New EIC Board holds its first plenary meeting

The recent inaugural meeting of the new European Innovation Council (EIC) Board, held on January 10 and 11, 2024, in the prestigious imec facility in Leuven, Belgium, marks a significant milestone in the journey towards fostering innovation across Europe. This event symbolises the commitment of the European Union (EU) to spearhead innovation and sets the stage for strategic advancements in European research and innovation.

Appointed by the European Commission (EC) on December 13, 2023, the new EIC Board, under the leadership of its President, Michiel Scheffer, holds a pivotal role in guiding the direction of the EIC. The Board’s responsibilities extend beyond advisory roles; they encompass shaping the strategy, work programme, thematic portfolios, and, upon the Commission's request, advising on broader innovation policy matters. This structure ensures a comprehensive approach to innovation, integrating strategic insights with practical implementations.

The EIC Board is scheduled to convene five to six plenary meetings annually. These sessions are crucial for deliberating on the EIC's strategic and operational frameworks and advising the EC on various matters within their mandate. The recent meeting marked the first plenary session with the new Board membership. The primary agenda was to establish the priorities for the Board’s work in 2024, especially focusing on strategizing and implementing the EIC's objectives for the latter half of the 2024-27 programme. This session was attended by Iliana Ivanova, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth, who engaged with Board members in a fruitful exchange on the EIC’s priorities within the broader context of EU policies and the mid-term review of Horizon Europe. Horizon Europe, the EU's flagship funding programme for research and innovation, is integral to the EIC's mission, underscoring the importance of aligning the EIC's strategies with the overarching goals of the EU.

The composition of the EIC Board reflects a blend of continuity and fresh perspectives. Members serve in a personal capacity, with their terms set for two years, renewable twice. This structure facilitates the rotation of approximately one-third of the members every two years, ensuring a dynamic infusion of ideas and experiences. The current Board, comprising 10 members with renewed mandates from the 2021-23 period and 10 new members selected from a reserve list, represents a diverse and experienced group of individuals committed to steering Europe towards a brighter, innovation-driven future.

The mandate of these new and renewed members, extending until December 2025, symbolises a period of opportunity and challenge. As Europe navigates through complexities of the modern world, the EIC Board's role becomes increasingly vital. It embodies a strategic think-tank, poised to influence the direction of European innovation, making substantial contributions to the development and implementation of policies that nurture research, innovation, and education.

As the Board embarks on its journey to shape the future of innovation, its decisions and strategies will undoubtedly play a critical role in determining the trajectory of Europe's innovation landscape. With a balanced mix of continuity and new insights, the EIC Board is well-positioned to drive significant advancements in research and innovation, ultimately contributing to the prosperity and competitiveness of the EU on the global stage.


UK Research and Innovation's Leap into Open Access: Empowering Knowledge Sharing

In a landmark move, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) ushers in a new era of academic openness. From January 2024, its comprehensive open access policy extends to monographs, book chapters, and edited collections, revolutionising the dissemination of scholarly work. This paradigm shift in knowledge sharing aligns with the growing global mandate for open access, marking a significant evolution in academic publishing.

Building on its 2022 policy for peer-reviewed research articles, UKRI now includes a broader range of academic outputs under its open access umbrella. The policy ensures that research funded by UKRI, a critical financier in the UK's academic landscape, is freely accessible to everyone. This democratisation of knowledge aims to accelerate scientific discovery and innovation by removing traditional barriers to information access.

The policy is a response to the scholarly community's call for more equitable access to research findings. It reflects a fundamental change in how research is shared, promoting transparency and collaboration across disciplines. The inclusion of monographs and book chapters is particularly notable, as these forms of academic outputs have historically been less accessible due to cost and distribution limitations.

The implications of this policy are far-reaching. For academics, it represents an opportunity to increase the visibility and impact of their work. Students, educators, and researchers worldwide stand to benefit from unrestricted access to a wider array of scholarly materials. This could particularly benefit those in developing countries, where access to academic literature is often limited. For the private sector, it will enable translation of research into innovative products, processes, and services to aid economic growth and job creation.

The response from the academic community has been largely positive, with many viewing it as a progressive step towards a more inclusive and collaborative research environment. However, there are also concerns about how this transition will be funded and managed, particularly regarding the financial implications for researchers and publishers.

