New Co-creative Approach from National Innovation Programme Could Set a New Blueprint for Levelling Up

Innovation doesn’t happen in isolation – it happens when people, places and purpose come together.

Business innovation, where the commercially successful application of ideas, leads to new or improved products, processes, or services, is a vital ingredient in strengthening local economies and driving national growth. Innovate UK, the nation’s innovation agency, is instrumental in driving this growth and supporting the innovation journey for hundreds of thousands of businesses across the UK.

Innovate UK is currently leading the Innovation Accelerator pilot programme, which supports three city regions to become major, globally competitive centres for research and development. We are testing a crucial idea: can an innovation partnership between a city region and central Government provide synergy and catalyse outcomes that deliver the highest quality R&D of national and international standing, alongside strong local economic impact? The impressive outputs to date suggest the answer is a firm yes.

This exciting programme, which has injected £100 million into 26 high-potential projects is led by Innovate UK on behalf of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Science and Innovation (DSIT). Notably, this pilot is doing things differently through stronger co-creation with places, where we bring our national reach, our scale, our connections and our relationships with industry to help those places shape the best programmes, but driven locally.

We are working closely with the leadership of the three pilot areas of Greater Manchester, the West Midlands City Region and Glasgow City Region. All three accelerators are investing in their research and industrial base to curate project portfolios that reflect the unique needs and aspirations of their regions. This decentralised model not only ensures relevance and responsiveness, but also fosters greater local ownership and empowerment.

To give a taste of the locally selected projects being supported; – in Greater Manchester, the "Future Homes" project, funded to test the homes of the future in Europe’s largest climatic chamber, has yielded invaluable insights into the efficiency and scalability of low-carbon homes. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, the "Modular Chemical Robot Farms for Chemical Manufacturing" initiative has attracted over £28 million of private investment, paving the way for groundbreaking advancements including AI-driven chemistry to accelerate the discovery of non-addictive opioids. The “Biochar CleanTech Accelerator” in the West Midlands is driving forward the commercialisation of new products and low carbon energy from organic waste, such as sawdust, dried chicken litter and agricultural straw, to support significant job creation and environmental benefits.  

The Innovation Accelerator pilot stands as a testament to the power of uniting national strategies with locally empowered decision-making. At the heart of our approach lies the principle of co-creation, recognising the wisdom of local people with a deep understanding of local strengths and knowing best their needs. This local knowledge is complemented by a national agency, linking these regional clusters with opportunities provided by national and international networks both within Government and beyond.

As an engine room to the programme, the three partnerships are able to draw on Innovate UK’s mature operational processes, tailored to support innovation projects and engage industry. While the initial £100 million of public funding serves as a catalyst, true transformation will happen as the work gathers pace and secures further private co-investment. Our collaboration with regional stakeholders, coupled with robust frameworks, ensures that every pound invested yields increasing returns, propelling businesses to new heights of success and resilience.

The Innovation Accelerator pilot represents a shift-change in how we will work with local partners to drive inclusive growth, and propel the nation towards a brighter, more prosperous future. The programme continues until March 2025, and as we chart the next year, early lessons from the pilot tell us that by embracing co-creation and place-based R&D as our guiding principle, we have unlocked a wealth of opportunities, to drive local prosperity and position the UK as a global innovation powerhouse. These learnings are feeding into how we will shape future initiatives in the years ahead.