The EIRA project will support innovation in three themes - artificial intelligence, biotech and digital creative - in which the network has substantial expertise.

The three EIRA priority themes all support a known market need within the region and are aligned with regional economic plans and the national Industrial Strategy.  Each theme will be led by one of the Eastern ARC universities, drawing on expertise from all seven members of the EIRA network.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Led by University of Kent

Artificial intelligence (AI) (including data analytics, machine learning, deep learning, computer vision and machine reasoning) is a research strength for both Kent and Essex and is recognised in the Industrial Strategy an important driver for growth.

AI is poised to have a transformative effect on consumer, enterprise, and government markets around the world.  These technologies have use-cases and applications in almost every industry and promise to significantly change existing business models while simultaneously creating new ones with worldwide revenue forecast to grow from $600 million in 2016 to $38 billion in 2025.  Companies require innovation support to adapt their business models and on-board capability to future-proof themselves in this changing environment. This includes movement toward ‘industry 4.0’ models for manufacture to fully utilise the internet of things and cloud computing technologies.  Large companies are making acquisitions of technology start-ups to achieve this and for smaller organisations, the research expertise of universities offers a means to access expertise.

The three Eastern ARC partners already have several projects with SMEs delivering innovation in this space. In addition, the University of Essex is home to the Institute for Analytics and Data Science and in 2017 was awarded the first UNESCO Chair in Data Analytics and Data Science.


Led by University of East Anglia

Over the next 40 years, interacting planet-scale forces of change will come together, representing an unprecedented threat to the stability and security of our global food system. Addressing these substantial challenges will require disruptive and wide-ranging modifications of the agri-food supply chain. At the same time, the UK’s agricultural competitiveness has been in decline since the early 1990s. In response to this, the following trends are driving the sector: sustainable intensification, automation, precision breeding and waste management and recycling. Together with food and drink, agriculture contributes a Gross Value Added (GVA) of £3.5 billion, 14% of the total GVA for the New Anglia LEP (NALEP) region. Research institutes on the Norwich Research Park and Discovery Park in Sandwich, Kent carry out world-leading research into areas such as crop breeding and genetics, food processing and health. UEA’s research in agri-tech also has the fifth highest rating for impact of any university in the UK (2013 Witty Review). Agri-bio businesses including manufacturers, suppliers and supporting organisations form a key part of the sector and there are opportunities to form strategic partnerships with them around technological developments.

Biotechnology (including MedTech, Med Biotech and Industrial Biotech) addresses global challenges such as ageing populations, anti-microbial resistance, climate change, environmental impact and industrial efficiency and thus has applications in medicine, food science and agriculture. The East of England has significant clusters of biotech, industrial biotech, pharmaceutical and medical device companies working in areas such as the development of sensors, diagnostics, health promoting foods, surgical and therapeutic technologies, biofuels and industrial enzymes etc. ready to take advantage of research advances in cross cutting areas such DNA sequencing and synthesis, bioengineering, synthetic biology, robotics and IT. Within the EIRA consortium there is strong expertise in personalised medicine, regenerative medicine, genomics, and in the relationship between food, health and the microbiome. The strength in health and environmental biotechnology is supported by expertise in the social sciences looking at the economic impact and human interactions, particularly in the areas around agriculture and water. UEA also has significant research associated with novel approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, including leukaemia and myeloma, and prostate cancer. Additional opportunities exist at the interface between Biotech, MedTech and Materials Science with research on cell and tissue culture and novel drug delivery systems taking advantage of 3D printing and nanotechnology.

UEA benefits from its close relationship with its partners on the Norwich Research Park and is one of the members of the NRP LLP established to promote research, engage with businesses and drive the commercial development of the NRP as a location for new and inwardly investing companies. The NRP, one of Europe’s largest collaborative research sites, is a unique partnership between UEA, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (the national research funder for biosciences), Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (NNUH) and four independent world-class research institutes; the John Innes Centre, the Quadram Institute Bioscience, the Earlham Institute and The Sainsbury Laboratory. With around 12,000 people including 3,000 scientists, researchers and clinicians and an annual research spend of over £100 million, this concentration of multidisciplinary expertise ensures that the NRP is well placed to carry out internationally influential research and make a unique contribution to the knowledge and understanding of global challenges. For example, the new £80 million Quadram Institute will create new interfaces between food science, gut biology, human health and disease. Scientists working with clinicians will work closely with major national and international funding bodies and charities, industry collaborators and investors to ensure translation of its fundamental science to benefit patients, consumers and wider society.

Digital Creative

Led by University of Essex

Creative industries are of great strategic importance to economy of the eastern region. Within the South East LEP (SELEP) area, the creative economy accounts for around one tenth of the whole economy providing over 2.5 million jobs and generating over £2.5 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA). There are also significant assets, such as High House Production Park and the Thames Estuary clusters into East London.  For this reason, SELEP have established a group of key stakeholders, South Eastern Creative Network, including University of Essex representatives and has set out to government that Creative Industries is its priority area in the context of implementation of the Industrial Strategy.

Within the New Anglian LEP (NALEP) region, this is also a priority for providing high-value, skilled and future proof employment. Average salaries in Norwich for the sector are in excess of £40,000 with over 33,000 jobs across the NALEP area in total contributing over £1.7 billion to GVA. Within Norwich, incubators such as White Space are providing support for cluster growth and in Colchester the New Creative Business Centre and Ultrafast gigabit broadband connectivity have recently come on line. There is an important role for universities in catalysing this economic growth by providing support for innovation.

The creative sector is characterised by small and micro companies and, although support for company growth is important, it needs to be recognised that economic growth can occur through expansion of clusters rather than individual businesses. These small businesses frequently lack capacity and capability for innovation and through the schemes provided by EIRA, our partners can provide this specialist resource. In addition the roll-out of the University of Essex’s Gameshub initiative across EIRA partners will harness student and graduate expertise to form new start-ups along with seedcorn funding support.  With over 96% of the sector freelance, startup support and support in scaling-up is a critical part of enabling growth. TechEast will provide links to clusters in the East of England whilst the Digital Catapult will provide access to a wider network to support delivery.