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Innovation in Start Up and Innovator Visas

Do you understand what Innovation is, and more importantly what constitutes an innovative project for the purpose of Visa Endorsements?

There are many words which do not have a clear and precise definition – Innovation is one of them. As someone who has studied and practised innovation for almost 30 years, the definition is clear to me – but I’m pretty much in the minority. Equally, my extensive studies and practical experience serve to further my understanding that innovation is practised by many, but understood by few. 

What matters most – in the majority of cases – is that people practise, rather than comprehensively understand, innovation. Understanding it will make it much easier, and it’s impact greater – but that’s for those who are serious about innovation.

Which is why, when the definition of innovation can be a determining factor as to whether someone is allowed to set up a business in the UK, it becomes a pretty serious matter.

The challenge we have, is that people still think of innovation as science, technology and creating the next “big thing”. While this can be classed as innovation, it’s one small cog in a much, much bigger machine. Innovation is so much more than this alone.

The definition of Innovation

Let’s take a step back to basics. One of my favourite definitions is a simple mathematical equation which reads:

innovation = idea + exploitation

I derived my own definition during my second degree (a Master of Philosophy in Innovation and Creative Problem Solving) which is:

“to gain benefit by doing something different”.

Let’s break this down, because there are three important statements there:

  1. To gain benefit – this implies that there has to be a net gain by someone
  2. … by doing – if it’s just an idea, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Doing makes it real and creates the actual benefit
  3. … something different – Innovation implies an element of uniqueness.

However, the subjectivity comes in point 3. The key question is, “different” to who? That’s where we introduce a scale of innovation.

We define:

  • Sectoral Innovation as being new to your sector, but commonplace in at least one other sector
  • National Innovation as being new to your country, but commonplace in at least one other country.
  • Global Innovation as being something which is totally “new to the world”.

So think about this a little more. If you want to “gain benefit by doing something different” you might think of a new way to access your marketplace. You may think of a way to piggy back on someone else supply chain to accelerate your route to market or simplify your logistics model. You might combine a number of services in a way to deliver considerable benefit to the end user.

See what I’m getting at? It’s not ALL about shiny new products – far from it.

In the context of the Start Up & Innovator Visa schemes

In the context of the Start Up & Innovator Visa guidelines for endorsing bodies, the Home Office asks a specific question regarding Innovation. This question is “Does the applicant have a genuine, original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage?”.

Note – No mention of science or technology. None whatsoever. The document then suggests guidelines which an endorsing body may adapt to ensure the business is sufficiently innovative which include:

  • Is the business offering something more than merely competing with similar local traders?
  • Is there a need for the business in the UK market that is not already being fulfilled?
  • Is the idea bringing something new to the pre-existing UK/global business market?

Again, no mention of science or technology. The key phrase here is about the need for “a genuine, original business plan”. Of course, we’ve got the viability and scalability aspects here too – but “original” can address any part of the business model or value proposition.

Utilising the HMRC model for R&D Tax Credits

Let’s jump across to another UK Government Scheme, HMRC’s R&D Tax Credits. While we are not directly comparing R&D with Innovation (the two are quite different), there are rules for the R&D Tax Credit scheme which lend themselves quite well to the Innovator Visa Scheme, albeit with a little adaptation.

This scheme effectively supports work which is:

  1. technically or scientifically challenging
  2. would result in an advancement in the given science or technology base, and
  3. would challenge the knowledge of another competent professional the given field.

Our suggestion here, is to adapt points 2 and 3. For the purpose of the definition of Innovation within the given Visa programmes, we would want to see:

  1. An advancement (or proposed advancement) in the business model or value proposition, beyond what is currently commonplace within the UK, or the sector
  2. The advancement should challenge the knowledge of another competent professional in the given field.

This suggests that there is some know-how (protected or otherwise) which presents a competitive advantage, and provides benefit to the supply chain, the business or the target marketplace.

The benefits of Innovation 

For me, this is the key point – what we need to consider is the “benefit” within the model. Who gains? It may be that the customer gets something better. Equally, it may be the customer gets the same thing, but other people (such as the staff) benefit greatly. A great example of this is Jamie Oliver’s “15” project, which took people from disadvantaged backgrounds and turned them into high quality chefs. Was that Innovative? As a business model, it certainly was. Who were the major beneficiaries? The staff.

Whether it’s staff or customers, I’m a firm believer that the key to this is “adding value to a subset of UK residents that doesn’t currently exist” – and that may cover staff, suppliers, customers or anyone else.

Remember the old saying “make people happy and the money will follow”. Helping a business to become more innovative ultimately helps them improve revenue, productivity, profitability, add new products / services, and many more benefits. It really is a no-brainer. The secret, is how.

So hopefully you’re now thinking a little wider. Who can benefit, how can they benefit and what’s the novel thing we need to do in order to make this happen?

How can we help you? 

Put simply, innovation is what we do. We offer a wide range of support services under our ep!c brand for anyone from individuals wanting to be more creative, through to multi-national corporations looking to increase their performance through innovation. One of our popular courses helps you develop innovative ideas to drive your business forward – and we’re happy to facilitate or contribute to your development sessions.

Ultimately, ep!c helps you improve your engagement and productivity through !nnovation and creativity. We’ve learned through researching practice that when you allow people to be creative, two major things happen. Firstly, they develop more innovative ideas, but secondly they become more engaged in their businesses. When you’ve got engaged, innovative people, the major output is improved productivity.

engagement, productivity, !nnovation, creativity. Or ep!c as we like to call it.

What next? 

If you’re looking to develop or release your innovative side, give us a call. We’re more than happy to talk over your idea and discuss whether we can help you. When we start to delve in to your creative abilities, you’ll be amazed at what ideas you can create.

Richard Harrison