A virtual-reality surgical training simulator and an online farmers’ market platform are just two of 800 UK projects to be awarded Government funding to develop schemes that will make UK businesses better placed to deal with future disruption similar to that of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The competition aims to fast-track the development of innovations borne out of the coronavirus crisis, while supporting the UK’s next generation of start-ups. In total, the Government is doubling its investment in the Fast Start Competition to £40 million.
The investment comes from a £211 million Government support package to drive forward business-led innovation and is part of a wider investment package of £1.25 billion for innovative UK businesses, announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak on April 20 2020.
Over 8,600 applied for the fund, which is being handled by Innovate UK, with the first payments - of up to £50,000 each - going out this week with more to follow in the coming months.
Other successful projects include an AI Productivity Toolbox, which offers six, free-to-use, AI-based tools; a social media app to connect local communities and allow volunteers to target support to the vulnerable; and an entertainment platform, allowing artists to perform on a digital stage streamed directly to global audiences.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: "The coronavirus crisis has created challenges that impact the way we live, work and travel but has also prompted a wave of new innovations as businesses look at ways to solve some of the challenges facing our world today.
"This funding will support UK start-ups to deliver potential solutions, services and ways of working and help ensure the long term sustainability of these businesses."
The virtual farmers’ market project is a response to the short-and-medium-term implications of Covid-19 and the change in food buying patterns.
Elchies Estates farm manager Julie Comins said: "The platform aims to offer all sizes of fresh and frozen farm produce from an ‘open all hours’ location. Being able to sell local produce in a completely safe and local environment will be welcomed, especially by the many older customers of our farmers markets and farm events which have been cancelled for the foreseeable future.
"For customers living in rural areas, the project will allow them to continue to access great local produce with minimal food miles and, for the first time, 24/7. For us, we continue to provide for our community whilst safeguarding ourselves, our farm and our contractors."