Funding competition Professional & Financial Services Data Access Innovation Lab: ESG

Individuals employed by a UK registered business or organisation can apply to be part of a 3 day innovation lab. During this they will develop consortia and innovation projects. After the lab, consortia will have the chance to apply for project funding.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


Innovate UK and ESRC (Economic and Social research Council), both part of UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), will invest up to £8 million to develop responsible data access methods in the professional (including legal and accountancy) and financial services sectors (including insurance, lending, advisory, and payment and transaction systems).

This is phase 1 of a 2 phase competition. In phase 1, individuals can apply to take part in a 3 day residential innovation lab on behalf of their organisation.

The innovation lab will run from 10 to 12 October 2023. The participants will work together to develop collaborative proposals for research and innovation projects.

After the innovation lab, during phase 2 of the project, consortia will have 8 weeks to finalise their proposals before submitting them for assessment.

Not participating in the innovation lab does not exclude organisations or individuals from joining collaborations formed during the innovation lab as partners. However, the lead applicant must have attended the innovation lab.

In applying to this competition, you are entering into a competitive process.

This competition closes at 11am UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type


Project size

Any project developed at the innovation lab can apply for a maximum grant of £2 million in phase 2.

Who can apply


To apply to attend the innovation lab, you must:

  • commit to attending and staying overnight for all 3 days (2 nights) at the UK location, which will be announced in the next few weeks
  • show you are able to work collaboratively and have the relevant skills, expertise and experience to represent your organisation
  • describe the data, finances and other resources your organisation can commit
  • be nominated to act as a representative on behalf of your organisation
  • attend on behalf of a UK based business, regulatory body, academic organisation, research and technology organisation (RTO) or charity
  • have the technical or sector expertise necessary to collaborate with other participants on developing solutions to the challenge

In the two weeks prior to the innovation lab, we will have an online webinar to start the process of introductions and background material so that we can make best use of the limited time in the lab. Details will be released closer to the time.

We are looking for a broad range of expertise, disciplines and backgrounds, bringing together people who would not normally work collectively. The aim is to ensure diversity of thinking, experience and expertise. We reserve the right to select participants in order to have a balanced representation at the event.

Your application to attend will be considered by a range of assessors, which will include an organisational psychologist.

The assessment will look for evidence that you have:

  • an open, engaging, flexible, imaginative and creative outlook
  • the ability to develop innovative ideas
  • the ability to work constructively with people from diverse disciplines
  • the enthusiasm needed to work with strangers intensively over 3 days away from home

If you face any challenges that would prevent you taking part in the innovation lab, such as caring responsibilities, please contact the Innovate UK Customer Support Service 10 working days before the competition closes at to discuss your options before applying.

Project team

Consortia created at the innovation lab will submit their collaborative project proposals through phase 2 of this competition on the Innovation Funding Service.

The lead applicant organisation must be a UK based business and must have attended the innovation lab.

To be eligible to submit a final project proposal after the innovation lab each of the organisations in your project team must:

  • be a UK-based business, regulatory body, academic organisation, charity, public sector organisation or research and technology organisation (RTO)
  • carry out its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from the UK

If selected, your phase 2 project must start by 1 April 2024 and be completed by 31 March 2026

The lead and at least one other organisation must claim funding.

Your project can include partners that do not receive any of this competition’s funding, for example non-UK businesses. Their costs will count towards the total eligible project costs.

Number of applications

We will not accept more than one application from an individual to attend the innovation lab.

Previous applications

We will not award you funding at phase 2, if you have:

Subsidy control (and State aid where applicable)

For projects applying for funding following the innovation labs, this competition will provide funding in line with the Subsidy Control Act 2022. Further information about the Subsidy requirements can be found within the Subsidy Control Act 2022 (

Innovate UK is unable to award organisations that are considered to be in financial difficulty. We will conduct financial viability and eligibility tests to confirm this is not the case following the application stage.

EU State aid rules now only apply in limited circumstances. Please see our general guidance to check if these rules apply to your organisation.

Further Information

If you are unsure about your obligations under the Subsidy Control Act 2022 or the State aid rules, you should take independent legal advice. We are unable to advise on individual eligibility or legal obligations.

You must always make sure that the funding awarded to you is compliant with all current Subsidy Control legislation applicable in the United Kingdom.

This aims to regulate any advantage granted by a public sector body which threatens to, or actually distorts competition in the United Kingdom or any other country or countries.


