Launch of UK Advanced Research & Invention Agency is a welcome step

By Ellen Daniel

The UK Government has announced it is launching the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA) for funding “high-risk, high-reward” research.

The independent government-led agency will support research that could lead to ground-breaking discoveries, and will receive £800m in funding, as set out by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the March 2020 Budget.

It will focus on developing new technologies, discoveries, products and services to propel the UK to become a “global science superpower”, led by visionary researchers.

ARIA will follow a similar model to the US Advanced Research Projects Agency and, according to the UK Government, it will “look at how to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy and experimenting with different funding models”.

Essential considerations for ARIA's succes

Professor Sa’ad Sam Medhat, CEO of the Institute for Institute of Innovation and Knowledge Exchange (IKE Institute), commented on the announcement, saying: “The launch of the UK Government’s high-risk, high reward funding agency ARIA to accelerate the rate of invention and thus, innovation is a welcome step.

“Exploring the art of the possible to disrupt and create blue-ocean innovations is critical to improving our health, safety and wellbeing, and drive up the rate of growth in the UK. The ability to experiment without stigma of failure and learn from the experience is essential in pushing innovation boundaries.”

Medhat added: “In determining the role of ARIA, and the way in which it will function, a cautionary point needs to be raised with respect to co-creation and collaboration, and ARIA’s ability to maximise the tremendous opportunities that already exist within the UK’s innovation landscape.

“In ensuring its successful operation, ARIA will need to factor in guardrails in how it will curate and prioritise the portfolios of R&D investigations across multiple horizons, leverage and harvest the existing rich ecosystem of R&D in the UK and beyond, and accelerate the conversion and diffusion rates of inventions into sustainable innovations.

“Addressing these three questions will optimise the design of foundational elements, increasing the potential of hitting on transformative innovations, and ultimately yielding impact and value for the UK.”

Collaboration with the tech industry will be essential

While many have welcomed the agency’s creation, others have highlighted that the budget allocated is relatively small compared with other research bodies such as UK Research and Innovation.

Russ Shaw CBE, founder of Tech London Advocates & Global Tech Advocates, said:

“The UK’s continued commitment to innovation has always been encouraging to its thriving tech community. Undoubtedly, the launch of ARIA will be another vote of confidence for our digital businesses – particularly deep tech firms built on years of R&D – and our ambitious scientists aspiring to develop cutting-edge solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues.

“Despite ARIA being a long-term government aspiration, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will surely have reinforced the need for a vehicle allowing the technology and scientific community to pursue high-risk, ground-breaking innovations.

“Although we possess the access to capital, talent and academic excellence that makes the UK a prominent innovation hub, we are often positioned as lacking the ‘fail fast’ culture embodied by Silicon Valley. Initiatives like ARIA are a commitment to addressing this, although to compete with other major hubs from an R&D perspective, the initial investment indicates we are just getting started.

“At a time when the UK is looking to position itself as an innovation superpower, ARIA could play a key role in defining Britain’s international image post-Brexit. To make it a success, the government must work closely with the tech community and ensure that our renowned tech businesses are engaged so that the most innovative ideas can flourish.”

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