UK Government announces plans for ARIA: a high risk, high reward research agency

The UK government is set to launch an independent research agency to support the development of new technologies. The Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) will fund “high-risk, high-reward” research to secure the country’s position as a global science superpower.

While a launch date is not yet available, the Government expects ARIA to be fully operational by 2022. It will complement the work of the UK’s existing Research and Innovation body, UKRI, and build on the government’s R&D Roadmap. The agency will receive £800 million of government funding over the course of this Parliament.

How will it work?

ARIA will be independent of government and led by prominent, world-leading scientists. It will benefit from additional flexibility and speed, thanks to the simplification of R&D bureaucratic models. This will equip the agency to identify the most ambitious, cutting-edge areas of research and technology. In turn, these projects will lead to the creation of highly skilled jobs across the country.


The UK has a long history of research and innovation. For example, Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing pioneered early predecessors of the computer, Thomas Newcomen and James Watt transformed travel by creating steam engines, and Frank Partridge helped save millions of lives by developing the first portable defibrillator. The UK government hopes that the creation of ARIA will continue this tradition.

The new agency is based on models that have proved successful in other countries, particularly the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) model. ARPA has enabled the creation of several transformational technologies, including the internet and GPS. Additionally, ARPA’s successor, DARPA, was a vital pre-pandemic funder of mRNA vaccines and antibody therapies, leading to critical Covid-19 therapies.

Following the announcement, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance said:

“The Advanced Research and Invention Agency will build on the UK’s world-class scientific research and innovation system. The importance of scientific innovation has never been clearer than over the last year and this new body provides an exciting new funding mechanism for pioneering R&D.”

We will provide further updates on ARIA as they become available. In the meantime, you can find relevant funding opportunities through UKRI’s Funding Finder.  Alternatively, sign up for our free monthly newsletter to receive our pick of the latest competitions direct to your inbox.

Source: UK Government

The start of Horizon Europe: European Research Council announces first funding calls

The European Research Council (ERC) has announced its first calls for 2021, kickstarting the EU’s next framework programme for research and innovation, Horizon Europe. This follows the adoption of the European Research Council Work Programme for 2021 by the European Commission.

€1.9 billion will be available through the ERC this year, giving 1000 top researchers the means to pursue frontier research. As in previous years, most of the funding will be allocated to early- and mid-career stage scientists and scholars. In addition, the funding will support jobs for around 6860 postdoctoral researchers, PhD students and staff employed in ERC-funded teams.

First Calls
  • Starting Grants – With €619 million available, the first call will open on 25th February. In order to allow researchers as much time as possible to apply, the call has an extended deadline of 8th April.
  • Consolidator Grant – The ERC Consolidator Grant call will open on 11th March and close on 20th April. It has a total of €633 million available.
  • Advanced Grant – Researchers can apply for an Advanced Grant between 20th May and 31st August. The call will provide €626 million of grant funding.
  • Synergy Grant – Synergy grants will not be available under the 2021 work programme. However, the ERC expects to open the first Synergy Grant call of Horizon Europe this summer.
  • Proof of Concept Grant - Proof of Concept Grants are not available under this work programme. A call is likely to open in the second half of this year.

Although formal agreements are not yet in place, applicants based in associated countries such as the UK, Switzerland and Israel will be able to apply on a conditional basis i.e., on the condition that their country soon reaches an association agreement with the EU.

RedKnight’s Co-Director, Dayne Hodgson, said,

“Adopting the ERC Work Programme is a significant and exciting milestone in the initial implementation of Horizon Europe. This important step will be the first from the latest framework programme to support promising early and late stage researchers in their pursuit of frontier research.

The UK has long been a leading player in the ERC programme; for example, UK-based researchers secured the largest number of grants in the ERC’s first post-Brexit €8.25 million funding round for proof-of-concept projects! We hope that the necessary agreements are in place in time for UK universities to participate fully in upcoming calls.”

If you'd like to discuss a potential application with one of our advisers, please get in touch today. Alternatively, sign up for our free monthly newsletter to receive the latest opportunities direct to your inbox.

Commercialising Quantum Technologies: funding available for germinator projects

Abstract quantum technologies background£1 million is available for high-risk, high-return quantum technology projects with defined commercial outputs. The funding is from the Commercialising Quantum Technologies programme of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). It aims to advance the commercialisation of quantum technologies in the UK through the development of early-stage quantum technology opportunities.

This competition is split into 3 strands: ‘Feasibility Studies R2’, Germinator projects (this strand) and ‘CR&D and Tech 2.’

Scope - Your Proposal

All proposals must identify a promising application of quantum technologies, a project to demonstrate its potential and a route to market. In more detail, your project must:

  • Identify a commercial opportunity
  • Quantify technological outcomes
  • Provide a roadmap of future exploitation
  • Exploit second generation quantum techniques

You should also identify any future work and funding that you will require to bring your project to commercial maturity.

