Innovator founder route

May 19

Innovator Founder Route


OTB Legal

The Innovator Founder Route

The innovator founder route was launched on the 13th April 2023, merging and replacing the innovator and start-up routes. In some respects this is a little misleading. This is not a fundamentally new visa in the way that we normally think of new routes. It is better to think of this as a refinement or a version 2.0 of the existing routes.

Core fundamentals of the innovator founder route:

The core fundamentals of the eligibility criteria visa have not changed in any ways that we were not anticipating before the new route was launched. Applicants must still prove that they have a business that is considered innovative, scalable and viable. As evidence Applicants must first satisfy an approved endorsing body that their business meets the criteria, following this endorsement the application must be made to the Home Office who will review the business and the candidate and decide on whether they agree with the endorsing body’s assessment.

Changes made for the innovator founder route:

The two ‘headline’ changes that will have the most impact on this process are the significant reduction in the number of recognised endorsing bodies and the removal of the £50,000 required investment into the business.

The Removal:

The removal of the investment requirement is a notable change, and the one that has caught most applicant’s attention. This opens up the route significantly as the overall entry costs will be lower. It is important to note that this does not mean that applicant’s don’t need to invest in their business. One of the key requirements of the business is that the business must be viable. In order to satisfy the endorsing bodies and the Home Office that the business is viable, the business needs sufficient funds to operate and grow. What this change does provide is the flexibility for the business to receive an appropriate level of investment for its nature. For some businesses this will be less than £50,000, for others it will be higher.

The Reduction:

The reduction in the number of endorsing bodies is both notable and positive. The four new endorsing bodies are: Envestors Limited, UK Endorsing Services, Innovator International and the Global Entrepreneur Programme (GEP). The first three endorsing bodies are private organisations who have been selected by the Home Office to provide endorsing services under the new route.   The Global Entrepreneur Programme is a government programme run by the Department for Business and Trade for ‘internationally mobile, tech-based entrepreneurs’. 

In a departure from the old system where there were significantly more endorsing bodies, early reports indicate that these endorsing bodies will no longer only consider applicants using their support services. Under the previous system, many endorsers would only consider their own clients for endorsement.  This substantially reduces the costs facing applicants which could range from a few thousand pounds to tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds. It should be noted however, that endorsing bodies can now charge for the endorsement itself as well as the required check-in appointments during the life of the visa. These costs are currently standardised across all endorsing bodies and are as follows: £1,000 (plus VAT if applicable) to be assessed for endorsement, £1,000 plus VAT to take part in the required monitoring meetings during the visa, and £1,000 plus VAT to be assessed for settlement.

Pros and Cons of the innovator founder route:

So what are the positives and negatives? The good news is that the changes should open up the visa to a much larger pool of business as the significant financial hurdles have been removed. That is not to say that the process is a cheap one, but it is no longer an option available exclusively to high income individuals or those backed by large private investors.

On the other hand, the strict criteria on innovation remains. A business that is truly unique is a high bar to meet.

Existing visa holders

While this article has mainly focused on the impact to new applicants, many existing visa holders will understandably have questions on the impact to their own leave to remain and path to settlement. These individuals do not need to worry, the Home Office have confirmed that those who already hold visas will continue under the previous rules. The previous endorsing bodies are now known as ‘legacy endorsing bodies’ and are able to continue providing endorsements, under the previous rules and guidance, to existing visa holders until they reach settlement.

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