Navigating the commercial journey from innovation to market deployment

Turning an innovative idea into a commercial product is a long journey, and one that often requires help. While each company and product are different in all kinds of ways, there’s also a lot of synergy about how to think about growing your business, reach customers and set yourself apart. Being an expert in a particular field and taking an innovative concept towards initial prototype is one thing, but turning it into a growing and successful business can often be much harder.

Posted on: 22/04/2024

Supporting innovators successfully navigate their commercialisation journey

In February 2024, we brought together projects supported through Innovate UK’s Better Food For All and Novel Low Emission Food Production Systems competitions at a ‘Collaboration Nation’ style event held in Leeds. The event provided a forum for projects to ‘pitch’ their innovation concepts and progress being made towards commercialisation to a wide range of stakeholders from the science-base, industry (SMEs and large companies), Research and Technology Organisations, Catapults, regulators and investors.

Challenges around four areas were explored at this event:

  • technology scale-up
  • securing capital / investment
  • regulations
  • unlocking international markets

Here’s a glimpse into these key areas we’ll be exploring more of over the coming months.

Understanding the scale-up journey

It’s important for SMEs to consider technical scale-up alongside the product development journey and how this will be approached. It’s also important to be clear why, as a company, you’re looking at scale-up. Is your aim to:

  • engage investors to show that you can take lab-scale innovation through to technical and economic feasibility at pilot-scale?
  • secure contracts with potential customers through samples of the final product at pilot-commercial scale?
  • develop sufficient quantities of a novel feed or food products for consumer panels or animal feeding trials?

Navigating regulatory approvals

The importance of striking a balance between consumer and industry desire for new products, while ensuring consumer safety, means that some rapidly evolving areas, such as alternative proteins, need careful consideration for taking novel products and processes forward.

There are opportunities to work with partners, such as us here in Innovate UK, to support companies through the novel product registration process.

It is also important for companies to get the risk assessment aspect of their submissions as precise as possible as this can be the slowest part of the approvals process.

Investment and accessing capital for business growth

The AgriFood sector is well placed for growth and has seen significant expansion in the last ten years. However, SMEs need be conscious of challenges, such as a lack of specialist investors that understand the AgriFood sector and its business models.

Venture capital mapping is often worth undertaking to find investors in your sector and to avoid your pitch deck landing on a non-specialist. The Innovate UK Investor Partnerships programme can help with this, as we have engaged and approved investors that are more likely to be interested in your business and the AgriFood sector more widely.

Many entrepreneurs fail to be clear on how they are going to spend the investment they are pitching for beyond ‘just progressing IP a bit…’ and how the investment will return value. Think beyond just the technical developments and articulate the commercial progress and benefit to your business resulting from the investment. Have a clear vision of what you will achieve, by when, and what it costs to do this. Importantly, investors want to know about you ‘ the founder’, your team and to have confidence that you can deliver when things get tough.

Venture capital is not the right answer for all companies. There does sometimes appear to be a rush by founders to get investment into the company, but all investment comes with caveats and pressures – so take time thinking about your business and whether this is the right time to seek investment.

UK companies are also going to be competing for investment in a global market. While the UK equity market may not historically have been big enough to take advantage of the scale of the global AgriFood sector opportunity, new government schemes should help to unlock pension funds to future investment opportunities. This could help to fill funding gaps beyond Series A to support the growth and scaling of companies in the UK.

Going global with your business

Expanding your business beyond the UK market could help to unlock significant opportunities for growth. Whilst this can be a daunting prospect for SMEs focused on getting their technologies to domestic markets, a number of mechanisms are available to help through Innovate UK to help you break into international markets to grow and scale:

  • Global Business Innovation Programme (GBIP) – designed to help companies better understand the international landscape and accelerate the pathway to globalising their business. They provide access to high-level connections with key innovation ecosystem stakeholders across the science-base, government departments, RTOs and industry that would be extremely challenging and time-consuming to organise alone.
  • Global Incubator Programme (GIP) – supports SMEs looking to grow and scale in new international markets. This accelerator scheme helps companies understand a new marketplace, how regulations may affect a particular technology or product, or how to engage with international customers and supply chain partners to meet their specific requirements.
  • Global Explorers Programme – helps single SME companies to further extend their international R&D and collaborations, increase their understanding and experience of international opportunities, and accelerate the global deployment of UK innovation.

Continuing support for future food innovation

Innovate UK and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) are continuing to support the UK’s science base and industry operating across new food innovations, building on the commitments made through their Strategic Delivery Plans.

An Alternative Proteins Innovation and Knowledge Centre will bring together leading science base and industry partners to lay the foundation for the UK to establish a globally competitive alternative protein sector. It will also help bring together a community of innovators to tackle challenges, from discovery research through to proof-of-concept and commercial activities.

We are also jointly investing up to £2.5 million in a Diet and Health Innovation competition. The competition offers grant funding for UK businesses and research organisations to develop innovative food products that can support sustained health and wellbeing across the life course, with the potential to impact the nutritional quality of food and drink products consumed by the UK population.

With these new funding opportunities available to support the next tranche of novel food innovations, the UK is well set to support innovators through their commercialisation journeys.

Author: Tom Jenkins, Deputy Challenge Director – Transforming Food Production/Farming Innovation Programme, Innovate UK

Better Food for All: Innovation for improved nutrition


Innovate UK Business Connect helps organisations interested in AgriFood innovation access the expert information, funding and connections needed to drive change. Our experts work with businesses of all sizes; locally, nationally and globally.

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