Innovate UK will pay your residential and subsistence costs for the innovation lab, excluding alcohol. You will pay your travel costs to and from the event. You will not be paid for innovation lab attendance or proposal development.

You can discuss other costs with Innovate UK and these will be considered on a case by case basis, for example care costs.

For phase 2, we have allocated up to £8 million to fund innovation projects developed based on innovation lab proposals. Each project can claim a maximum grant of up to £2 million.

Any research organisations collaborating as part of a consortium may share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum will be shared between them.

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to speed up the responsible adoption of AI and data technologies and solutions in the professional (including legal and accountancy) and financial services sectors (including insurance, lending, advisory, and payment and transaction systems) by enabling better access to data.

The process and activities within the innovation lab may be unconventional, challenging and unexpected. By submitting an application, you are agreeing to take part fully, enthusiastically and constructively.

Project proposals submitted after the innovation lab, must focus on solutions that:

  • address Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) needs and opportunities
  • identify and develop data access methods to enable application for one or more of the sectors in scope
  • address incentives, opportunities and ongoing business models to ensure a sustainable data access approach
  • consider broader, non-technical aspects of data access methods, including ethics, human behaviour, inclusion, bias and privacy

Your project proposal must:

  • quantify how the solution can be exploited
  • address regulatory issues and constraints
  • evidence potential for impact

Portfolio approach
We want innovation lab attendees to come from a variety of different areas: Professional and Financial Services (PFS), businesses, technology suppliers, research and technology organisations, and public bodies.

We intend to fund a variety of projects in phase 2 across the different professional and financial service sectors, technologies and varying technological maturities.

We call this a portfolio approach.

Specific themes

In phase 2, following the innovation lab, we are particularly encouraging applications that:

  • cover more than one of the listed sectors in professional and financial services
  • address sector wide needs
  • are from consortia that include all relevant stakeholders, for example regulators, users, service providers and technology providers
  • are multi-disciplinary and include social sciences as well as science and engineering
  • develop solutions benefiting underserved communities and businesses
  • are ethically appropriate and have evidenced their approaches to ensuring this

Specific themes:

ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance)

Projects must focus on ESG under this theme.

Projects may explore:

  • increasing visibility and exploitation of new and emerging data sources in ESG
  • solutions that tackle market fragmentation around ESG reporting
  • scalable solutions for companies around non-financial reporting
  • other societal and governance opportunities

This list is not exhaustive.

Research categories

Following the innovation lab, we will fund business-led industrial research projects and experimental development projects, as defined in the general guidance.

Projects we will not fund

Following the innovation lab, we are not funding:

  • fundamental research
  • feasibility studies
  • projects outside of the scope
  • projects not led by an innovation lab attendee

26 June 2023
Competition opens
27 June 2023
Online briefing event: watch the recording
1 September 2023 12:00pm
Competition closes
25 September 2023 4:26pm
Applicants notified
28 September 2023
Professional & Financial Services Data Access Innovation Lab: ESG: register to attend

Before you start

You must read the guidance on applying for a competition on the Innovation Funding Service before you start.

Before submitting, it is the lead applicant’s responsibility to make sure:

  • that all the information provided in the application is correct
  • your application meets the eligibility and scope criteria
  • all sections of the application are marked as complete

You can reopen your application once submitted, up until the competition deadline. You must resubmit the application before the competition deadline.

Accessibility and inclusion

We welcome and encourage applications from people of all backgrounds and are committed to making our application process accessible to everyone. This includes providing support, in the form of reasonable adjustments, for people who have a disability or a long-term condition and face barriers applying to us. Watch the video on how we are making our application process more accessible and inclusive for everyone.

You must contact us as early as possible in the application process. We recommend contacting us at least 15 working days before the competition closing date to ensure we can provide you with the most suitable support possible.

You can contact us by emailing or calling 0300 321 4357. Our phone lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

Application Questions

The assessors will score all your answers apart from question 1 below. You will receive feedback for each scored question.

You must answer all questions.. Do not include any website addresses (URLs) in your answers.

Question 1. Applicant location (not scored)

You must state the name and full registered address of your organisation

We are collecting this information to understand the geographical location of all applicants.

Question 2. Background

Please outline your professional background and current job or position. Highlight 1 or 2 high points of your career.

Your answer can be up to 300 words long.

