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How to Start A Business In The UK: Innovator Founder Visa

Mo Shehu

Mo Shehu

Find out how to get the UK Innovator Founder Visa, including who can apply, how to apply, and what you'll need for endorsement.

Table of contents

The Innovator Founder Visa is for founders who want to start a business in the United Kingdom.

Your business idea should be “innovative, viable, and scalable” — in other words: new, doable, and growable.

You’ll need to get your business idea endorsed by an endorsing body. After submitting your application, you can get a response in as little as 3 weeks. 

You don’t need a set amount of money to start a business if you’re taking the Innovator Founder route.

However, you still need enough money to take care of yourself, your family (if they’re coming with you), and still fund the business. 

Let’s dive into everything you need to know about the UK Innovator Founder Visa and how to apply for it.

Why is the UK government offering the Innovator Founder Visa?

The UK government introduced the Innovator Founder Visa to attract foreign founders who can set up new, successful businesses in the United Kingdom. 

By doing this, the government hopes to boost the UK’s economy, maintain its status as a leading hub for innovation, and encourage job creation. 

This new visa replaces and streamlines the earlier Start Up and Innovator visa. 

If you’re already in the United Kingdom on one of those visas, you may be able to switch to the new Innovator Founder visa without having to leave the country. More on that later. 

What’s the difference between the UK Innovator Visa and the UK Innovator Founder Visa?

The legacy UK Innovator Visa is for people with business ideas that need a £50,000 investment. 

The new UK Innovator Founder Visa doesn’t have that financial requirement. 

What types of businesses get approved?

It’s less about the category and more about meeting the three main criteria: innovation, viability, and scalability.

Here’s what those terms mean:

  • Innovative: An innovative business idea must bring something new to the UK. This could mean a new product, service, or business model that meets an existing market need in a new way or creates a new market entirely.
  • Viable: Your business plan must be realistic and practical. You should be able to show that you have, or can acquire, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience, and market understanding to make the business succeed.
  • Scalable: The business must have potential for growth. This growth can be in terms of revenue, job creation, or expansion into new markets, either nationally or internationally.

Technology-based businesses tend to tick the innovation and scalability boxes better, and can usually attract investment funds easier (making them more viable).

If your business isn’t fully tech-based (or you lack tech skills yourself), don’t fret. You can still take the Innovator Founder route.

As long as you can strongly prove the three criteria above and show you’ll have access to the needed skills, you stand a better chance of getting the visa.

Also, your business must be a venture that hasn’t been registered at Companies House or established in the UK. They’ll check for this during the application process. 

Innovator Founder Visa approved

Is the Innovator Founder Visa right for you?

This visa is best for people with a strong entrepreneurial streak. 

You’ll be building something new (and possibly unproven) from scratch in a foreign country, so you’ll need extra resilience, tenacity, and willpower. It’s not for the faint-hearted. 

You should ideally be eyeing long-term UK settlement, though that’s optional. You can renew the visa as many times as you want. 

You also need to be good at speaking and understanding English, have enough money to support yourself and your business, and be ready to follow the visa’s rules.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I have a business idea that hasn’t been done before or in a specific way? 
  • Can my business idea grow and create jobs for settled UK residents?
  • Can I support myself in the UK for the first six months?
  • Am I ready to live and work in the UK long term?

If you answered yes to these questions, the Innovator Founder Visa could be the right choice for you. 

Eligibility for the Innovator Founder Visa

To apply for the Innovator Founder Visa, you must meet certain requirements. Here’s a brief overview:

Age requirements

You must be at least 18 years old by the time you apply for the Innovator Founder Visa.

English language requirements

You must show that you can speak, read, write, and understand English to at least Level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. 

You can do this by passing an English language test like IELTS or having a degree that was taught in English. 

You might not need to prove your English language skills if you’re from one of the following countries: 

Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, the British overseas territories, Canada, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Malta, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, or the USA.

Financial requirements

You must prove you have enough money to support yourself in the UK. This means showing you have at least £1,270 in savings.

This money should have been in your bank account for 28 consecutive days before you apply. 

Realistically, you’ll need way more than that, especially if you’re supporting yourself and your new business without external help.

Living in the UK isn’t cheap. If you have to support yourself and fund your business, you might need a larger financial cushion.

£20,000 ensures you won’t run out of cash in the first 6 months. £40,000 will fund you for a full year without needing to work a second job.