Eligibility – Who Can Apply?

Firstly, your project’s total eligible costs must not exceed £50,000. In addition, it should last for a total of 6 months, starting by 1st October 2021 and ending by 31st March 2022. To lead a project, your organisation must:

  • Be a UK registered business, public sector organisation, academic institution, research and technology organisation (RTO) or research organisation
  • Carry out its project work in the UK
  • Intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

A research organisation, academic institution, research and technology organisation or research organisation cannot work alone, but they can lead a project if they have a UK registered business as a partner.

This competition is open from 10th February until 31st March. For more information, please visit the Innovate UK competition page or contact us.

Sign up for our free monthly newsletter to receive the latest news and opportunities direct to your inbox, as well as our Innovate UK application guide!

ISCF Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Demonstrators: £16 million available

Plastic packagingUK registered businesses can apply for a share of £16 million for ambitious demonstrator projects in smart and sustainable plastic packaging. The funding, which is from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, will support projects that demonstrate innovation at a commercial scale.

This is the Expression of Interest stage, at which there is no funding. Successful applicants will receive an invite to proceed to stage 2 and submit a full-stage application.


Firstly, your proposal should address widely known problems in relation to plastic packaging for consumer products. It must also include significant industry investment. Innovate UK is particularly interested in projects which address the UK Plastic Pact targets by demonstrating at scale:

  • minimised or reduced plastic packaging
  • refillable packaging and systems
  • sustainable solutions for film and flexibles
  • food grade recycled polypropylene and polyethylene
  • behaviour change leading to less packaging waste or higher recycling rates
  • solutions for problematic or unnecessary single-use plastic packaging items

Grants of between £1 million and £12 million are available for large-scale commercial demonstration projects. All projects must last between 12 and 36 months, starting by 1st February 2022 and ending by 31st January 2025.

The project lead must fulfil the following criteria:

  • Be a UK registered business of any size
  • Collaborate with another UK registered business, academic institution, charity, not-for-profit, public sector organisation or research and technology institution
  • Carry out its project work in the UK and also intend to exploit the results from or in the UK

Expressions of interest are due by 24th March and successful applicants will then be notified by 30th April. You can find more information on the Innovate UK competition page: ISCF Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Demonstrators. To discuss an application with one of our advisers, please contact us today.

Energy Entrepreneurs Fund: £11 million available

A new round of the Energy Entrepreneurs Fund (EEF) is now open for applications. Energy entrepreneurs can apply for a share of £11 million to support the development of technologies, products and processes in the areas of energy efficiency, power generation and storage.

What is available?

Funding is available for between 15 and 20 projects, with each successful bidder receiving up to £1 million. In particular, the grant funding scheme aims to assist start-ups and SMEs. Successful applicants will also receive Acceleration Support.

What is the EEF?

The EEF is part of the BEIS £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio. It has launched seven phases since it begun in 2012 and allocated a total of £72 million. Previous innovations include tech to anchor floating offshore wind turbines and the use of ash waste in glassmaking.

The competition presents an excellent opportunity for businesses throughout the whole of the UK. Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart, said:

“The chance to share in this funding is fantastic news for promising Welsh energy entrepreneurs.   The UK government is committed to achieving net zero carbon by 2050. We will do so by investing in pioneering projects, people and businesses, creating green jobs and opportunities for people across Wales.”

You can find more information on the Energy Entrepreneurs Fund here. Please note that you must register your interest by 26th February and then submit your application by 30th March. If you’d like to discuss a potential project with one of our advisers, contact us today.

You may also be interested in the Industrial Energy Transformation Fund, which aims to help businesses with high energy use to cut their bills and emissions through investment in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies. A new round will open on 8th March. Businesses can apply for a share of £40 million for feasibility and engineering studies, as well as deployment projects.

Farming Innovation Pathways: grant funding available

Birds eye view of farm - visible tractor and crops in fieldUK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs are collaborating on a new funding opportunity, Farming Innovation Pathways. The competition will be delivered through UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, Transforming Food Production. Up to £5 million will be available for feasibility studies and a further £7 million for industrial research projects.

All applications must address at least one of the four farming industry subsectors: livestock, plant, novel food production systems, or bioeconomy and agroforestry. There are a number of high priority areas, which can be found on the specific competition pages. You can find more information on each of the strands below:

Feasibility Studies

The aim of this competition is to evaluate the potential of early-stage innovations that tackle on-farm challenges, such as productivity, sustainability, and net-zero emissions. All projects should have total eligible costs between £75,000 and £250,000. They should start by 1st October 2021 and last between 12 and 18 months.

