A Doncaster-based technology company, which became an unsung hero of the Covid-19 pandemic, has been honoured with the first ever King’s Award for Innovation.

Ascendant Solutions is one of 148 companies across the UK to be recognised with a King’s Award for Enterprise, with only 47 King’s Award for Innovation being awarded. Specialising in developing cloud-based data management systems to reduce the administrative burden faced by local authorities, Ascendant has enjoyed a significant period of growth, after playing a critical role in the delivery of Covid-19 grants to small businesses at the height of the pandemic.

When the UK Government announced plans to distribute grant funding to businesses as Britain entered into its first national lockdown, Ascendant Solutions set itself the challenge of bringing a new product to market to support the efforts of local authorities. Borne from a chance discussion with one of its Local Authority clients, managing director Darren Kelk, and technical director Richard Hanby, explained the company’s plans and secured a commitment from four local authorities to purchase the software.

With orders in place, Ascendant Solutions knew it was vital to bring the product to market as quickly as possible and embarked upon a marathon effort that would see it devise, build, test and launch a brand new piece of software capable of automating the rigorous checks needed to identify incorrect and fraudulent applications. The remarkable feat was achieved within just seventeen days.

Quickly adopted by four local authorities, the company’s Apply4.Online® system automatically cross-checked and analysed a number of data sources, enabling the validity of a grant application to be assessed automatically. The results proved to be immediate, helping local authorities to save up to 70% of the time spent processing applications and, in one particular case, achieving an error rate of just 0.8%, less than a tenth of the national average. Crucially, the software prevented over £400 million pounds worth of ineligible applications from being processed.

Since pioneering the software, Ascendant Solutions has successfully rolled out its Apply4.Online® technology to a wide range of other schemes administered by local authorities, with the software being used by nearly a third of Councils operating in England to deliver a wide range of schemes, from energy relief subsidies to supporting sponsor families under the Homes for Ukraine initiative.

Darren said: “The success we’ve achieved is a real David vs Goliath story and illustrates the vital role small businesses can play when it comes to bringing innovative solutions to market. We were already working with local authorities, but we knew our clients had invested a great deal of trust in us and we felt we had the skills and expertise to not only solve a problem, but limit the risk to public funds.

The King’s Award for Innovation is one of the highest accolades any business can receive, and the success we’ve achieved illustrates the vital role small businesses like Ascendant Solutions Ltd has within this market.

Data impacts upon all of our lives in many different ways. The challenge facing many organisations is whether the data they hold on file is accurate and up to date. When the records held by local authorities are compared with those held by financial institutions, for example, we recognised that many local authorities lag behind. We realised that local authorities couldn’t simply rely upon the data they held about a particular business, but when it came to delivering grant support, it was imperative that other checks were undertaken.

At the height of the pandemic, local authorities were under immense pressure from Government to distribute the Covid-19 grants as quickly as possible; however, there clearly needed to be controls put in place. We worked tirelessly alongside those Local Authorities who put their trust in us and we pioneered together side by side working through the nights, weekends and bank holidays to deliver what some might have thought was impossible in the timescale. Within the first week of the system going live, our Apply4.Online® software helped four employees, working across two local authorities, to successfully pay 2,462 grants. The councils estimated that to achieve a similar result using manual checks would have required 25 employees to deliver a similar number.

Since we first launched the software, we’ve helped local authorities to roll out the technology across a wide variety of services including rate relief schemes, business rates and subsequent grant schemes introduced to help families navigate their way through the cost-of-living crisis. Regardless of whether councils were choosing our system or solving the problem using other means, the efforts of all local councils during the pandemic was incredible. While we are overjoyed at the news of the Kings Award I wanted to personally thank each and every council for doing their utmost during times of crisis to support their residents and businesses. This award is recognition of all our hard work."

Since pioneering its Apply4.Online software, Ascendant Solutions has seen its workforce increase to 17 members of staff and has seen its turnover increase by 80% over the past three years. The company is now focussing its efforts on exploring new and innovative ways to harness data automation in the public sector and setting its sights on significant future growth.

The King’s Awards for Enterprise was previously known as The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, and the new name reflects His Majesty The King’s desire to continue the legacy of HM Queen Elizabeth II by recognising outstanding UK businesses. The Awards programme, now in its 57th year, is the most prestigious business award in the country, with successful businesses able to use the esteemed King’s Awards emblem for the next five years. Applications for The King’s Awards for Enterprise 2024 open on His Majesty The King’s Coronation on 6th May 2023.