These are numbers for a single person living in London. A 4-person family in London can expect to spend £3,196 per month excluding rent.

My advice? If you’re immigrating to the UK, consider living in a cheaper city like Liverpool or Hull.

You can cut costs on accommodation, travel, and other living expenses, and direct your funds toward driving early sales for your UK business, especially if it’s largely digital.

If you have family in the UK, a partner to support you, or other sources of funding, you might not need as much money upfront. 

But it’s better to assume you might not have such support. That mindset will leave you less vulnerable to financial shocks.

With the Innovator Founder Visa route, there’s no set amount of money needed to fund your business idea. You could theoretically start with £0.00.

However, you need to convince the UK endorsing service that your idea is viable, and that you have (or can obtain) the necessary funds to launch and grow the business.

Typically, this means showing you have the savings, investors, loan facilities, or other financing available to fund your business idea.

Endorsing bodies and your Innovator Founder business plan

You’ll need to get your business idea endorsed by an approved endorsing body. 

The UK government lists authorized endorsing bodies for Innovator Founder visas, including new and legacy categories.

The body will base their endorsement decision on how well your business idea meets the innovation, viability, and scalability criteria.

Key endorsers are UK Endorsing Services, Innovator International, Envestors Limited, and the Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP). 

Legacy bodies can only endorse applicants they’ve previously supported. Consult the official list and contact an endorsing body of your choice to get started.

The endorsing body can take anywhere from 4-8 weeks to review and approve your business plan. Expect longer lead times during holidays. 

The earlier you start the process of writing and submitting your business plan, the better.

You’ll have 90 days from the receipt of your endorsement letter to start your application, beyond which your application may be rejected. 

If the 90-day period lapses, you may have to apply for another endorsement.

How does the points system work for the Innovator Founder Visa?

When you apply for entry clearance or permission to stay in the UK under the Innovator Founder Visa, you must be awarded 70 points from the categories below.

50 of those points must either be under the ‘New Business’ criteria or under the ‘Same Business’ criteria, but not both.  

New business:

  • Business plan — 30 points
  • Business venture is innovative, viable and scalable — 20 points  

Same business:

  • Applicant’s previous permission was in the Innovator Founder (including Innovator under Appendix Innovator of the rules before 13 April 2023), Start-up, or Tier 1 (Graduate Entrepreneur) route and they are pursuing a business assessed by a Home Office approved endorsing body either for the previous endorsement or at a contact point during their last grant of leave — 10 points
  • Business is active, trading and sustainable and demonstrates significant achievements against the business plan — 20 points
  • Applicant is active in day-to-day management and development of business — 20 points  

Mandatory for all applicants:

  • English Language requirement at level B2 – 10 points
  • Financial requirement – 10 points 

Can multiple co-founders apply under the same team?

Yes, multiple innovator founders can apply for endorsement to be co-directors of the same company in the UK.  

They can even share the same business idea and plan as another Innovator Founder team member. 

But each applicant must get their own endorsement from an approved endorsing body and meet all the eligibility requirements. 

Individual applications are not linked as ‘team’ applications.

Learn more here.

Innovator Founder Visa conditions of stay

While in the UK on an Innovator Founder Visa, there are certain immigration rules you must follow.

What is allowed?

You can:

  • Start and manage your business or businesses.
  • Work for your business as a director or a member of a business partnership. 
  • Take a job outside your business if it’s considered skilled work.
  • Bring your partner and children with you as your ‘dependents’, if they’re eligible.
  • Travel abroad and return to the UK.
  • Apply to settle permanently in the UK (also known as ‘indefinite leave to remain’) if you’ve lived in the UK for 3 years and meet the other eligibility requirements.

What’s not allowed?

You cannot:

  • Work as a professional sports person, like a sports coach. 
  • Apply for most public funds (benefits) or the State Pension.

Regular check-ins with your endorsing body

You must keep in contact with your endorsing body throughout your stay in the UK. 

This includes having meetings after 6, 12, and 24 months to show how your business is doing. 

The check-in is usually a 45-60 minute Zoom meeting, but may differ from one endorsing body to another. 

If your business isn’t doing well, or if the endorsing body revokes its endorsement, you could lose your visa and have to leave the UK. 

Switching to the Innovator Founder Visa from other visas

You can switch to the Innovator Founder Visa if you’re in the UK on a visa that allows for a change.