Question 3. Expertise and interests

How do you think your expertise and interests will help to achieve the transformative objectives of the event?

Your answer can be up to 300 words long.

Question 4. Teamwork

What is your approach to teamwork? What do you regard as your strengths? Why do you consider yourself as suited to participate?

Your answer can be up to 200 words long.

Question 5. Communication skills

How would you explain your area of interest so that anyone could understand?

Your answer can be up to 200 words long.

Question 6. Innovation Lab

The innovation lab is for individuals who can step outside their own area of expertise or interest, are positively driven, enjoy creative activity, can think innovatively with a willingness to collaborate and share ideas. It is an intensive setting requiring you to develop new approaches with individuals you may not know. What makes you suitable for this?

Your answer can be up to 200 words long.

During the innovation lab , individuals will be forming consortia with other participants to develop project proposals for the second phase of the competition. However, some organisations may be attending as part of an existing consortium.

You must submit an appendix containing the following information:

  • a statement clarifying whether you are attending as part of an existing consortium
  • details of the other members of any existing consortium (if applicable)

You must upload an appendix as a PDF named ‘Consortium’. It must be no larger than 10MB and 1 page long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 7. Benefits to you and your organisation

What do you and your organisation hope to gain from taking part in the innovation lab ?

Please provide:

  • details of why you want to take part and what benefit you expect for your organisation
  • details of how you will get the necessary authority to commit your organisation to a project
  • a statement of the financial or other resource your organisation is willing to commit to a successful project, including providing appropriate specialised facilities if you have them

Your answer can be up to 300 words long.

Question 8. Data sets

What data sets will your organisation be willing to give access to in your project if your application is successful. Describe the data and explain why you are confident you will have access to this data.

Your answer can be up to 200 words long.

Question 9. Opportunity areas

Where do you see areas of opportunity for the professional or financial services when considering data access and ESG?

Your answer can be up to 300 words long.

Background and further information

Innovation Lab

Taking part will be:

  • senior representatives from Innovate UK and ESRC (Economic and Social research Council)
  • Innovate UK KTN’s AI for Services network programme team
  • up to 60 participants, who are expected to contribute fully and constructively
  • a team of expert mentors to provide advice, feedback and input drawn from across industry, academia, government and third sector
  • innovation lab facilitators to design the activities and schedule sessions
  • independent stakeholders with real-life experience of the challenge

The innovation lab process will include:

  • evolving a common language, terminology and concept of operations
  • sharing understanding of the challenges, and benefitting from one another’s expertise
  • taking part in break-out sessions, using creative thinking techniques
  • capturing outputs as project ideas
  • forming new consortia that would not otherwise have had the potential to develop
  • creating an outline proposal or idea to pitch at the end of the Lab

An online Open Forum to support the delivery of the funding competition: Professional & Financial Services Data Access Innovation Lab: ESG will take place on Thursday 28th September from 10am to 12pm.

This pre-activity will bring together the selected participants of the Innovation Lab and the wider community to discuss Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) needs and opportunities across Professional and Financial Services (PFS).

Places will be notified on 25th September 2023.

Priority will be given to successful applicants. Attendance is not mandatory but strongly encouraged.

This opportunity is a workstream within a wider programme that aims to transform UK professional and financial services by responsibly developing and deploying digital technologies to deliver world leading services that:

  • increase the UK’s productivity and competitiveness
  • drive economic growth
  • underpin societal and economic resilience.
  • increase the productivity of firms that supply these services
  • improve access to the services for underserved and excluded individuals and businesses

The five workstreams of the programme are:

  1. Innovation Adoption Accelerators: support for adoption in demand side firms.
  2. A collaborative research and development innovation support programme for Lawtech, Accountech and Fintech.
  3. Data access in cross sectoral areas of professional and financial services.
  4. Connecting, disseminating learning and building a community through the AI for Services network.
  5. International collaboration.

The UKRI Next Generation Services Industrial Strategy Challenge fund (completed in 2022) identified a critical area of need to develop support and capability for firms in the professional and financial services.

Digital technologies (artificial intelligence, and digital and advanced computing) can transform the professional and financial services sectors, increasing productivity, competitiveness, resilience and access (particularly for the excluded and underserved).

While Fintech has flourished in daily banking, other areas need addressing (savings, pensions and investments, loans, legal and advisory).

