Innovate UK, the government's innovation agency, is broadening the types of businesses that can apply for its consultancy grants.  

The grants, known as innovation vouchers and worth up to £5,000 each, were deemed "utter nonsense" when the government announced last August that it would be allocating a total of £30 million to the scheme.

Previously the vouchers were known as growth vouchers and only available to companies focusing on specific areas but now they are open to any business that needs specialist help in order to achieve a set objective. The other criterion is that it must be the first time the company has worked with the consultant in question.

The vouchers are designed to support those who need “expert advice” on developing an innovative idea, learning more about using design within a business or how they should make the most of intellectual property.

One company to benefit from the innovation vouchers scheme is Accutronics, which used the funding to pay for a consultant to draw up concepts for a new robust battery casing for defence and security markets.  

Five years on, the company is a fast-growing business exporting custom-made rechargeable batteries to 30 countries, according to Innovate UK.

Accutronics MD Rob Phillips said: “Every little helps when you are a small business with a hard pressed engineering team. It enabled fresh ideas to come in from outside without distracting us from the core money-making business.”

However, not all businesses believe the innovation vouchers are a good idea.

Last August several start-ups said they thought the government would be better off investing the money elsewhere. For example, Roy Kimani, CEO of business video platform, Nideo, said spending money on equipment and premises would be a far better utilisation of capital in the early stages than paid advice.

Meanwhile, Guy Mucklow, CEO of address management platform, Postcode Anywhere, said the government would be better to spend its money on a series of online learning courses designed and developed by entrepreneurs who have the practical experience to back up the learning.

Startups and SMEs can apply for the vouchers under the new rules from 10 November.

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