UKRI's expansion of its open access policy marks a pivotal moment in academic publishing. By embracing open access, UKRI is not just enhancing the visibility of UK research but also contributing to a global movement towards a more accessible and equitable knowledge economy. While challenges remain, particularly in implementation and sustainability, the potential benefits of this policy for the global research community are immense. As this policy takes effect, it paves the way for a future where knowledge is a shared and accessible resource, fostering innovation and understanding across borders.


It’s official: UK to associate to Horizon Europe

After more than two and a half years of uncertainty and negotiations, the UK government and the European Commission (EC) have reached a landmark agreement to enable the UK's association with Horizon Europe. This momentous announcement brings a sigh of relief to UK and EU scientists who have been in limbo since 2021, uncertain about their future in collaborative research endeavours. This article explores the significance of this agreement, its implications for UK scientists and researchers, and the rocky road that led to this crucial decision.

A Milestone Agreement

The joint statement released today (7th September 2023) by the UK government and the European Commission marks a turning point in UK-EU relations, particularly in the realm of scientific cooperation. EC President Ursula von der Leyen aptly described this agreement as proof of the EU and UK's status as key strategic partners and allies. This collaboration reaffirms their commitment to being leaders in global science and research.

Under the terms of this deal, UK scientists will regain access to European Research Council (ERC) grants and will be able to coordinate academic-industrial consortia within the Framework program. This move ends the period during which UK researchers had to rely on UK equivalent grants and funding, and it paves the way for seamless integration into Horizon Europe.

Addressing Past Uncertainties

While UK academics have been able to participate in industrially-focused Pillar 2 projects of the Horizon program, the uncertainty surrounding the UK's long-term involvement caused UK participation in the program to decrease significantly. This reduction raised concerns that UK scientists might be excluded from vital European academic networks that had been cultivated over decades.

UK-based winners of ERC grants faced a difficult choice between relocating to the EU to maintain their awards or settling for UK equivalent schemes. This decision was fraught with uncertainty and implications for both individuals and the broader scientific community.

The Long and Winding Road to Association

The journey to re-associate with Horizon Europe has been characterised by twists and turns, and it has been far from straightforward. Initially, the Horizon association was agreed upon in principle at the end of 2020, as part of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that outlined post-Brexit relations between the UK and the EU. All that was required to formalize this association was the signature of both parties.

However, 2021 saw relations sour over the Northern Ireland issue, as the UK government threatened to suspend parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol. This protocol was designed to prevent customs checks on the island of Ireland and to ensure continued peace. The EC, in response to the unresolved Northern Ireland dispute, withheld its approval for the Horizon association.

The Horizon association became intertwined with broader political disputes, remaining elusive until February of the following year when the Windsor Framework addressed the Northern Ireland issue. Despite this progress, negotiations continued to stall, with the UK seeking assurances to prevent substantial financial losses from its late entry into the program.

Details of the Agreement

While today's announcement does not explicitly detail how negotiators resolved these financial concerns, it does mention a "temporary and automatic mechanism" designed to address any significant financial underperformance by the UK. If the UK contributes 16% more than its scientists receive in grants, this mechanism would activate. The UK is set to contribute "almost €2.6 billion" annually for its participation in Horizon Europe.

Additionally, the agreement confirms that the UK will remain part of the EU's Copernicus satellite system, despite initial concerns that the UK had already missed significant calls under the program. Copernicus plays a crucial role in understanding and addressing environmental and climate change-related challenges, making the UK's continued association valuable.

Euratom and ITER: The Missing Pieces

One notable absence in the UK's renewed association with European research initiatives is Euratom, the EU's nuclear research program. As a result, the UK will not participate in ITER, a multi-billion euro collaborative project located in France aimed at building a prototype fusion reactor. The decision not to re-join Euratom was guided by the UK's assessment that its industry's long absence from Euratom and ITER programs could not be reversed.

Instead, the UK will pursue a domestic fusion energy strategy with international collaboration, including partnerships with European counterparts. This alternative program is supported by substantial funding, up to £650 million until 2027, to ensure the UK's research interests and taxpayer funding align with its priorities.

Future Steps

The association deal reached between the UK and the EU will need to be ratified by member states through the Council of the EU, adding another layer of complexity to the process. However, this agreement signals a moment of reconciliation between the UK and the EU after the divisive Brexit debates that followed the 2016 Leave vote.

