By Brigette Currin 7 minute read

We were very excited when four of our partner universities UEA, University of Essex, University of Suffolk and Norwich University of the Arts were awarded funding for a major programme to help businesses innovate by engaging with academic research capabilities. Although industry collaboration with academia is not new – Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) have been around since 2003, the new programme called EIRA (Enabling Innovation: Research to Application) is designed to make things easier, cheaper and quicker for SMEs looking to scale up their innovation efforts.

Launched this month and supported by Tech East, the aim of EIRA is to support the themes of the UK Industrial Strategy by transforming the way businesses connect with universities and colleges, thereby driving growth and increasing productivity in the East of England.

We caught up with Kirstie Cochrane, EIRA Director, to discuss the new initiative and how it can help businesses in the East of England.

KIRSTIE, CAN YOU TELL US THE THINKING BEHIND EIRA, AND WHAT TYPES OF PROJECTS IT SUPPORTS?

EIRA is a collaborative partnership funded by Research England through the Connecting Capabilities Fund. EIRA seeks to boost productivity in the East of England by connecting businesses in the region with EIRA University partners: University of Essex as the lead, UEA and the University of Kent.

As well as our three main universities, EIRA also partners with a number of smaller institutions in the region, including University of Suffolk and Norwich University of the Arts.

EIRA’s support is divided into three main themes: artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and digital creative, all three of which may be of interest to the Tech East community. Each university has a specialist academic who can advise on one of these topics (UEA is biotech, Kent is AI, and Essex is digital creative). But you don’t need to operate within these sectors to benefit from EIRA support — if you’re working on a project or problem under these themes, you can apply.

WHAT PRACTICAL SUPPORT ARE YOU OFFERING TO BUSINESSES?

EIRA is a collaborative partnership funded by Research England through the Connecting Capabilities Fund. EIRA seeks to boost productivity in the East of England by connecting businesses in the region with EIRA University partners: University of Essex as the lead, UEA and the University of Kent.

As well as our three main universities, EIRA also partners with a number of smaller institutions in the region, including University of Suffolk and Norwich University of the Arts.

EIRA’s support is divided into three main themes: artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and digital creative, all three of which may be of interest to the Tech East community. Each university has a specialist academic who can advise on one of these topics (UEA is biotech, Kent is AI, and Essex is digital creative). But you don’t need to operate within these sectors to benefit from EIRA support — if you’re working on a project or problem under these themes, you can apply.

WHAT PRACTICAL SUPPORT ARE YOU OFFERING TO BUSINESSES?

EIRA has a number of support options available to help businesses of all sizes. Larger companies may benefit from our research and development grants or innovation vouchers, allowing them to tap into academic expertise for AI, biotech, or creative digital projects.

Smaller businesses trying to tackle a problem may benefit from a workshop with one of our i-Teams (a group of interdisciplinary students) who act as consultants to brainstorm solutions — benefitting businesses, as well as providing students with valuable experience.

Our Innovation Internship scheme places a student within a business to work on a project, and our micro finance grants (up to £3k) can help startups get off the ground. EIRA also organises events, such as Hothouse Events at BT Adastral Park.

EIRA support is available to businesses based anywhere in the East of England. You can get in touch with the team through the EIRA website.

ARE THERE ANY BUSINESS CHALLENGES SPECIFIC TO THE EAST OF ENGLAND THAT EIRA CAN HELP COMPANIES OVERCOME?

Growth (measured in GVA) in Norfolk and Suffolk averages no more than 1.2% per year while in Essex it’s  0.6% per year, while, compared to the national GVA figure of 1.3%. There is a need for the region to increase its productivity, and EIRA can help with that. The themes we focus on (AI, digital creative and biotech) were specifically chosen because they reflect the types of innovative business disciplines on the East of England.

IF A BUSINESS ISN’T SURE HOW THEY CAN BENEFIT FROM EIRA’S HELP, WHAT SHOULD THEIR FIRST PORT OF CALL BE?

We will always try our hardest to help businesses where we can. If you’re not sure whether EIRA can benefit your business, I urge you to make contact through our website. We can arrange for one of our knowledge exchange team to get in touch to talk you through what we can offer.

We then quizzed Don Shaw-Case and Emma Wakeling on their roles in EIRA – Don is the lead on AI for EIRA at the University of Kent, while Emma is the digital creative lead at the University of Essex – the two themes most likely to be relevant to the Tech East community.

DON, HOW DOES THE AI TOPIC FIT IN TO THE EIRA CONSORTIUM?

The field of Artificial Intelligence is so varied and has huge potential to bring performance and productivity benefits to businesses of all sizes in any industrial sector. The EIRA project provides businesses with the opportunity to work on projects in collaboration with world class academics and benefit from the potential of their research and the expertise on offer from universities.

My role is one of an enabler, guiding, supporting and facilitating businesses to work in partnership with academics from across the seven EIRA consortium universities, on projects with real commercial potential.

Focused on the artificial intelligence theme, I have the opportunity to work alongside academic experts from a range of topics within the field of computational intelligence. Many of these academics are working on world leading, cutting-edge research. As a computer scientist myself, it’s very exciting as is helping businesses realise and appreciate the value in the research academics from across the EIRA consortium are achieving.

EMMA, CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE DIGITAL CREATIVE TOPIC WITHIN EIRA?

As the Knowledge Exchange Manager for Digital Creative, my role is to support entrepreneurs and organisations in the East of England. I work with businesses on digital creative projects to either tackle a problem or grow their business. I also work with digital creative organisations directly to identify the type of support and knowledge they require to drive their business forward.

Armed with an outline project, I liaise with colleagues across the EIRA network and directly with University of Essex academics to find suitable experts with the skills and appetite to collaborate on the project. Following this we will introduce the business to the interested parties who maybe from multiple university partners. This allows an understanding of what is possible within the project to be developed and helps to build a timeframe and firm project activities. After this I’m on hand to support the development of the application right through to submission and delivery.

Digital Creative is an important focus for government at the moment, with huge potential for growth. EIRA can assist this through working on projects in the following areas:

  • Digitally enabled creative experimentation and distribution: VR, AR, mixed realities, personalising the live experience
  • Audience development through improved data analysis or development of new digitally led practice. For example, ‘wrap around’ digital content as a taster for live experience
  • Using innovation to derive new business models or working practices
  • Delivering new income streams and cross sector innovation, focussing on key areas such as ageing society, arts, and health and wellbeing

 

The EIRA programme runs until March 2020 and may be oversubscribed so our message is – get in early, speak to an adviser and start your accelerated innovation journey today!

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