This might include visas related to work, study, or other business visas.

Switching to the Innovator Founder Visa allows you to stay in the UK to develop and run your business.

To switch, you’ll need to meet all the requirements of the Innovator Founder Visa, including having a business idea that’s endorsed by an approved endorsing body.

You’ll also need to show you have enough money to support yourself and follow the application process for people already in the UK. 

If you’re on a Student visa in the UK, you must either have finished your sponsored course first or have studied for a minimum of 24 months toward a PhD.

Note that your partner or child’s visa will not automatically switch to this visa if you switch yours. 

If they do not switch their visa, it will be valid until its original end date.

They can either apply at the same time as you, or at any time before their current visa expires. 

Learn more about switching from inside the UK here.

Who cannot switch?

If you’re in the UK on a Visitor visa, Short-term Study visa, Parent of a Child Student visa, Seasonal Worker visa, or Overseas Domestic Worker visa, you typically cannot switch to the Innovator Founder Visa. 

How long does it take to apply?

For applications from outside the UK, a decision typically comes within 3 weeks

If you’re applying from inside the UK, either to extend your stay or switch to this visa, it usually takes about 8 weeks

If you’ve applied through a visa application center like VFS, you might be able to pay to get a faster decision. 

Learn more about UK visa application processing times here.

How to apply for a UK Innovator Founder Visa: A step-by-step guide

To apply for the Innovator Founder Visa, follow these steps:

  • Gather the necessary documents:
    • An Ecctis attestation if you obtained your qualification(s) outside the UK. This typically takes the longest to get (up to 30 working days or more), so start with this first while you complete the other steps.
    • An endorsement letter from an approved body. See the list of approved bodies here. This is the next longest stage of the application process, so start writing your business plan ASAP. 
    • A passport with at least one blank page and 6 months of validity left at the time of your application. Note that you may have to hand in your passport for a few weeks during the application process.
    • Bank statements showing at least £1,270 (or your currency’s equivalent) for 28 days before applying.
    • Proof of English language skills. You can pass an appropriate exam like IELTS (select “IELTS for UK Visas”), having specific UK school qualifications, or holding a degree-level qualification taught in English (with confirmation through Ecctis if you studied abroad). 
    • Tuberculosis test results if required. See the official list of countries whose residents may need to get one, plus locations to do the test in those countries.
  • Complete the online application and verify your identity through the required process. If you’re outside the UK, start here.
  • Attend an appointment if needed.

Once you’ve started your application, you can save your form and complete it later by simply clicking the link you received via email. 

You’ll get an email or a letter containing the decision on your application, which will explain what you need to do next.

Why your Innovator Founder Visa application might get rejected

Your visa application may be rejected if the Home Office is not convinced about your business being new, workable, or likely to grow. They might also doubt if you’re serious about your business.

Lack of sufficient funding is another common reason Innovator Founder Visa applications get rejected. 

Spend some time on this part of your application to prove you’ll be able to fund your business in the UK. 

You can’t appeal against an adverse decision, but if you think the Home Office has made an error in considering your application, you can apply for an administrative review. 

Details of how to make an administrative review application will be included in the decision letter. 

Note that each subsequent application may cost a new round of fees.

You can reduce the chances of getting your visa rejected by learning what mistakes to avoid.

Innovator Founder Visa extension

Your visa lets you stay in the UK for three years to start with. If you want to stay longer, you can ask for an extension, which also lasts for three years each time you apply. 

Your endorsing body will need to approve your extension request. There’s no limit to how many times you can extend your Innovator Founder Visa. 

After three years, you might be able to apply to stay in the UK permanently, known as Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR), if you meet the necessary requirements.

Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK as an Innovator Founder

To get Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) as an Innovator Founder, your business must have done at least 2 of the following:

  • Had £50,000 of investment, which you’ve spent on developing the business
  • Doubled the number of customers in the last 3 years – and this number must be higher than the average for similar businesses
  • Applied for intellectual property protection in the UK
  • Made £1 million revenue in the last full year covered by accounts
  • Made £500,000 revenue in the last full year covered by accounts, with £100,000 of this from exporting overseas
  • Created the equivalent of 10 full-time jobs that have existed for 12 months
  • Created the equivalent of 5 full-time jobs that have existed for 12 months, with an average salary of £25,000 a year

These rules may change at any time, so check the latest ILR eligibility requirements for Innovator Founder Visa holders here.