Conclusion

The UK's re-association with Horizon Europe is a significant milestone for the scientific community on both sides of the Channel. It marks a renewed commitment to collaboration, innovation, and scientific excellence. While challenges remain, including the ratification process, the agreement provides a glimmer of hope for UK scientists who can once again fully participate in Horizon Europe, ensuring the country remains at the forefront of global science and research. This development underscores the enduring power of science to bridge political divides and foster international cooperation for the greater good of humanity.


Horizon Europe guarantee: application and grant offer statistics

On behalf of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is delivering the statistic for 'Horizon Europe guarantee'. 

This data is updated each month and includes the total number of: 

  • verified applications submitted to UKRI, and the total grant value requested in these applications 
  • grant offer letters issued to applicants, and the value of the grant offers issued. 

The data is also divided according to the method used by UKRI to apply for the guarantee funds. 

 

Number of applications and grant offers made through the Horizon Europe guarantee up to 28 February 2023. 

Guarantee grant type  Applications submitted and verified  Value of grants requested in verified applications  Grant offer letters issued  Value of grant offers issued 
Collaborative Horizon Europe guarantee grants (hosted on Innovation Funding Service)  1,387  £614.0 million  1,206  £500.9 million 
European Research Council guarantee grants  211  £304.4 million  210  £301.6 million 
Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions guarantee grants  359  £82.1 million  347  £80.3 million 
Total  1,957  £1,000.5 million  1,763  £882.8 million

 

 

Apply for Horizon Europe guarantee funding 

Although the UK is in the process of associating with the programme, the "Horizon Europe guarantee" scheme offers funds to academics and innovators who are unable to get their Horizon Europe grant. UKRI is distributing the cash through its grant mechanisms. 

To be eligible you must: 

  • be based in the UK 
  • have been successful at applying for a Horizon Europe grant with final submission deadlines on or before 30 June 2023 
  • have been included on the initial grant proposal as a ‘beneficiary’ with an assigned budget 

Before you submit your application for "multi-beneficiary funds," the coordinator and the European Commission must have signed your grant agreement.  

For "mono-beneficiary grants," the Commission's financing offer must have been withdrawn, or you must send a letter saying that the "grant agreement preparation" process with the Commission has been terminated. 

 

Follow the specific guidance for your type of grant here: UKRI guidance for the Horizon Europe guarantee scheme. 

Source: UK Research and Innovation 


DASA launches two new Innovation Focus Areas

In order to achieve strategic goals, the Defence Artificial Intelligence Centre (DAIC) will enhance the capability of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) to use artificial intelligence (AI) effectively. A new Innovation Focus Area (IFA), Artificial Intelligence for Defence, is being launched by Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) and Defence AI Centre (DAIC). A purpose of this IFA is to invite proposals for innovative research projects aiming to implement AI within Defence and/or to overcome common barriers to implementing AI. This IFA seeks to use a variety of AI advances, including autonomous logistics, machine-speed decision-making, and human-machine teaming for military purposes, to significantly advance defence. 

 

Applying AI to address defence challenges: 

The UK's aim to adapt and utilise Artificial Intelligence (AI) at pace and scale for defence advantage is outlined in the Defence AI Strategy (DAIS). This IFA gives innovators the chance to recommend AI projects to defence in an effort to bring the best ideas from a diverse range of innovators. By using AI application to address defense challenges, the UK and its allies will be capable to maintain an advantage in defence and security.  Defence is willing to utilize the efficiency gains that AI is delivering to a variety of other industries. Examples of intended outcomes from AI include changes in: 

  • the quality and timeliness of intelligence data available to military commanders 
  • the effectiveness in planning and conducting operations 
  • reducing the risk to life of armed forces personnel through the use of uncrewed, autonomous platforms 
  • automating routine tasks to free defence personnel up to do higher value activities 
  • achieving better value for the taxpayer by making the business of defence more efficient 

 

DASA and DAIC are interested in funding proposals that bring significant benefits to defence through the use of AI. 

