The Innovation Exchange was set up with government backing at the beginning of 2008 to encourage innovation and the exchange of innovative ideas within the third sector. In May it launched its Website, a sort of blog, and it is now seeking applicants to a new Innovation Exchange Fund for organisations in England.
The Fund is supported by the Lottery distributor NESTA, the National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts. To be supported by the Fund you first have to apply to join the Next Practice Programme. This programme offers advice, coaching and access to a small number of events for selected innovators. It is also a cunning way of building a mailing list for the Innovation Exchange by offering the carrot of access to up to £50,000 from NESTA to allow the “most significant projects with the greatest potential to grow to scale”.
At this stage the Exchange is only interested in innovative ideas and actions within two specific areas of work: Excluded Young People and Independent Living.
This programme is currently only available in England. It’s ironic really. Devolution of responsibility for the third sector is argued by Innovation Exchange as the reason why, they say ‘sadly’, the scheme is only available in England. Yet some might argue that devolution has been one of the more innovative actions in the past several years. Hey ho.
In its own words, the Innovation Exchange works as an honest broker. It isn’t for innovation for innovation’s sake and, despite the first word in the first of its three main objectives, it says it is not about jargon or buzz words.
The main objectives are:
• Surfacing opportunities for innovation;
• Helping innovators, investors and commissioners to connect around them;
• Actively supporting groups to collaborate, develop and grow innovation.
As well as being a focus for the exchange of ideas and practice, access to the Innovation Exchange Fund (part of NESTA’s Challenge Programme) means that the best ideas can be given cash to take them to the next stage of development.
The Next Practice Programme is focused, like the rest of the Innovation Exchange, on independent living and excluded young people and it will only offer support for innovative work focused on service delivery and transformation in those areas.
Who can apply?
Innovation Exchange is looking for fledgling projects that are “more than just one person’s bright idea and which genuinely need our help to develop, evaluate and grow their work”. This can cover the work of anyone from lone social entrepreneurs to large national charities. Projects need to have significant potential to “grow to scale and to solve challenges faced by whole systems of services”.
To gain access to the programme you will need to show that you have done three things:
• Engage with evidence – How sure are you that you are not re-inventing the wheel and that your solution has real potential?
• Engage with users – How sure are you that your idea is popular and works in practice?
• Engagement – How do you know that your idea not only deserves to succeed but also has a chance to succeed? Are commissioners and investors engaged in and excited by your work?
The following selection criteria will be applied to applicants to both the Next Practice Programme and subsequently the Innovation Exchange Fund:
1. Is your work developing a new solution (or one that has been over-looked) to a problem faced around the country?
2. Does your work have the potential to grow to scale and to affect practice nationally?
3. Are you collaborating with commissioners, social investors and other people in the third sector to develop your work and to ensure it is sustainable?
4. Is your innovation something that people really need and which exploits a real opportunity for innovation?
How to apply
Expressions of interest need to be sent in by 31 July 2008. The most promising applicants will be invited to one of two discussion days in London: 9 September 2008 for Independent Living projects or 10 September for Excluded Young People. Final decisions about both the Next Practice Programme and the Innovation Exchange Fund will be made in September 2008.
There is an application form, which can be downloaded at
or for more specific questions you can contact John Craig on 0207 259 1368 (E-mail: jo********@in*************.uk).
Background information about the Innovation Exchange is available at
The Innovation Unit
28-30 Grosvenor Gardens
London SW1W 0TT
Tel: 0207 259 1368.
Closing date: 31 July 2008
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