re ready to go, here are the ten sections we assess. Under each title you will see the key question we ask ourselves:

1: Market Assessment

“Does the plan address the market maturity, wider sector position, scale, geographical nuances, and competitors?”

Within this section we’re looking to see that the applicant has a good understanding of the market opportunity, the prospective clients and the competition. There should be a clear opportunity for the given market. In addition, while it is good to provide an overview of the global, national or regional market statistics, it’s better to provide detail about your precise client base and demonstrate how you have engaged with them to develop your specific opportunity.

2: Marketing Strategy

“Is there a clear and achievable route to market without major risk points?”

While the previous question addressed how well you know your market, this section asks how you will engage them. Having a website and social media campaign may be essential but they’re often ‘necessary evils’ – i.e. they don’t add great value to what you do, but you can’t not have one. The challenge with websites and social media is that no-one looks at yours unless they’re highlighted to what you do.

This is where the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT) becomes highly relevant – that is, the moment that a potential customer makes a decision to emotionally invest time in finding out more about you. To achieve this they will have typically heard about you, read about you or seen you in several places – so how, and where, are you going to let people know about what you do?

3: Sales Strategy

“Does the plan include the capability to identify, develop and achieve the sales required to meet the financial needs of the business?”

You’ve told us how you’re going to make people aware of what you do – now you need to let us know that you have the sales process knowledge and skills to seal the deal. Sales aren’t something that you start once you’ve developed your offering; one of the wisest pieces of advice I’ve ever received is that “it’s better to sell something you haven’t yet made, than to make something you can’t sell”.

One of the biggest challenges we encounter with businesses is when they are highly skilled in the areas where they are delivering a product (or service) to their clients, but they lack the basic sales skills to achieve their ambition or worth. To look at the previous quote in a different way, making it is the easy bit – the challenge comes in turning the idea into an invoice.

4: Skills Strategy

“Does the business have the skills needed to complete their given tasks? Consider the full set of vocational (50%) and commercial skills (50%) required to make the business a success.”

We consider two key areas here and assign 50% of the total maturity mark to each. The first 50% is allocated against the applicants skills to understand and deliver the product or services within the business. If someone is starting a business in HR for the engineering sector, you’d expect them to have a good level of understanding of HR processes and/or engineering businesses. 

The second 50% addresses whether the person or team have the skill set to run the business. Do they have business management skills, a sales capacity, and any other core skills required to make the business a success? This is key in determining the viability of the business – i.e. does the applicant have the skill set to make the business work?

5: Resource Planning 

“Does the business have access to all of the knowledge, equipment and supply chain contacts they require in order to complete their functions?”

Now we’re building a picture of what skills you have, we move on to resources. This section asks what you have other than your people to help make the business a success. Resources typically include:

  1. the knowledge you need to do the job (remember this may come from other people)
  2. the equipment you need to complete and deliver a job (this may be software you’re designing)
  3. the contacts that you have (who may provide knowledge or perform tasks for you such as manufacturing, delivery, etc) and,
  4. money.

We need to know what you need and what you currently have, or are negotiating. Where there is a shortfall, what is your plan to address it?

6: Project Plan

“Is there a project management plan which details how the key objectives are going to be achieved and in what timeframe?”

This is key to helping us understand how you are going to achieve your goals. We’re not expecting a full project plan, but we would like some key information such as key targets and milestones, the main steps you need to achieve your targets, and the time it’s going to take.

The best way to present much of this information would be in a Gantt Chart, such as the one shown below:

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Within such a chart (which is easy to develop on any spreadsheet package), you’re able to identify your key tasks and plan how long each will take. This allows us to determine other information, such as when you will be in a position to raise revenue.

7: Scalability Strategy

“Does the plan include details regarding the significant scaling of the business?”

The term ‘scaling’ usually refers to how your business can increase revenue at a significantly higher rate than its expenditure. It could also be summarised as increasing growth while improving productivity.

However, in the context of the Start Up and Innovator Visa programmes, the term relies more to growth alone, asking how the company will achieve national and maybe international relevance. There are many ways to achieve this, from expansion to franchising. We want to know a little about your growth and scalability plans.

8: Innovation Strategy

“Does the plan clearly demonstrate a current level of, and ambition to continue, a high level of innovation which is an integral part of the business proposition?”

Innovation is a key talking point for Start Up and Innovate Visa applications. As an Innovation Agency, we understand that the definition of innovation can differ depending upon its context. Bearing that in mind, for the purpose of our programme (and for the endorsement of Start Up and Innovator Visas) we define innovation as “the provision of a benefit that is not currently and readily available in the UK”. That benefit could be delivered to any party, including customers, staff and wider stakeholders. It could even be a better way of making or doing something that already exists.

What we’re looking for here is that the innovation is an integral part of the business, and not “added on a the end to make the plan appear innovative”. Innovation should be a factor that has driven the creation of the business, and will continue to be apparent through it’s development and growth.

9: Financial Planning

“Does the plan demonstrate the need to meet all of the financial requirements of the business including contingency in the event of sales slippages, and how realistic are the key assumptions?”

Every business plan requires a robust set of financial figures based on solid assumptions. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a business plan where the forecasts were met, mainly due to the fact that entrepreneurs naturally over-assume how fast sales will arrive. One way to account for this is to include a “sensitivity analysis” – a delay or percentage reduction which takes into account the things which inevitably go wrong, which aren’t seen in advance.

A financial plan should always summarise the key assumptions, as the person reading the plan does not want to have to make assumptions as to why figures peak or trough. A good way to help the reader is, prior to showing the cashflow, list your key assumptions – for example cost per unit and rate of sales.

10: Risk Management 

“Does the plan assess the key risks and provide a robust management strategy to minimise probability and / or impact?”

The final step – and another which is missing from most business plans – is a basic risk assessment and management plan. We’re not talking about risk in terms of compliance and workplace safety here – we want to know what might go wrong, and what you’re doing (or going to do) to assess it.

Assessing risk is simple, using the following steps:

  1. List down everything which might go wrong, from you becoming ill through to people not wanting what you’re offering.
  2. On a scale of 1-5 (where 1 is very low, 5 is very high) what is the probability of the risk happening?
  3. On the same scale, what would the impact be if it did happen?
  4. Multiply your probability score by your impact score to get an overall risk score between 1 and 25.
  5. If the score is 10-19, the risk is high. If the score is 20-25, the risk is very high. For each of the risks in these areas, state whether you’re going to take action to prevent the risk from happening or whether you plan to act if it does happen.


While this is one of many ways to compile a business plan, this method allows us to assess all of the information we require for entry on to our programmes and subsequent endorsement. Please don’t feel that you have to use these headings – you don’t – but you do need to address all of the key points.

Finally, please remember that this is the information we need to see, and won’t meet the needs of everyone. If you follow these guidelines you’ll have a good strong plan, but if you are writing a business plan for another purpose, just ask the prospective reader what they want you to focus on!

Richard Harrison