  • autonomous logistics and any research with the potential to significantly improve the efficiency of the logistics chain or increase availability 
  • exploiting operational data, e.g., to support intelligence analysis, or to protect the force. This could require using open-source data or classified data from any source, including sensors; if the exploitation of the innovation is likely to use classified data, your proposal would benefit from considering how this could be achieved (please note that no classified data will be provided) 
  • human-machine teaming for military effect (including the use of autonomous systems within the force, and the coordination of multiple crewed / autonomous systems) 
  • machine-speed decision making (e.g., to support operational planning and command and control) 
  • increasing efficiency, or how defence manages and supports its people and its systems 

 

Read the full IFA and submit a proposal. 

Source: Defence and Security Accelerator, www.gov.uk 


Has the UK-Horizon Europe Association reached a breakthrough?

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says, the moment the Protocol agreement is approved, negotiations on the UK rejoining the science research programme can start. 

In an effort to resolve the problems affecting post-Brexit trade and regulations in Northern Ireland, the president of the European Commission and Rishi Sunak have reached a "in principle" agreement to revise the protocol.  

Additionally, Ms. von der Leyen claimed that approval of the Windsor Framework would make it possible for the UK to rejoin the €95.5 billion (£84.1 billion) Horizon programme. "This Windsor Framework is fantastic news for scientists and researchers in the European Union and in the UK," she told a press conference in Windsor. 

Academics, lobbyists, and politicians are urging the two sides to complete affiliation as quickly as possible after 18 months of uncertainty as it appears that the main barrier to the UK joining Horizon Europe has been removed. 

According to MEP Christian Ehler, a rapporteur for Horizon Europe in the European Parliament, the Windsor framework was a significant development in the relationship between the EU and the UK. “If a large majority in Westminster supports this agreement, the UK will once again be a trustworthy partner for the EU, and we must immediately complete the UK's association with Horizon Europe”, he said. 

The UK government has consistently pledged that researchers and firms will get at least as much money from the EU initiative during the 2021–27 EU budget term if the UK is permanently excluded from Horizon Europe. In accordance with the TCA (Trade and Cooperation Agreement) , the UK would be permitted to take part in the Copernicus earth and space observation initiative in exchange for making an annual financing contribution of about €2 billion. 

 

Sources: SCIENCE|BUSINESS, iNews, EURACTIV 


EIC fund invests €331 million into European deep-tech companies

Since the last announcement in November 2022, the European Innovation Council Fund (EIC Fund) has invested a total of €331 million in 42 new deep-tech enterprises. Investment agreements have already been signed by 13 companies. A new type of computer vision software and robotics technologies for orthopaedic surgeons, visual search technologies for businesses and industry applications, breast self-reconstruction with patients' own tissue, innovative photonics, improved food production with reduced emissions, and a first miniaturised universal gas analyser for all renewable gases are among the pioneering start-ups that are poised to bring ground breaking innovations to citizens and businesses. 

 

As the EIC Fund is now fully operational, this represents a tremendous advancement. The EIC Fund has made a total of 77 investments totalling over €521 million in deep-tech firms since the appointment of an external fund manager in September 2022. These investments have helped high-risk start-ups launch and expand their unique ideas in key European markets. 

 

For start-ups and small businesses in Europe, the EIC Fund, the investment component of the EIC Accelerator, is a crucial source of capital. The EIC Accelerator grant financing of up to €2.5 million is supplemented by equity investments, which range from €500,000 to €15,000,000 per firm (higher in warranted circumstances). 269 out of the 378 chosen enterprises under Horizon Europe have so far signed their grant agreements. By signing grant agreements with chosen companies within 4-5 months, the EIC is now meeting the goal set by the EIC Board. 


Switzerland expelled from coordination body for European research infrastructure

Switzerland is expelled from the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) since it is not associated with Horizon Europe, the European Union's (EU) research and innovation initiative. Under ESFRI rules, members must be EU states, associated to Horizon, or an EU candidate country to be the part of it. 

Switzerland is deeply ingrained in the landscape of European research infrastructures. Additionally, it participates actively in associations like the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, the European Southern Observatory, and the European Space Agency. Switzerland hosts one of the world's largest scientific infrastructures, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), its exclusion is particularly problematic. 

ESFRI, which was established in 2002, publishes roadmaps for research infrastructure in Europe to ensure that nations don't build identical facilities and that development complies with scientific goals. Swiss researchers participated in a number of ESFRI working groups for its most recent strategy in 2021. But the Swiss Academy of Sciences has announced that these experts would no longer be permitted to participate in these groups. 