Industrial Research

The Industrial Research strand will support the development of novel high-potential solutions that tackle the problems farmers face. This competition is for collaborative industrial research only. While a project can be based anywhere in the UK, it must generate benefits to the English farming sector. In addition, projects must have total eligible costs between £250,000 and £750,000. They should start by 1st October 2021 and last between 18 and 24 months.

The 'Farming Innovation Pathways' competition will open on 1st March and close on 28th April. If you’d like to discuss a potential project with one of our advisers, please contact us today.

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£40 million available through the Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IETF)

IETF - energy innovation concept. Lightbulb shown next to coins and plantsThe Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IETF) will reopen for applications on 8th March with £40 million available across two strands: 1) energy efficiency and decarbonisation studies and 2) deployment of energy efficiency technologies. The IETF is a crucial part of the Government’s strategy for tackling climate change and reaching net-zero by 2050.

IETF energy efficiency and decarbonisation studies

Organisations can apply for funding to carry out feasibility and engineering studies into energy efficiency and decarbonisation technologies. Firstly, this strand aims to help industrial companies build a pipeline of future deployment projects. Secondly, it aims to reduce the costs and risks of either industrial energy efficiency or decarbonisation technologies.

The total eligible project costs for a feasibility study must be at least £30,000 and for an engineering study must be at least £50,000. All projects must start by 1st July 2022 and come to an end before 30th June 2024. A project should last up to 12 months if it is a feasibility study or up to 24 months if it is an engineering study. Additionally, the end-beneficiary of the study must be a single manufacturing site or data centre in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

IETF deployment of energy efficiency technologies

This competition aims to support the commercial rollout and permanent installation of energy efficiency technologies at industrial sites. Eligible technologies must have been proven to work through successful operations or be qualified through test and demonstration; this corresponds to Technology Readiness Levels of 8, 9 and above.

Innovate UK has provided the following list of eligible technologies for guidance:

  • monitoring and management equipment that improves the efficiency of processes
  • more efficient heat exchange
  • more efficient driers
  • energy recovery from waste heat
  • energy recovery from waste pressure
  • onsite resource efficiency measures to reduce wastage and optimise the use of raw materials

Your project should have a minimum total grant funding of £100,000, start by 1st January 2023 and end by 31st December 2024. At this point, you must have installed and begun to operate (or be ready to operate) the energy efficiency technology. In addition, your project work must be carried out at a single manufacturing site or data centre in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Both strands will close on 14th July 2021. For more information, please visit the competition pages: strand 1 and strand 2. If you’d like to discuss a potential application with one of our advisers, contact us today.

Horizon Europe Draft Work Programmes 2021-2027

Details have begun to emerge of what researchers can expect from the European Commission's next research and innovation framework programme, Horizon Europe. The final work programmes will not be published until April but the drafts give us a clearer idea of what the €95.5B programme will fund:

Pillar 1 - Excellent Science

The European Research Council - The ERC will continue to award Frontier Research and Proof of Concept grants, with the first funding calls planned for 20th May. Meanwhile, Synergy Grants are unlikely to be available until 2022.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) - In Horizon 2020, the MSCA helped develop training networks, promote staff exchanges and fund mobility programmes. We expect the MSCA to work similarly in Horizon Europe but a draft is not yet available.

Research Infrastructures - European Research Infrastructures (EU RIs) are organisations that facilitate excellent science by providing access to cutting-edge technology and resources. We are awaiting further information on EU RIs as a work programme is not yet available.

Pillar 2 - Global Challenges and European Industrial Competitiveness

Health Cluster - There are 16 calls for research planned for 2021-22. They relate to the following 6 topics: staying healthy; the environment and health; tackling diseases; access to healthcare; digital tools for health; and support for Europe’s health-related industries.

Culture, creativity and inclusive society - The cluster will focus on three areas of research from 2021-22: democracy and governance; European cultural heritage; and social and economic transformations.

Civil security for society - There will be calls for research into better protection against crime and terrorism, as well as effective management of external borders; infrastructure protection; increased cybersecurity; resilience to disasters; and strengthened security R&I.

Digital, industry and space cluster - Through fifteen research calls, the cluster will support enabling technologies which are important for Europe’s industrial future. The calls will include the following: increased autonomy in key-value chains, a secure and dynamic data-agile economy and human-centred development of technologies.

Climate, energy and mobility - In order to support the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the cluster will launch calls in six areas. According to the draft work programmes, they include cross-sectoral solutions for the climate transition, clean and competitive solutions for transport, and smart mobility services for passengers and goods.

Food, Bioeconomy Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment - There will be 19 funding calls from 2021-22 in the following areas: biodiversity and ecosystem services; food systems, circular economy and bioeconomy sectors; clean environment; land, oceans and water; and rural, coastal and urban communities.

