About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Reflections on Innovate to Save: The programme so far

Last week we hit two big milestones for Innovate to Save - our programme in partnership with Welsh Government and WCVA to support ideas that can improve public services and generate cashable savings.

We announced our first loan - £1m for Leonard Cheshire; and we announced our next group of research and development projects - seven teams that will undertake rigorous testing of their ideas over the next six to eight months.

two women and a man discuss a project at a table.

Workshops at an Innovate to Save Bootcamp.

We set out to see if there was a model that would encourage a wide range of public and third sector organisations to consider using risk-finance for innovation.

We’ve certainly broadened the range of organisations that are considering this as an option - we received a greater percentage of applications from the third sector and local government organisations than we normally see in Welsh Government’s existing Invest to Save fund.

We can also start to claim that our model works - small amounts of grant funding, combined with non-financial support for R&D, bring enough confidence to submit a business case for loan funding. In the case of Cohort 1, that amounted to requests for £37.50 of loan funding for every £1 of grant funding issued.

a girl looks through binoculars during an outdoor activity in a forest.

Leonard Cheshire was awarded a loan through Innovate to Save for Innovation for Active Communities.

However, Innovate to Save is still a young programme; we’ve only done it once and at a relatively small scale. That’s why cohort two is so important. Not only do they help us repeat what we’ve achieved so far, but they also help us develop the programme and improve on some of the things that didn’t work the first time around. Because we didn’t get everything right.

In a few instances, our support was ineffective and occasionally a distraction that slowed projects down to the point of annoyance. We’ve changed the way we’re delivering some key elements of our support to be more responsive and less prescriptive.

We’re spending more time setting the projects up well for R&D - making sure we have all the data we need (and appropriate access) before we start so we can measure the right things in the right way from the outset.

And, crucially, we’ve separated the creation of a final business case from the process of R&D altogether. We think this might be the most important change because it allows projects to focus fully on the R&D and respond to the outcomes, rather than trying to craft the outcomes to fit a business case.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be sharing more of what we’ve done and what we’ve learnt - in the form of case studies and a playbook.

We’re excited about what comes next and we’re excited about sharing that and we hope we’ll get your thoughts and feedback.


Rob Ashelford

Rob Ashelford

Rob Ashelford

Pennaeth Nesta Cymru / Head of Nesta Cymru

Rob is Head of Nesta Cymru - responsible for the delivery of Nesta's strategy in Wales.

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