Researcher commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, said in a statement. “We are looking forward to renewing Switzerland's participation and re-engage at all levels as soon as possible, to allow for closer cooperation.”  ESFRI is currently having “a general reflection on its cooperation with third countries,” she said. The outcome, which could include changes to the rules that exclude the Swiss, is expected this year. But any rule change to allow Switzerland back into ESFRI “also needs to take into consideration the exploratory talks on the future of our relationship,” Gabriel added, referring to the wider EU-Swiss negotiations. 

Jana Kolar, ESFRI’s chair, acknowledged that research and innovation cooperation between the EU and Switzerland was part of “international relations” and so any return of Switzerland to ESFRI, even as an observer, “depends on the outcome of political decisions on the highest levels”. 

If long-term affiliation is impossible, Switzerland is considering alternative measures that would begin in 2024 at the earliest. 


DASA launches new programme to support defence innovation

The UK Government has launched a new £16 million fund to boost small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) defence innovation. The Defence Technology Exploitation Programme (DTEP) aims to bring SMEs and large suppliers together to solve defence problems.

What funding is available?

DTEP is delivered by the Defence and Security Accelerator in collaboration with Innovate UK. It offers companies grant funding of up to 50% of a project’s value to a maximum of £500,000 per grant.

Who can apply?

Applications are open to SMEs who are looking to deliver new innovations into the UK defence supply chain. They must:

  • Be based in the UK and plan to deliver their project in the UK.
  • Plan to partner with a UK-registered Higher Tier Supplier at the point of submission and for the duration of the project.
  • Have a project that aligns with one of the Enduring Capability Challenges.
How to apply

The application process has five stages:

  1. Identify: Once you have a defence innovation project in mind, you should speak with your regional DASA Innovation Partner and identify a Higher Tier partner for your application.
  2. Review: You should then complete an outline submission. This will be reviewed by an Industry Project Review Panel, and you will receive feedback and guidance from a DASA Business Relationship Manager.
  3. Pitch: Next, you will need to complete a full submission and present this to the Industry Project Review Panel.
  4. Assessment: The MOD will assess your proposal on its alignment to the Enduring Capability Challenges.
  5. Award: If your project is successful, Innovate UK will award a grant and the project can begin.
More Information

DTEP is open for proposals all year round, with cycles closing at 3-month intervals for the assessment of applications. The first outline proposal cycle will close on 27th October.

View the full competition guidance here or contact us if you would like to discuss a potential application.


Key changes to Innovate UK Smart Grants

This blog post provides an overview of the recent changes to Innovate UK’s Smart Grants competition.

What is Innovate UK Smart Grants?

Smart is Innovate UK’s open grant funding programme. It provides funding for game-changing and commercially viable R&D innovation that can significantly impact the UK economy. The competition typically runs quarterly, with up to £25 million available per round. The next deadline is 27th July 2022.

What are the changes?

According to Innovate UK, the changes reflect how important it is that the project has economic benefits and potential for successful commercialisation, growth and exports. The key takeaways are as follows:

  • There will be an increased focus on ‘game-changing’ innovation, as shown in Question 2.
  • Projects will not be funded if the technology is available or used in another sector.
  • There is a greater requirement to show how the proposal will lead to a significant return on investment for the UK taxpayer.
  • Applicants must explain why they need Smart funding to succeed (over other routes of investment).
  • Projects will not be funded if other Innovate UK funding support is available and deemed more appropriate.
  • Applicants must demonstrate their capability to deliver the project in the required timeframe.

Innovate UK has updated the application form in line with these points. There are now seven questions to answer, which you can find on the competition page.

What next?

Before starting an application, you should carefully read the competition scope, eligibility criteria, and application questions. You may also find it useful to watch the competition briefing event.

In addition, Innovate UK recently revealed that around 50% of all Smart Grant applications aren’t right for funding! As a result, they have released a five-question checklist for prospective applicants to consider.

How can RedKnight help?

RedKnight can help you prepare a competitive application. Not only will this save you time, with grant applications taking an average of 6-10 weeks to complete in-house, but it will also increase your chances of success! You can view a selection of our case studies here. In addition, we can provide application reviews and support with resubmissions.

If you are looking for support with an Innovate UK Smart Grant application, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us in order to arrange a free consultation.