The UK Innovator Founder visa has now replaced the Innovator visa as the immigration route to start up a business in the UK.
If you’re an entrepreneur with plans to set up in the UK, speak to our business immigration specialists for advice on UK visa eligibility and application processing.
This guide was written before the new Innovator Founder route was opened.
Innovator visa endorsing bodies
The application process for the UK’s new innovator visa is in two stages. First, applicants must apply to and secure endorsement from a Home Office-approved endorsing body. Only then can you progress to the next stage, submitting a visa application to the Home Office for leave to remain or enter under the innovator route.
This is an entirely new approach by the Home Office to processing visa applications from entrepreneurs. The innovator route’s predecessor, the Tier 1 Entrepreneur visa, saw applicants make a single application, with caseworkers assessing both the proposed businesses’ viability as well as general grounds for admission.
Refusal rates remains high, around 50%, and the route attracted considerable criticism as to whether, among other concerns, caseworkers were best placed to determine the potential success of applicants’ business ventures.
In its 2015 review of the Tier 1 Entrepreneur and Graduate Entrepreneur routes, the independent Migration Advisory Committee specifically highlighted the potential merits of drawing on third party endorsement, partnering with “reliable organisations” in order to select migrant entrepreneurs.
The new innovator route clearly follows this recommendation, based on the principle that the endorsing bodies rather than the Home Office are most informed to assess and identify innovative business ideas and talent.
Who are the innovator endorsing bodies?
The current list of endorsing bodies with brief, introductory information is as follows:
- The Bakery The Bakery endorses bona-fide entrepreneurs who qualify for our corporate innovation programmes.
- Bethnal Green Ventures BGV is an early stage investor in tech for good companies who only endorse start-up entrepreneurs accepted onto their support programme – visit their site for more information.
- Capital enterprise Capital Enterprise will only be endorsing founders within our community. Check back as this may change with time.
- CyLon CyLon is interested in hearing from emerging cyber security companies or entrepreneurs planning on setting up an innovative cyber start-up.
- Deep Science Ventures Apply if you are a scientist or engineer determined to start a deep science company. Please apply through our “current opportunities” page!
- Ignite We only endorse applicants who are successful in applying for one of our accelerator programmes.
- Invest Northern Ireland Invest NI endorses entities for Start-up/Innovator Visas via participation on its Accelerator Program or requests from Client companies only.
- Level39 Level39 only endorses those involved in FinTech, cyber security, smart cities, retail tech and other globally ambitious tech business.
- MDR LAB MDR LAB is an accelerator for tech start-ups in the legal space. We only endorse migrants accepted onto our 10-week May-July programme.
- MedCity MedCity supports collaboration, investment, entrepreneurship and industry within the life sciences across Greater South-East of England.
- NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator
- Royal Bank of Scotland Entrepreneur Accelerator
- Scottish EDGE Scottish EDGE can endorse winners of its bi-annual funding competition for innovative, high-growth potential Scottish businesses. Approx. 6% of applicants win.
- Seedcamp We invest early in world-class founders attacking large, global markets and solving real problems using technology. More information in our FAQs.
- SeedHaus Note – We do not accept unsolicited applications for endorsements.
- SET squared Bristol SETsquared Bristol incubator will only endorse technology start-ups meeting entry criteria to our incubator and looking to establish an office in Bristol.
- Tech Nation Tech Nation focuses on entrepreneurs of product-led digital technology businesses and commences work as an endorsing body in September 2019.
- Techstars Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Techstars runs two accelerator programs in London: Techstars London and Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars.
- TechX Unique tech accelerator & incubator for global start-ups looking to transform the Energy Sector – offers unparalleled funding and support.
- The Royal Society of Edinburgh We only provide endorsement to our awardees who have received an RSE Enterprise Fellowship. Unfortunately we cannot support any individual who does not fall under this category.
- Ulster Bank Entrepreneur Accelerator
What do the endorsing bodies do?
The innovator route first opened at the end of March 2019. The priority for the Home Office was to issue guidance specifically to help endorsing bodies build an approach to dealing with innovator applications.
The initial period post-launch has seen endorsing bodies taking steps to clarify their role within the scheme, what kind of applications they will (and will not) be open to, and to generally get their organisations match-fit to handle applications. Tech Nation for example confirmed it would be accepting applications from September 2019, and another withdrew from the scheme altogether during this initial phase.
The guidance provided for the endorsing bodies leaves considerable direction to the individual organisations as to how they choose to handle innovator applications.
The document for example says bodies have the choice to deal only with those companies they are already engaging with through existing investment activity, or they may opt to open up their endorsement assessment to ‘unsolicited’ prospects.
What does this mean for innovator applicants?
With the old entrepreneur visa having closed on 29th March 2019, and the endorsing bodies not yet ready to accept new applications, entrepreneur applicants have faced a hiatus as they wait out proceeding with a new Home Office application until the endorsing bodies start to accept endorsement requests.
As the route beds in, the endorsing bodies get into their stride and more information becomes available, we expect greater clarity as to how each body is opting to approach their role. For example, being open to and accepting ‘unsolicited’ applications for endorsement.
Initial detail of the requirements on applicants do whoever state that applicants are only to contact an endorsing body in the event they are applying for an endorsement from them, and that endorsing bodies will not answer hypothetical or speculative enquiries.
Do you have a question about the innovator route?
Before making an application under the innovator route, take professional legal advice to ensure you have selected the most appropriate route, and for guidance on how to meet Home Office requirements and make a successful application.
DavidsonMorris specialise in business visa applications. We work with applicants from across the world seeking to enter or remain in the UK by establishing, investing in or taking over a business here.
We provide advice from the initial stages of the Home Office application process, advising on eligibility and suitability of the relevant route and visa options for any dependants, through to detailed support with compiling your supporting evidence and business plan, completing the application form and guidance on visa interviews.
If you have any questions relating to your application, please contact us.