ARIA – setting a new theme tune for UK innovation

08 October 2021

In the March 2020 Budget, the Government committed to spend £800m to support UK innovation to be managed by a new UK research funding body – draft legislation to create the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) is now passing through Parliament.

Which research areas will ARIA invest in?

The Government’s initial remit for the new agency is to focus on:

“…projects with potential to produce transformative technological change, or a paradigm-shift in an area of science.”

The Government acknowledges that the research will be in new areas of science and will inevitably have a high risk of failure.

How will ARIA operate?

The Government intends ARIA to operate along similar line to the US DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) – although its remit will be much wider. ARIA is intended to have the “maximum autonomy” over its research and project choices and operational procedures and independently led by “the highest-calibre researchers, from public and private spheres”. Therefore, although it will have many touchpoints with the existing UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) agency, it will operate independently from it.

How will funding programs work?

It is important to note that ARIA funding is not intended to replace existing research funding from the Government but rather to extend it into high risk areas where the long term rewards are potentially high.

There are many specific details yet to be determined, however, it is envisaged that ARIA will adopt a mix of funding structures including:

  • Challenge prizes for specific technological breakthroughs
  • Seed funding
  • Traditional grant funding
  • Equity investment in start-ups and spin out companies
  • Co-investment with private research financers (within defined parameters)
  • Academic and entrepreneurial Fellowships.

As an independent body, ARIA will have the autonomy to commit to longer term funding for specific projects to simplify grant administration and bring more financial stability to long term projects.

When will ARIA get started?

It is expected that ARIA will open for business during 2022 and a provision in the current ARIA Bill would not allow it to be dissolved by the Government for 10 years.

Businesses that already have or can build close relationships with universities and other research bodies may well be able to benefit from ARIA funding in the next few year so should keep up to date with developments as ARIA is launched.

For help and advice on UK grant funding for innovation please get in touch with Steven LevineIsaiah Saibu or your usual BDO contact.