In April 2018, Research England announced the recipients of its Connecting Capability Fund. Amongst them, £4.7 million was awarded to a new collaborative network of seven universities and colleges in the East of England to drive innovation and growth in the region.
This is EIRA (Enabling Innovation: Research to Application) and it serves a growing market need across this part of the UK. Offering support to businesses across three key themes: digital creative, biotechnology and artificial intelligence, EIRA provides businesses with access to academic expertise, consultancy, specialist facilities and funding opportunities.
The network is led by the Times Higher Education (THE) University of the Year Winner, the University of Essex and other Eastern ARC partners including the University of East Anglia and the University of Kent. The University of Suffolk, Harlow College, Norwich University of the Arts and Writtle University College are partners too. Business partners that further support EIRA include BT Group, TechEast and AgriTech East, Digital Catapult, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (NALEP) and South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP).
With such an extensive network, EIRA has something to offer businesses of all sizes. Whether you’re a start-up, SME or established larger business. EIRA can work with you to find an opportunity that’s right for your business. Through Innovation Vouchers, Research and Development Grants, i-Teams, Hothouse and other events, Start-up Microfinance and Innovation Internships, EIRA can help businesses to overcome issues and boost productivity. Funding opportunities are available towards smaller projects which cost up to £7.5k and for larger projects costing up to £50k.
Dr Kirstie Cochrane, Director of EIRA, said “EIRA is aiming to support the development of businesses in the East of England which are taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by these fast moving sections of our economy. Artificial intelligence is transforming all sectors of our economy, biotechnology is having an impact on everything from food production to medicine and the East of England is recognised as a centre of excellence in the digital creative sector. With a range of majority-funded grants available, EIRA will help businesses of all sizes develop new products, services, and solutions.”
Don Shaw Case, University of Kent: As KE Lead for the AI theme, can you tell us some of the ways in which businesses across different sectors can use AI?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) can bring great benefits to business through increases in efficiency and productivity. AI covers a range of methods and techniques developed over the last 60 years that enable programs to analyse, adapt and learn from the data they are exposed to, improving the programs performance when solving problems. AI techniques can be applied to a variety of problems, there are no limits to its application. For instance, in construction AI is being used to better manage resources and reduce costs. In more general business environments, AI is being applied to gain understanding from the wealth of data being collected using “Data Mining” techniques. In the field of health care, AI is used to measure biometrics, for example, measuring heart rate and blood pressure to look for the early signs of heart disease or searching for cancer cells. Consumers even use AI devices at home in the form of voice activated speaker systems like Amazon Echo and through mobile technology.
As is common when a new advance in technology gains popular interest, there is a lot of excitement and speculation as to what impact the technology will have. AI offers great potential to improve the speed and accuracy of tasks, enhancing the activities undertaken by the work force and so improving productivity. There are many new and novel ways of using AI that will support commercial activities to better utilise and target resources, bringing considerable benefits to every sector of business.
Dr Kenny Lang, University of East Anglia: As KE Fellow for the Biotechnology theme, are there any activities that are being supported by EIRA that you feel are particularly exciting for the region’s development?
The East of England has significant strengths in sectors that are underpinned by biotechnology. The advanced agrifood and drink sector has a combined workforce of 79,000 and generates £3.6 billion for UK plc. Norfolk and Suffolk’s life science sector has significant strengths in agribiotech, food and the microbiome, bioinformatics and industrial biotech. Valued at £1 billion, it employs a highly skilled workforce of 10,000 and around 660 businesses. The sector is entering an exciting new phase with investments in the new £76 million Quadram Institute at Norwich Research Park, underpinning world class research and innovation.
EIRA is helping to make a difference through a variety of activities, including a recently funded R&D project that is evaluating the effect of introducing paper crumble – a product from the paper recycling industry – into arable soils, for enhancing soil organic carbon (SOC). The ultimate aim of the project is to increase soil quality and improve food security. Another example of how EIRA is supporting innovative products to be a commercial reality and bring public benefit to the region is by funding a novel targeted drug delivery system for existing cancer drugs to be targeted to tumour sites with greater accuracy and have a built in imaging system to monitor progress of the treatment.
Emma Wakeling, University of Essex: AS KE Manager for the Digital Creative theme, can you briefly explain the process a business goes through from generating an idea to going through the application process for funding?
If an entrepreneur or organisation has an idea for a project then initially you need to get in touch with the EIRA programme team through our website to see the different support mechanisms available. Your details will be shared with the relevant KE Manager(s) (KEM) for your area of interest and someone will get in touch to talk through your ideas and share some more information about EIRA, while checking that you are eligible for the support on offer. The KE Manager will then identify academics across the network who have the relevant expertise and are keen to be involved. Once basic information about the project has been agreed and academics are in place, you will be invited to a meeting with them and your KEM to develop your idea further – these can be really quite exciting and help you consider things you may not have even thought about for your project.
You will then be sent the application form to complete, which you will do in partnership with the KEM, who will liaise with the academics to devise a timeframe and associated costs. When a final application has been completed and signed by you it will be submitted by the KEM. If it is an Innovation Voucher you will only have to wait 2 working weeks to know if it is approved and there are no deadlines. For R&D grant applications, there may be questions or queries from the review panel that you and your KEM will respond to. Your KEM will let you know the outcome of your application within 6 weeks of submission, and, if it’s positive, will do work behind the scenes to get a contract instructed. After the draft contract is agreed by all parties it can be signed and the project can begin!
For more information about
EIRA and how the project can help your business, please contact the team through the website at www.eira.ac.uk
or call 01206 876015.