UK citizenship route

After getting ILR, you can apply for UK citizenship. 

The rules and timing for partners and children depend on if they were born inside or outside the UK. Children have to be a certain age to apply for citizenship. 

This process helps your family become part of UK life, with all the benefits and security of being a British citizen. 

Learn more about how to obtain British citizenship here.

Application costs and fees

Application fees

For the Innovator Founder Visa, several fees apply. There’s an endorsement fee which is the cost of having your business idea approved by a recognized body.

This can be as high as £1,000 per application, and may be non-refundable.

Next, there’s the visa application fee, which costs:

  • £1,191 per person if you apply outside the UK.
  • £1,486 per person if you apply to extend or switch your visa in the UK.

That’s why it’s so important to submit a great business plan and get your visa application approved the first time.

Health surcharge

Paying the healthcare surcharge is a required step for the Innovator Founder Visa. 

The fee can cost as much as £3,105 per person. You can check the exact amount you need to pay using the UK immigration health surcharge calculator.

This surcharge gives you access to the National Health Service (NHS) during your stay in the UK, much like a UK resident. 

The payment process is part of your online visa application, and you’ll need to complete it before your application can be fully processed.

How Column can help

If you’re applying for an Innovator Founder Visa, getting your business plan right is crucial. 

You can’t advance your application unless an endorsing body approves your business idea. 

Column offers solutions designed specifically for Innovator Founder Visa applicants. 

These include:

  • A customizable business plan template
  • Business plan audits, and
  • Done-for-you business plan writing

Learn more about these options here

Get our customizable template

Our do-it-yourself (DIY) template is a quick way for founders to prepare their business plan themselves. 

The template is filled with advice on crafting a convincing business plan, from highlighting your unique selling points to addressing market needs.

It also includes common mistakes to avoid and examples to emulate. 

To get Column’s customizable template, simply navigate to this page and select the “Template” option. 

Once you’ve made your purchase, you’ll be shown a confirmation page. 

Click the link on the confirmation page to copy the template to your Google Drive. You might need a Gmail account. 

The business plan template guides you through detailing your unique selling point, understanding and addressing market needs, and explaining your competitive advantage and scalability. 

After customizing the template to suit your business, you can include it with your application for endorsement. 

Get a business plan audit

If you’ve already drafted your Innovator Founder Visa business plan, our team can audit it thoroughly before you send it off. 

We focus on checking if your plan is innovative, viable, and scalable, which are the key things your endorsing body wants to see. 

We’ll then suggest changes to help make your plan more attractive and convincing. Learn more about the audit option here

Let us write your business plan for you

If you’re short on time or just want a helping hand, Column can take care of writing your business plan for you. This saves you time and effort.

When we write your business plan, we start by doing thorough market research on your idea. 

It involves identifying the people you want to reach with your business, studying competitors, and gathering publicly available feedback from prospects.

We then put together a complete business plan designed to meet the requirements for the Innovator Founder Visa, which you can submit to your endorsing body. 

Wrap up

Getting the Innovator Founder Visa and starting a business in the UK can be challenging and rewarding. This guide showed you how to apply for it, stay longer, and potentially become a British citizen. 

Whether you use Column’s help or do it yourself, we hope this guide has been helpful as you work toward your exciting journey in the UK!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I apply for the Innovator Founder Visa with a co-founder?

Yes, you and a co-founder can apply for the Innovator Founder Visa if your business idea meets the requirements.

Both of you will need to be endorsed individually by an approved endorsing body.

You’ll need to show that your co-founder plays a significant role in the business.

Can I bring family members to the UK on an Innovator Founder Visa?

Yes, you can bring your spouse, partner, or children under 18. You’ll need to show you have enough money to support them in the UK.

Can I work another job in the UK while on the Innovator Founder Visa?

Yes, you can take on a skilled job to support yourself while running your business. Note that there are restrictions on what types of jobs you can do. 

How likely am I to get the Innovator Founder Visa?

Your business has a better shot if it’s innovative, viable, and scalable.

What if they say no?

If your Innovator Founder Visa application is refused, check the decision letter to see why.

Then, gather more documentation to address the stated issues in a new application.

Here are common reasons why your endorsing body might reject your business plan. 

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