First Steps for SMEs

The First Steps for SMEs programme, funded by Innovate UK, will help SMEs accelerate and improve their new product and process innovations by conducting a robust market validation exercise.  The aim is to derisk new product development by confirming the market pull for a new product concept through direct engagement with the market.  The programme is based on proven methodologies, including the Strategyzer Toolkit, to rapidly validate new ideas and markets.

The programme is based on a highly successful scheme that focused on the commercialisation of innovations developed within a university setting.  First Steps for SMEs takes this award winning concept and applies it to companies who are already providing products and services to their customers.

The programme focuses on defining clear Value Propositions for the proposed products and then testing this VP through structured market research, the most important element of which is conversations with key stakeholders such as customers, end users, regulators, key opinion leaders, suppliers, etc.

Programme format

Each participating SME will nominate an entrepreneurial lead (EL) from their team.  During the 8 week period, each EL will be supported by an experienced coach during the training as well as providing guidance and advice across the 2 month programme.  ELs will need to dedicate a minimum of 2 days a week to the programme.

The 8-week pilot programme (Feb-March 2021) will have the following format:

  • 4 half-day training sessions on-line in February.
  • The aim will be to have 40 meaningful conversations with key stakeholders over the 8 week period.
  • EL will be expected to attend on-line exhibitions, tradeshows and conferences to build up their network of contacts.
  • Some of the conversations can be with existing customers, but it is expected that the majority will be with new contacts for the business.
  • Funding is available to support the EL during the programme; programme related expenses for the EL will be also reimbursed.

The programme closes at a pitch event where the teams will present the results of their work to a panel of experts.  An award will be made to the Entrepreneurial lead who makes the most progress during the duration of the programme.


You can download an application form First Steps Application form.

If you have any questions, please email, and one of the delivery team will get in touch.