Lightbulbs Innovator Founder

Innovator Founder Visa – a five minute explainer

The Innovator Founder visa is a hybrid of the now defunct Innovator and Start-up Visas. It is now the only route for foreign entrepreneurs to enter the UK to establish a new business. It is also available to those who have significantly contributed to an existing business.

 Business Idea

The business venture must be innovative, viable, and scalable. This is assessed as follows:

  • The applicant must have a genuine, original business plan that meets new or existing market needs and/or creates a competitive advantage (innovative).
  • The applicant’s business plan must be realistic and achievable based on the applicant’s available resources (viable).
  • The applicant must have, or be actively developing, the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and market awareness to successfully run the business; and (viable).
  • There must be evidence of structured planning and of potential for job creation and growth into national and international markets (scalable).

The applicants role in the business must be substantial. They must have either generated or made a significant contribution to the ideas in the business plan, and they must have a day-to-day role in carrying out the plan. It is permissible for an individual to have joined a business after it was registered with Companies House, providing the business had not already commenced trading. However, this necessitates additional scrutiny to show the applicant made a significant contribution to the business plan, and has not simply been added to an existing business for the purpose of facilitating investment. In short, with any application the applicant must either be the sole founder, or an instrumental member of the founding team.


Like its predecessors, to be granted leave under the Innovator Founder route applicants must be endorsed by government-approved endorsing bodies:

Endorsement is based on the principle that it is you [the endorsing bodies], rather than the Home Office, who are best placed to assess businesses and identify innovative business ideas and talent.

Whilst ostensibly perceptive from the Home Office, the cynical immigration practitioner may see this policy as another attempt from the Home Office to elude responsibility and accountability. As the actual visa application process is relatively straight-forward once endorsement has been secured, it is the endorsing bodies who arguably hold the power. They will decide whether an applicant’s business is innovate, viable, and scalable.

There are three endorsing bodies (not counting the Global Entrepreneurs Programme (GEP), a government programme run by the Department for Business and Trade):

The Home Office provide guidance for endorsing bodies to follow when assessing a business for innovation, viability, and scalability, but the exact endorsement process and assessment of each application differs between bodies. Relevant details are set out on each body’s website; all require a detailed business plan, including financial projections, and at least one interview.

An endorsing body’s responsibilities do not end upon an endorsement. Applicants are required to have at least two “checkpoint meetings”, before the 12 and 24-month anniversaries of their grant of permission, to demonstrate to the endorsing body that they are making progress towards their business plan. It is open to the endorsing body to withdraw endorsement at any time.

Multiple innovator founders can apply for endorsement to be co-directors of the same company, but each applicant must receive individual endorsement.

Organisations which were previously approved endorsing bodies under the Innovator and Start-up routes are still required to hold contact point meetings with individuals they previously endorsed, and to endorse applicants who are:

  • Switching from Start up to Innovator Founder.
  • Extending Innovator leave (which will become Innovator Founder leave).
  • Applying for Settlement.

Visa Application

The application itself is relatively straightforward, with some key changes from the Innovator and Start-up routes which make this route easier than its predecessors:

  • There is no longer a minimum funds requirement (previously it was set at £50,000), although the business plan still requires significant investment.
  • Applicants will be able to supplement their income by working in other employment as well as for the business they have established, provided that the other employment is sufficiently skilled – RQF level 3 or higher.
  • There are now four endorsing bodies for new applications, rather than the previous 65, answering concerns that some of the prior endorsing bodies weren’t fit for purpose.

Nevertheless, the Home Office retain ultimate discretion. Even with a valid endorsement, an application can still be refused if the Home Office deem the business lacks innovation, viability, or scalability, or they doubt the genuineness of the applicant. It is important that the visa application is properly evidenced; an endorsement should not be seen as an automatic ticket to a visa.

Some FAQs answered:

  1. Dependents are eligible to apply.
  2. Permission is granted for three years, and there is no limit on the time a person can spend in this route.
  3. Settlement is available, although the requirements to meet are fairly onerous.

A way to navigate the onerous requirements for settlement may be to later switch into the Skilled Worker route, aggregating time spent in the Innovator Founder route towards settlement in the Skilled Worker route.

If you would like to speak to one of our experts regarding an Innovator Founder visa, call us now on 0300 131 6767 or complete our enquiry form below and we will get back to you.

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