Do I need to be the sole founder of the business in order to qualify for an Innovator Founder visa?

12 Sep 2023, 35 mins ago

The Innovator Founder visa is designed for those who want to set up an innovative, viable and scalable business in the UK. The idea is that you would present a Home Office-approved endorsement body with your business idea, and if successfully endorsed, you would then apply for the visa.

In this blog, we tell you more about whether you need to be a sole founder, or if Innovator Founder teams are permitted. 

The short answer is that you can apply for endorsement for the Innovator Founder visa as part of a team. However, there are various nuances and pros/cons to applying as an Innovator Founder team.

The core element of the Innovator Founder visa is your business plan, which must be innovative, viable and scalable. This can be your business plan, and you can be the sole founder of this prospective business. Alternatively, you can have significantly contributed to the ideas for that business plan, or be an instrumental member of the founding team. 

However, the key issue here is that the Innovator Founder visa route is for those who are genuinely coming to the UK to start their own innovative business. It is not a route which allows you to simply invest in the UK and be a passive team member in this business, no matter how innovative it may be. 

For this reason, the Home Office, and the endorsing body, require that the business plan be original to you in the sense that:

  • you must have significantly contributed to the ideas in this business plan;
  • you must have the necessary resources to achieve it;
  • you must have or be actively developing the skills, knowledge and market awareness to run the business; and
  • you must intend to be involved in the day-to-day running of the business.

If you are looking to form an Innovator Founder team, you must consider this carefully when selecting your team members with respect to what each member brings to the table, and what their role will be. You will also need to consider the fact that, even though you and your team members are relying on the same business ideas:

A. Each team member must apply for endorsement/the visa in their own right; and

B. Each team member must meet the requirements for Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in their own right. 

To qualify for ILR, your endorsing body must confirm that your business has achieved at least two of the performance requirements:

(i) at least £50,000 has been invested into the business and actively spent furthering the business; or

(ii) the number of the business’s customers has at least doubled within the most recent 3 years and is currently higher than the mean number of customers for other UK businesses offering comparable main products or services; or

(iii) the business has engaged in significant research and development activity and has applied for intellectual property protection in the UK; or

(iv) the business has generated a minimum annual gross revenue of £1million in the last full year covered by its accounts; or

(v) the business is generating a minimum annual gross revenue of £500,000 in the last full year covered by its accounts, with at least £100,000 from exporting overseas; or

(vi) the business has created the equivalent of at least 10 full-time jobs for settled workers; or

(vii) the business has created the equivalent of at least 5 full-time jobs for settled workers, each of which has a mean salary of at least £25,000 a year (gross pay, excluding any allowances).

When you and your team members apply for ILR, you cannot rely on the same requirements. As such, it may actually be harder to apply for ILR under the Innovator Founder route if you are part of a team.  

This draws some interesting parallels with the Innovator Founder/Innovator visa’s predecessor, the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa. Under the old Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa route, entrepreneur teams, who have started a business in the UK together, can use that business’ achievements to meet many of the same requirements for ILR and extensions including:

  • the investment requirement;
  • job creation requirement; and
  • business activity requirement. 

This is, of course, provided that the entrepreneur team has an equal level of control of the business (i.e. equal status as owners/directors).

The Home Office has raised the bar since the days of the Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) visa. If you are part of a Tier 1 (Entrepreneur) team preparing to apply for ILR, or if you plan to apply as part of an Innovator Founder team, make sure you contact us for advice. Gherson has seasoned expertise with both visa routes. 

How Gherson can assist

Gherson’s Immigration Team are highly experienced in advising on UK visa matters. If you have any questions arising from this blog, please do not hesitate to contact us for advice, send us an e-mail, or, alternatively, follow us on TwitterFacebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn to stay-up-to-date.

The information in this blog is for general information purposes only and does not purport to be comprehensive or to provide legal advice. Whilst every effort is made to ensure the information and law is current as of the date of publication it should be stressed that, due to the passage of time, this does not necessarily reflect the present legal position. Gherson accepts no responsibility for loss which may arise from accessing or reliance on information contained in this blog. For formal advice on the current law please do not hesitate to contact Gherson. Legal advice is only provided pursuant to a written agreement, identified as such, and signed by the client and by or on behalf of Gherson.

©Gherson 2023