Barriers for investing in innovation within these sectors are:

  • asymmetry of understanding and low skills to innovate
  • low business model innovation, delivering services through long established methods
  • firm structures, for example partnerships, and limits to strategic expenditure on research and development
  • low digital skills and awareness amongst sector decision makers
  • career pathways that focus on narrow specialisation
  • lack of common data standards and interoperability of new digital products
  • limited or asymmetric access to data limits to artificial intelligence development, for example court records and client data
  • risk aversion driven by professional training
  • regulation lagging technology thus limiting trust and confidence.

Raising the professional and financial services sectors’ capability to engage and invest in innovation will drive economic growth, secure UK capability and underpin economic and societal resilience. Examples of this are:

  • professional and financial services productivity impacts the broader economy. £1 improvement in legal services productivity could leverage up to £3.5 (PDF, 2MB) additional UK GDP by 2050 with 80% coming from non-legal sectors

  • resilience: digital delivery creating greater productivity and new, tailored services can increase access for under-served businesses and consumers:
  1. UK small and medium enterprises average eight legal issues every year, costing £13.6 billion, left unresolved. In 2017 to 2019, 59% of people in the UK experience legal problems, only 28% could access help and 39% experienced hardship along the process (PDF, 206KB). The potential UK Legaltech market for addressing these unmet needs is £11.4 billion a year, saving up to £8.6 billion a year for small and medium enterprises.
  2. 12.5 million UK adults have little confidence in managing money, close to 16 million have no possessions insurance and many have no means to withstand a financial shock. Fintech has been driving digital financial inclusion even where traditional financial inclusion has declined while the sector could contribute £13.7 billion by 2030 (PDF, 344KB).

Themes raised by industry during the Next Generation Services programme which need addressing include:

  • understanding how to innovate and what technologies like artificial intelligence can realistically do
  • the need to build their absorptive capacity
  • guidance and support to adopt new business models and delivery methods
  • development and use of new technologies to increase productivity and expand offerings into otherwise less profitable areas, for example, excluded communities and underserved businesses
  • convening stakeholders to address data access, realising value for data holders and tech suppliers while maintaining privacy and concepts like client privilege.

Data sharing

This competition is jointly operated by Innovate UK, and ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) as parts of UKRI (each an “agency”).

Any relevant information submitted and produced during the application process concerning your application can be shared by one agency with the other, for its individual storage, processing and use.

This means that any information given to or generated by Innovate UK in respect of your application may be passed on to ESRC and UKRI and vice versa. This would include, but is not restricted to:

  • the information stated on the application, including the personal details of all applicants
  • scoring and feedback on the application
  • information received during the management and administration of the grant, such as Monitoring Officer reports and Independent Accountant Reports

Innovate UK, as part of UKRI, are directly accountable to you for their holding and processing of your information, including any personal data and confidential information. Data is held in accordance with their own policies.

Accordingly, Innovate UK, as part of UKRI, will be data controllers for personal data submitted during the application. Innovate UK’s Privacy Policy is accessible here.

Innovate UK complies with the requirements of GDPR, and is committed to upholding the data protection principles, and protecting your information. The Information Commissioner’s Office also has a useful guide for organisations, which outlines the data protection principles.

Support for SMEs from Innovate UK EDGE

If you receive an award, you will be contacted about working with an innovation and growth specialist at Innovate UK EDGE. This service forms part of our funded offer to you.

These specialists focus on growing innovative businesses and ensuring that projects contribute to their growth. Working one-to-one, they can help you to identify your best strategy and harness world-class resources to grow and achieve scale.

We encourage you to engage with Innovate UK EDGE, delivered by a knowledgeable and objective specialist near you.

Next steps

If you are successful with this application, you will be invited to the 3 day residential innovation lab.

The project team may be in touch with you prior to the Labs and there will be a virtual briefing event on 27 June 2023.

If you are unsuccessful with your application at this time, you can view feedback from the assessors.

If your application is unsuccessful

If you are unsuccessful with your application this time, you can view feedback from the assessors. This will be available to you on your IFS portal following notification.

Sometimes your application will have scored well, and you will receive positive comments from the assessors. You may be unsuccessful as your average score was not above the funding threshold or your project has not been selected under the portfolio approach if this is applied for this competition.

Contact us

If you need more information about how to apply or you want to submit your application in Welsh, email or call 0300 321 4357.

Our phone lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays).

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