Pillar 3 - Innovative Europe

The European Innovation Council - Firstly, the Pathfinder will provide funding for advanced research on breakthrough technologies. Secondly, the Accelerator will enable SMEs to develop and scaleup breakthrough innovations. In addition, the Transition programme will help build on promising results from the Pathfinder or ERC Proof of Concept projects. The EIC also includes other calls and actions such as Fast Track to Innovation (FTI) and the Horizon Prizes.


Widening Participation - There are three key lines of action to boost research performance in under-performing regions: building R&I capacities, advancing the free circulation of knowledge and strengthening the European Research Area.

If you’d like more information or a copy of any of the above work programmes, please get in touch. In addition, you can subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest information direct to your inbox.

“I’m applying for grant funding – what are my chances of success?”

"I'm applying for grant funding - what are my chances of success?"

Grant funding competitions are extremely competitive. In recent years, it has become more and more difficult to secure funding; since we founded RedKnight in 2015, we have seen a sharp uprise in the points an application needs to score to be successful. Success rates are a useful metric for understanding your chances of success before you start an application. In addition, many prospective applicants are eligible for more than one competition – thus, average success rates can be a useful means of differentiation.

You can find up-to-date statistics for some of the most popular innovation funding competitions below:

Innovate UK Smart Grants

Innovate UK’s Smart Grants competition typically takes place every quarter. The competition has two streams: in stream 1, projects should have total costs under £500k and take no longer than 18 months to complete. In stream 2, projects must cost more than £500k and exceed 18 months in duration.

The most recent available statistics are for the January 2020 competition, with the information released by Innovate UK following a Freedom of Information request. You can find this information through Stream 1 had a 16.2% success rate; Innovate UK assessed 2089 applications, of which 129 were funded. In stream 2, they assessed 351 applications. Of these, 23 projects received funding – equating to a slightly lower success rate of 15.3%. The average score of funded projects across both streams was 85%.

Horizon 2020

Horizon 2020 was the EU framework for research and innovation from 2014-2020. Overall, the UK performed well in this programme, with a success rate of 14.77%. The UK’s success rate is much higher than the EU average of 11.9%.

EIC Accelerator

According to a 2020 impact report, the EIC Accelerator received 9700 applications from 2019-20. Overall, the programme reports a 2-3% success rate, meaning somewhere between 194 and 291 projects received funding.

Eureka Eurostars

Eureka Eurostars has an overall success rate of 29%. The programme has made €1.75 billion of public/private investment since 2014.

The statistics show how competitive grant funding competitions are today. There is wide variation between different programmes; for example, Eureka Eurostars is much less competitive than the EIC Accelerator. However, you should never decide which competition to apply to based on success rates alone. Other factors, including scope and eligibility, are much more important; if you cannot fulfil these criteria, you have no chance of success to begin with. For help creating a high-quality application to increase your chances, please contact us today.

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Innovate UK Smart Grants: January 2021

A new round of Innovate UK's Smart Grants competition opens today, with a deadline of 26th May 2021. £25 million is available for disruptive R&D innovations that have the potential to significantly impact the UK economy.


Smart is Innovate UK’s ‘Open grant funding’ programme. Applications can come from any area of technology and be applied to any part of the economy. This includes the creative industries, science or engineering, and the arts, design and media. Projects can overlap with the grand challenge areas, although Innovate UK is also keen to support projects in other areas.

Your proposal must demonstrate:

  • A clear game-changing, innovative, and/or disruptive and ambitious idea leading to new products, processes, or services
  • An idea that is significantly ahead of others in the field, set for rapid commercialisation
  • A strong and deliverable business plan that addresses (and documents) market potential and needs
  • A clear, evidence-based plan to deliver significant economic impact, return on investment (ROI), and growth through commercialisation, as soon as possible after project completion
  • A team, business arrangement or working structure with the necessary skills and experience to run and complete the project successfully and on time
  • Awareness of all the main risks the project will face (including contractor or equipment failure, recruitment delays, etc) with realistic management, mitigation and impact minimisation plans for each risk
  • Clear, considerable potential to significantly impact the UK economy and/or productivity in a positive way
  • Sound, practical financial plans and timelines that represent good value for money, which will always be a consideration in Innovate UK funding decisions.

Your application must include at least one SME; they can be the lead or a collaborative grant claiming partner. The project must start no later than 1 November 2021 and end no later than 30 November 2024.

Your project must also follow specific rules based on its duration:

  1. Projects with durations between 6 and 18 months must have total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £500,000. They can be single or collaborative projects.
  2. Projects with durations between 19 months and 36 months must have total eligible project costs between £25,000 and £2 million. In contrast to shorter projects, they must be collaborative.

RedKnight Consultancy has significant experience in supporting applications for Innovate UK Smart Grants. You can view one of our most recent success stories here. For our assistance in putting together a competitive proposal, please contact us today.