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06 Jul 2022

Invest NI: Supporting local businesses to develop innovative  projects

Mary Gormley, regional development manager for Invest NI discusses the Economic Recovery  Innovation Grant and the benefits of progressing along Innovate NI’s Innovation Framework

Invest NI: Supporting local businesses to develop innovative  projects

We speak to Mary Gormley, regional development manager for Invest NI, about the Economic Recovery Innovation Grant and the benefits of progressing along Innovate NI’s Innovation Framework.

According to the UK Innovation Survey carried out in 2017 by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), only 39% of Northern Ireland businesses are actively engaged in innovation, ranking it 12th out of the 12 UK regions.

Invest NI and the Department for the Economy (DfE), believe that Northern Ireland’s ranking in the ONS survey is not truly reflective of the level of innovation activity that is actually being delivered across the region. This could be down to the fact that many businesses simply don’t recognise what they do as innovation.

In response to the ONS, DfE launched Innovate NI in October 2019; this is an initiative that supports local businesses to progress through a four-step innovation framework for successful innovation to create value. The initiative also provides official recognition for innovation activity, helping businesses to understand where they are in their innovation journey and recognise their innovation achievement.

As a business further develops their innovative project, they can have their activities assessed by Innovate NI. If deemed to be innovative, they receive recognition so they can clearly see the level of progress that they're making.

Mary agrees with the need to encourage businesses to identify as innovative.

“One thing is for sure; we don’t shout about our innovation achievements enough. I firmly believe the NI economy is much more innovative than the ONS survey portrays; during the pandemic, we found that NI actually had a lot of innovative businesses with diverse offerings and locally we showed a high level of resilience in dealing with a very significant economic shock.

“But I do think micro-businesses in particular, sometimes struggle to see themselves as being innovative and struggle to understand all the supports that are available to them. That’s why Innovate NI’s recognition scheme is so important and it is one of the reasons we decided to support the work of Innovate NI with the Economic Recovery Innovation Grant.”

Economic Recovery Innovation Grant

The Economic Recovery Innovation Grant (ERIG) is funded by the Department for the Economy’s Economic Recovery Action Plan. The grant was launched on 10th November and it provides small-to-medium-sized businesses, including micro- businesses (SMEs) with the opportunity to apply for a grant of up to £5,000.

This grant was created to help businesses progress their innovative idea - this idea must be new to the business, or the market, for example, a new product or service, or a new process within the business.

The grant will help a business that is currently working on an innovative project to test and develop it, with the end goal of commercialising the product or service, or implementing the process fully in the business.

The £5,000 can be used to fund development costs and the actual implementation of that innovative idea into the business.

Businesses hoping to apply must complete Invest NI’s eligibility checker and satisfy the scheme’s eligibility criteria including being registered with HMRC and being a Northern Ireland-based SME or social enterprise.

They must also have a valid Silver Level Innovator recognition from Innovate NI. Silver Level Innovator recognition means businesses have already started to test and develop an innovative idea for their business.

Businesses can check if they satisfy the eligibility criteria on Investni.com and if they do, they can submit an innovation assessment to find out their innovation level. Once issued, Invest NI will invite the eligible, Silver Level Innovator to apply for ERIG.

Mary says the reason why businesses must have the Silver Level Innovator recognition to qualify for the grant, is to ensure that the grant is put to good use.

“We want local businesses to further develop innovative projects, services or processes that will enable them to grow. A business that is recognised as Silver Level has already completed the ideation and selection steps of the Innovation Framework, so we know the grant will be used to progress an idea Innovate NI has assessed as potentially innovative.

“Using the grant to achieve commercialisation or implementation would then, hopefully, allow a business to progress to Gold Level Innovator status.”

Innovate NI also provides help, support and signposting to ensure businesses progress through these innovation levels. This helps to avoid repeating the same step over and over again. This signposting will also help businesses know where to go for the right help.

“Innovation can be something big or something minor, but it can make a major change for an SME or micro business. Just go check if you are eligible and where you are on the Innovation Framework - it could completely change the way you do business.”

The closing date to apply for the Economic Recovery Innovation Grant is 5pm on Monday, 31st January 2022. Grants will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Visit Invest NI to learn more about the grant and whether you are eligible.

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