The innovator founder visa is a new immigration route that opened to applicants on 13 April 2023. This replaces the previous innovator and start-up visas, and is now the primary visa category for overseas entrepreneurs looking to set up an innovative business in the UK.
However, even though this route introduces several favourable changes to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent to the UK — including removal of the requirement to invest a minimum of £50,000 and relaxation of the secondary employment rules — any new business venture must still be endorsed by an approved body. This means that all applicants seeking endorsement under the ‘new business’ criteria on the innovator founder route, must produce a detailed and persuasive business plan to demonstrate to the endorsing body that the idea for their proposed UK business is innovative, viable and scalable.
Below we provide some practical guidance on how to write an innovator founder visa business plan, one that will provide the applicant with the best possible chance of successfully securing an endorsement so that they can go on to apply for a visa.
Innovator founder visa: new business criteria
There are three types of endorsement that an endorsing body can given under this route: an endorsement for a new business, for the same business or to support an application for settlement, all with different criteria to reflect the stage at which a business should be at.
However, when it comes to a brand new business venture in the UK, in order to receive that all important endorsement letter — containing a unique reference number to be able to apply for the innovator founder visa — the applicant must satisfy what is known as the ‘new business’ criteria. Under this criteria, the applicant must show that their idea is:
- Innovative: where the applicant has created an original business plan meeting new or existing market needs and/or creating a competitive advantage
- Viable: this business plan is both realistic and achievable based on the applicant’s available resources, where the applicant must have the necessary knowledge, skills, experience and market awareness to be able to successfully run the new business
- Scalable: there must be clear evidence of structured planning, with potential for job creation, together with growth into both national and international markets.
The ‘new business’ criteria are in addition to the various immigration requirements that an applicant will need to satisfy when applying for a visa from UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), including an English language and maintenance requirement. However, endorsing bodies are perceived as far better placed than UKVI caseworkers to identify innovative business ideas and assess the viability of those ideas in the context of what the applicant can contribute in terms of knowledge, skills, experience and market awareness.
The role of the business plan in Innovator Founder visa applications
To be successful in an application for an innovator founder visa, receiving an endorsement from an approved body is mandatory. The Innovator Founder visa business plan will be critical in securing your business’ endorsement.
The business plan will be used to assess whether your business venture is eligible for endorsement. It is not only the key document in establishing the ‘innovative’ requirement, where the applicant must have an original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage, the business plan must also show how the business is both viable and scalable.
Below we set out how to approach these three key criteria — innovation, viability and scalability — within the business plan:
As part of the ‘innovation’ criterion, the applicant must have an innovative business idea to bring to the UK market. When assessing if an application meets this innovative requirement, the endorsing body will consider the following three core principles:
- a business proposition that demonstrates a clear and compelling unique selling proposition (USP). The USP should define and describe what it is about the product(s) or service(s) the business will be selling that differentiates these from its competitors;
- a concept for innovation within the proposed business that demonstrates a business proposition not easily replicable by others ‘and’ can demonstrate reasonable barriers of market entry to otherwise replicating the proposed innovation;
- an innovation element central to the success of the business proposition and one that will be primarily delivered within that business.
Business plan proposals that will not be considered as meeting the innovative standard include where the innovation element and associated research, design or implementation is largely outsourced to a third-party provider or, alternatively, a generic business idea with an only incidental innovation proposition, for example, a cleaning or taxi company “with an app”. The applicant must be able to clearly articulate within their plan what the research and development proposition looks like. They must also demonstrate a strong case for how their idea is new to the market and present a clear route to commercialisation.
As part of the ‘viability’ criterion, the applicant’s business plan must be both realistic and achievable based on the applicant’s available resources. The applicant must also have, or be in the process of actively developing, the necessary knowledge, skills, experience and market awareness to successfully run their proposed new business. In assessing these two core requirements, the endorsing body will consider a number of key questions, including:
- whether the applicant has access to sufficient funds to deliver the proposed business
- whether the supporting financial projections can be credibly defended
- whether the applicant can show that they have the necessary knowledge, skills and experience to credibly deliver the project in question, and
- if there is a credible demand for the business’s proposed product(s) and/or service(s).
The applicant must be able to show that they have undertaken rigorous and credible research around minimum set up costs, such as the price of buying in equipment and operating factory or laboratory space, and have considered and researched market demand and pricing. The applicant must also be able to show that the business will have access to a sufficient level of funding and the financial forecasts can be adequately defended.
Finally, the applicant must show that they and any co-founding entrepreneurial team have the necessary skills, knowledge and/or experience to credibly be capable of successfully developing and delivering the product(s) or service(s) to the UK market.
As part of the ‘scalability’ criterion, the endorsing body will consider the following:
- evidence of structured planning demonstrating a credible path to business growth
- potential for ongoing high quality and skilled job creation
- scope for growth into both national and international markets
- projections based on credible market and other research.
The applicant must be able to show that they have completed their market research and have evidence of the demand for their product(s) and/or service(s), and be able to point to domestic and international customers that they intend to market to. The applicant must also articulate within their business plan a credibly costed and researched approach to how both production and sales can be scaled to serve this potential market demand.
What to include the Innovator Founder visa business plan
In addition to a proposed business venture being ‘innovative, viable and scalable’, the endorsing body will also be required to assess the applicant’s role within the proposed business, including their contribution to the creation of the business plan itself.
