Launching EIRA – funding to connect businesses with research power

Businesses are to harness the power of the latest breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, biotechnology and digital creative thanks to a new partnership between seven universities and colleges across the East of England.

The EIRA project – meaning Enabling Innovation: Research to Application – was awarded £4.7m from Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund and is now open for applications from businesses looking to innovate by working with academics.

The aim of EIRA is to support the national Industrial Strategy by driving growth and increasing productivity in the East of England by transforming the way businesses connect with universities and colleges.

The EIRA network is led by the University of Essex working with the University of East Anglia and the University of Kent, fellow members of the Eastern Academic Research Consortium (Eastern ARC) which was established to encourage research collaboration and training.

Vanessa Cuthill, Director of the Research and Enterprise Office at the University of Essex and Project Sponsor, said:

“As the lead institution, we’re excited that Essex researchers will have new ways to support businesses across all three key themes. With our reputation and experience in successfully connecting research expertise with business needs this project can be really transformational for our region.”

The other EIRA network members are Harlow College, Norwich University of the Arts, the University of Suffolk and Writtle University College.

Artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and digital creative are the key focus for EIRA with the network allowing businesses to access both expertise and specialist facilities.

EIRA Director Dr Kirstie Cochrane said:

“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.”

“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.”

With a range of majority-funded grants available, EIRA will help businesses of all sizes develop new products, services, and solutions. The project supports businesses operating in, or seeking solutions from, the three key areas. Support includes Innovation Vouchers to fund access to academic expertise and Research and Development Grants. More opportunities are in development, with Innovation Internships and start-up microfinance.

Dr Karen Smith, EIRA Team Manager at the University of East Anglia, said:

“The EIRA scheme will leverage our expertise into strategic sectors for this region to help them and the local economy grow. Furthermore, the scheme will support interaction between UEA and local businesses that will result in knowledge exchange and innovations to support business growth in a skill poor region. Local companies will also benefit from the scheme helping to retain graduate talent within the region.”

Professor Philippe De Wilde, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation at the University of Kent, said:

“Strong university partnerships focus on research as well as innovation. Eastern ARC started with a focus on connecting researchers, but the Connecting Capability Fund has given us the opportunity to bring the best of our innovation support together. Artificial Intelligence, Biotechnology and Digital Creative are particularly well suited to businesses in the Eastern ARC geographic area. Integrated economies are stronger economies.”

Sarah Steed, Director of Innovation and Engagement at Norwich University of the Arts, said:

“We are excited that so many businesses have expressed interest in working with the specialist academics at Norwich University of the Arts even at this early stage of the project. High quality, creative design is at the heart of strong commercial growth for the East of England, and the EIRA project offers fantastic opportunities to work with new partners and across key sectors to achieve this.”

Stefanie Thorne, Head of Business Engagement and Entrepreneurship at the University of Suffolk, said:

“We are very pleased to be working within the EIRA project to support the connection of businesses with higher education across Suffolk and the wider region. There are huge opportunities here for businesses within the three sectors and the University of Suffolk is well placed to deliver projects that meet the needs of business and boost productivity through innovation.”

Dr Robin Gowers, Senior Lecturer at Writtle University College, said:

“With both technology and politics offering huge opportunities and risks it is vital that local educational institutions play an active role with businesses to offer both insights and practical applications to grasp the upside potential and also manage any downside risk. With over 125 years operating in the land based sector Writtle University College has the experience and expertise to help local enterprises understand what is going on and help to create future strategies to raise productivity and add value. We are delighted to be part of this exciting initiative.”

Partners from industry, regional membership organisations, and local enterprise partnerships strengthen EIRA’s offering. They include BT, TechEast, AgriTech East, Digital Catapult, South Essex Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), and New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (NALEP).

Businesses and academics interested in accessing EIRA funding for innovative projects can contact us at