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Huge incentive for overseas entrepreneurs to launch business start-ups in Bradford


Honorary Professor Paul Thorning, Director of Open Innovation at the University of Bradford

Bradford first university to endorse all types of visas for overseas entrepreneurs

The University of Bradford is the first (and currently only) university to be awarded Innovator Visa and Settlement endorsement status by the Government, allowing it to endorse visas for overseas entrepreneurs from first starting up, to running a successful long-term business.

Start-up and Innovator Entrepreneur and Visa Programmes run by the University are aimed squarely at retaining and attracting entrepreneurial talent to support the growth of Bradford’s economy. They deliver a focused ‘concept to completion’ business pathway, offering mentoring, networking events, a real-life ‘dragons’ den’-style business pitch to real investors, office space and a range of other support measures.

The Start-up programme runs for two years and is open to anyone who has a new, innovative, viable and scalable social or business enterprise idea. Entrepreneurs from overseas receive endorsement for a two-year Start-up visa in the first instance. 

If the enterprise is progressing well, the entrepreneur can transfer to an Innovator Visa for a further three years, ultimately leading to settlement if required. More experienced entrepreneurs may apply directly for an Innovator Visa, subject to meeting investment requirements.

The programmes are run by an experienced team at the University, led by Honorary Professor Paul Thorning, Director of Open Innovation.

Prof Thorning is also a co-founder and CEO of CrystecPharma, a Bradford-based pharmaceutical technology company spin-out from the university. A former licensing director for AstraZeneca, he also has significant experience running NGOs and spent three years as a director of a UN refugee health and community programme in Tanzania.

He said: “The Home Office authorises a range of institutions to endorse different types of visas. Many UK universities have been authorised to endorse Start-up Visas but we were the first to be authorised to endorse Innovator and Settlement. Achieving this authorisation requires formal support from a UK Government department on the basis of a track record of successful work with SMEs. We received this support from the Department of International Trade.

“Our Start-up vehicles are all about bringing talent into the city and holding onto talent coming out of the University. Our Innovator programme is about giving people who want to come to the UK from overseas to start a business a defined route and a high level of support including networking connections, use of facilities, opportunities for fundraising and of course, ultimately a path to settled status.”


Projects in development include a facial recognition home security solution, an African languages app and learning platform, a new line of quality South Indian ready meals and condiments, an end-to-end e-commerce solution, and an ‘augmented reality’ platform to help people navigate public spaces.


The University also plans to leverage the entrepreneurship programme to enable talented entrepreneurs to manage the further development and commercialisation of its broad portfolio of intellectual property. For students, the University runs a pioneering Accelerated Student Entrepreneurship Programmes, taking them on a journey from first coming up with a business idea to securing potential investment funding, in under four months.

Additional information:-

The UK government entrepreneur visa scheme has three stages. The first stage (Start-up) allows a new entrepreneur to run a new enterprise in the UK for two years. The second stage (Innovator) allows a more experienced entrepreneur (such as one who is completing the Start-up stage) to run an enterprise for three years. The third stage is Settlement – being permanently based and running an enterprise in the UK.

The University of Bradford’s Entrepreneurial Support Programme enables you to establish, grow and run long-term, a new social or business enterprise in Bradford. Visa endorsements are available from the University of Bradford at all stages, subject to continued engagement in the programme, with the aim of supporting applicants in running a successful international enterprise and raising investment where appropriate. The University provides mentoring, training, masterclasses, networking opportunities, office and incubation facilities, business management support and an introduction to a wide range of routes to funding.


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