The applicant does not need to be the sole founder of the business, but must still be a key part of the founding team. As such, the business plan should make it clear that the applicant is either the sole founder or an instrumental member of the founding team ‘and’ that they have generated or made a significant contribution to the ideas contained within their business plan. The plan must also make it clear that the applicant will have a day-to-day role in the UK in carrying out that plan, describing how the applicant will manage and develop the business. This is because the innovator founder route, as with the predecessor routes, is designed to support an applicant in setting up and running a new business in the UK, rather than simply investing in an existing business without any other contribution.
There are various factors that the endorsing body will consider as part of making these assessments, including the circumstances surrounding the creation of the business venture and the applicant’s role in that, as well as their role in creating the business plan. Careful consideration will also be given to any explanation offered by the applicant as to how their knowledge, skills and experience will enable the delivery of the innovation proposition within the business. For example, where the applicant has a clear founding leadership role within the business and has had a genuine involvement in putting the business plan together, and where it is clear that they have the specific knowledge and skills necessary to the founding of that business, they are likely to satisfy the ‘other new business criteria’.
Finally, the applicant must also agree to attend two contact meetings with their endorsing body in the event that they are granted an innovator founder visa. These meetings, one at 12 months and one at 24 months, are so that the endorsing body can regularly monitor the progress of the business, ensuring that the applicant is making sufficient progress against their previously endorsed business plan and is involved in the day-to-day management and development of their business, as intended. By setting out the applicant’s agreement to these meetings within the business plan, this will help to illustrate a through understanding of their obligations and how their role within the business will be key to its success.
What information should an innovator founder business plan contain?
When it comes to the information to include within a business plan, again much will depend on the nature of the proposed business idea and how best the applicant feels they can present that idea. However, the following basic structure can help to ensure that an applicant provides all of the key information required by an endorsing body:
- The applicant’s name and the name of their proposed new business
- The names of any entrepreneurial team members who are also seeking endorsement
- An executive summary or overview of the business proposal
- A detailed description of the business and its main product(s) and/or service(s)
- A detailed description of the applicant’s role in founding the business
- A detailed description of how the innovation, viability and scalability requirements have been met, including any key challenges or risks and how these will be resolved
- A detailed description of the applicant’s proposed role in their new business
- The applicant’s agreement to attend 12 and 24 month contact meetings to assess their business progress under the checkpoint monitoring requirement.
The business plan is the main document that will showcase the potential of the applicant’s business idea, where the executive summary should set out the business’s mission, vision and strategic direction, highlighting the key objectives and how the applicant intends to achieve them. The business description should then provide a comprehensive overview of the business, including what the business will do, the industry it will operate in, the legal structure and its location. Detail should also be given as to product line and services, market analysis, organisation and management, as well as marketing and sales strategy.
However, when addressing each of the ‘new business’ criterion, it is important not to shy away from any potential challenges and risks that the applicant may have identified. By highlighting these challenges and risks within the business plan, provided the applicant can clearly illustrate how these will be addressed, this will help to provide reassurance to the endorsing body that the business will work. By omitting any potential problems from the plan altogether, this may undermine the proposal and show weakness rather than strength.
Importantly, in addition to assessing whether an applicant and their proposed new business meet the relevant ‘new business’ requirements, the endorsing body will need to undertake a due diligence assessment to ensure that the applicant is a fit and proper person whose source of wealth is legitimate and that any funds associated with their business activities can be legitimately accounted for. This means that the applicant will also need to provide sufficient detail within their business plan around the source of the funding for their proposed venture, together with a declaration of suitability for endorsement.
The official online Home Office guidance for endorsing bodies provides a list of the types of activities that would make an applicant unsuitable for endorsement, such as prior convictions for money laundering or corruption, where a declaration will be sought from the applicant to confirm if any of these activities apply to them. For completeness, by including this declaration within the applicant’s business plan, this will help to demonstrate the applicant’s understanding of the endorsement process and that both they, and their proposed business, are suitable to be endorsed for an innovator founder visa.
How to structure your innovator founder visa business plan
When it comes to what a business plan should look like, there is no standard layout or set formula that must be used. This will very much depend on the nature of the proposed business and how best the applicant feels they can present their innovative business idea.
However, the business plan must be well-considered and clearly laid out, ensuring that each of the relevant criterion are addressed in turn ‘and’ in sufficient detail. It is also important to show passion and commitment to the proposal, where the endorsing body will not just be looking at the business idea alone, but the applicant’s capability to make it succeed.
Still, writing a business plan is not easy, where an applicant’s skills may lie more in technical development of their innovative product or service, rather than in articulating their proposals in writing. As such, it is often advisable to seek expert advice and assistance from an immigration specialist before seeking endorsement and submitting any plan. In this way, the applicant can maximise the prospects of being successfully endorsed.
Innovator Founder visa business plan FAQs
How much investment is required for innovator founder visa UK?
Under the innovator founder route, there is no arbitrary minimum investment requirement although an applicant must still have sufficient funds to establish their business and make it grow.
How much is the innovator founder visa?
To apply for an innovator founder visa, the application fee is £1,036. However, to be eligible to apply, an applicant must first secure endorsement for their innovative business idea. The fee payable to the endorsing body is £1,000, excluding VAT.
How to get endorsed for innovator founder visa?
To get endorsed for an innovator founder visa, an overseas entrepreneur must submit their business plan and supporting documentation to one of the four endorsing bodies and pay a fee of £1,000, plus VAT.
Last updated: 30 April 2023