Lisa Gibbs, from the University of Essex’s Research and Enterprise Office, explains how EIRA, a project backed by seven Universities and a host of other organisations, helps businesses take advantage of the opportunities offered by advances in Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology and digital creativity.
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.”
Working with a University for the first time may seem a little overwhelming, but more and more businesses are finding ways to collaborate with academics to increase their competitive edge. We caught up with Emma Wakeling from the University of Essex to find out more about the processes a business goes through when applying for funding through EIRA.
“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 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 two 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 six weeks of submission, and, if it’s positive, will do work behind the scenes to get a contract instructed. After all parties agree the draft contract, it can be signed, and the project can begin!
A great example of how EIRA can help the digital creative sector to innovate is through ‘the Mystery of the Raddlesham Mumps’ project that was awarded funding from Essex County Council, the Arts Council and EIRA in January 2019.
Based on renowned poet Murray Lachlan Young’s brand new epic poem of the same name, the project involved a team of creatives developing a live show that is currently touring venues across the region and beyond. EIRA have supported this immersive show by funding research into the use of virtual reality (VR) technology on audience experience. With growing interest in the use of immersive technologies, EIRA-backed research has led to the development of a pre- and post-show wraparound VR game that compliments and enhances the darkly gothic performance.
The EIRA Grant Review Panel was impressed by the ideas in the proposal and were pleased the University could share expertise to enhance the impact of VR and other immersive technologies on performance. They were also keen to support the commercialisation of a multi-platform model and develop how it can be used to reach new audiences. Vanessa Cuthill, Director of the Research and Enterprise Office at the University of Essex, said: “We are delighted to be investing in and providing academic expertise to support Murray’s ‘Raddlesham Mumps’ project through our new EIRA programme. This is the first EIRA Grant for the R&D award and our first Digital Creative project. The EIRA team are excited by Murray’s innovative ideas for applying technology to the ‘Raddlesham Mumps’ experience and for exploring transmedia storytelling. We can’t wait to see how the project unfolds and how the data gathered from the research can steer future collaborations.”