The University of Birmingham’s Energy Institute and Energy Systems Catapult launched an innovator challenge in July 2021 to help support small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The Climate Innovation Platform (CIP) will assist innovators and businesses in commercialising pioneering energy products and services that will help the UK’s drive towards a net zero economy. This is a welcome initiative in the context of constantly fluctuating business electricity and business gas prices on the energy market today. The programme aims to support the companies involved to bring new energy solutions to the market, reducing reliance on traditional, more environmentally damaging domestic and business gas and electricity production.

With financial assistance from HSBC UK, the CIP began supporting 100 SMEs in July over a four-year incubation period. The programme aims to support the growth of innovators in various areas, including low-carbon heating and cooling innovations, speeding up the adoption of electric vehicles, energy storage, and more. As well as meeting environmental goals, these are expected to cut business gas prices and overall energy costs in Britain over time.

The programme also aims to help businesses leverage end-user, infrastructure, and network data to create digital platforms that can accelerate the transition to net zero.

Professor Martin Freer, the director of the Birmingham Energy Institute and the Energy Research Accelerator, announced the programme, stating that they are delighted to be in a position to provide SMEs nationwide with a range of different support services. These services allow the companies to carry out valuable research and testing to enhance the growth and progress of their innovations. As well as supporting these businesses, the programme will also accelerate the development of next-generation, low-carbon technologies that will help reach the UK’s national commitment to net zero by 2050.

The SMEs chosen for initial investment will have access to business engagement support through the University of Birmingham’s ATETA Programme. This will enable them to utilise research expertise and facilities that will improve their efficiency and help them test new ideas.

Moreover, the SMEs involved in the programme will have access to acceleration and support via the Catapult Energy Launchpad, which provides the required technical assessments for applications and helps design the innovation challenges.

The candidates selected will also be given various types of business developmental support, including start-up mentoring, market research, financial planning, business development expertise, grant writing, and bid development. They will also gain access to funding opportunities and be given dedicated support teams, market insight reports, opportunities to talk to investors, and spaces for their offices or workshops at the Tyseley Energy Park.

Some successful candidates could also be selected to apply to the Climate Solutions Partnership innovation accelerator powered by the WWF Impactio platform. This will further allow them to scale their climate solutions on the international stage.

Energy Systems Catapult Energy Launchpad business lead, Paul Jordan, said that their holistic approach would allow them to work with innovators to take on even the most difficult challenges to progress towards the net zero goal.

He added that they are excited to work with the University of Birmingham and HSBC UK to identify high-growth potential SMEs and help them move forward from initial start-up to achieve their full potential over time. The initiative will support businesses through every stage, from market analysis and creating a business model to testing the business’ digital or investor readiness. They also provide opportunities for real-world testing, which ensures that system integration challenges are addressed, and insights are captured from the consumer angle. All this will help innovators develop their ideas, products and services so they can become successful entrepreneurs.

Michaela Wright, head of Corporate Sustainability for HSBC UK, which also supports the programme, acknowledged that the challenge of climate change could only be fought through collaboration among different industries. Innovation plays a crucial role in accelerating the country’s progress towards its goal of net zero by 2050.

Companies who are prioritising the development of clean technology often struggle to gain access to financial backing, networks, and business mentoring. With the CIP, the combined knowledge and insight of leading universities, research institutes, incubators and accelerators, as well as an international network, will help create and support better solutions.

The Climate Solutions Partnership is a worldwide initiative run by the HSBC that aims to make it easy for businesses that tackle climate change to grow and get more funding. It has been backed with over £72 million of funding from HSBC.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated that every step small businesses take on the journey to net zero is essential because each contribution adds up to a greater whole. Doing this will not just protect the health of the planet but also help future-proof businesses, encourage new investments and customers, and open avenues for growth.

The Prime Minister also said that Government is providing all the support and advice SMEs need to join the fight and become leaders in combating climate change.

Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng added that small businesses are the backbone of the economy and are just as important as their larger counterparts in tackling climate change and the transition to a greener future.

And as small businesses go green, so more opportunities present themselves. So, SMEs are not just playing their part in saving the planet; they are also helping their business grow and securing it for the future. Kwarteng added that even small changes made to a business could attract new customers and differentiate it from its competition.

The UK’s Net Zero Business Champion Andrew Griffith said that the business community is now in a unique situation in which businesses can come together to tackle a global problem. Everyone must play their part, and if small businesses work together, they can create a significant impact because they make up the majority of the UK’s business community. Practical guidance is available on the simple steps that businesses take to help reduce a large percentage of their carbon footprint.

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