£118m to accelerate UK bright ideas into global opportunities

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Ideas emerging from UK research organisations will benefit from £118 million funding to jumpstart knowledge exchange, translation and commercialisation.

The Impact Acceleration Account (IAA) supports critical early-stage translation of UK research to real impacts, which:

  • transforms public services
  • creates new jobs
  • attracts private investment
  • forges new partnerships with business and charities.

Funding allows UK teams to unlock the value of their work, including early-stage commercialisation of new technologies and advancing changes to public policy and services such as NHS clinical practice.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is a government body responsible for delivering £8 billion research and innovation funding each year.

64 universities and research organisations

UKRI is investing £118 million in the latest round of IAAs to translate research across 64 universities and research organisations.

The programme, now in its 10th year, provided early-stage support to projects that are now established global businesses.

Previous IAA success stories include autonomous vehicle software leader Oxbotica that spun out of University of Oxford research in 2014 and the leading haptics and hand-tracking firm Ultraleap.

Ultraleap founder and CEO Dr Tom Carter used IAA support to commercialise his PhD research at the University of Bristol.

The company, that pioneers touchless digital interaction, now has teams of more than 150 people across its Bristol and California locations and is working with major brands including PepsiCo.

Bridging the gap

Ultraleap CEO Dr Tom Carter said:

Academic research and the priorities of start-up investors are different. To create a spin out company you need to bridge the gap between the two.

Impact Acceleration Account funding allowed us to figure out our target market and build a business plan to complement the technology.

This was key to raising funding and getting the company off the ground.

Entrepreneurial ideas and energy

UKRI Director of Commercialisation Tony Soteriou, said:

The UK is home to some of the brightest, most innovative and creative research teams in the world.

They have the ideas and they have the entrepreneurial energy to create businesses and services that could turn sectors on their head.

What they need, what every great commercial idea needs, is support in the critical early stages.

The Impact Acceleration Account is the catalyst that allows projects to grow to the next level, attracting investment, forging partnerships and creating jobs.

The breadth of UKRI allows us to work right across the UK’s world-class research and innovation system to ensure it builds a green future, secures better health, ageing and wellbeing, tackles infections, and builds a secure and resilient world.

Investment over three years

The £118 million IAA investment over three years focuses on maximising impact, knowledge exchange, translation, and commercialisation potential within research organisations.

An important feature of the scheme is that it empowers research organisations themselves to use the funding creatively and responsively to react to emerging opportunities.

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said:

Research and innovation has the potential to improve people’s lives and livelihoods, rejuvenating communities across the UK and tackling global challenges.

It is imperative that we harness that potential.

The path between discovery and impact is not simple and so it is vital that we provide flexible support that allows talented people and teams, and world-class institutions to connect discovery to prosperity and public good.

Our impact acceleration funding has a fantastic track-record in providing support that helps brilliant ideas become realities that make a real difference.

The new IAA offers a UKRI-wide simplified model with a single application with centralised reporting and monitoring that aims to improve strategic planning.

Arts and humanities research

It is the first time the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has participated directly in IAA funding, investing £5 million over three-years.

It represents an opportunity for AHRC to support both culture change, and the early-stage industry engagement that support research and innovation commercialisation.

Arts and humanities subjects are at the forefront of innovation playing a critical role within the innovation ecosystem.

For AHRC’s research communities, the IAAs will provide an important tool. IAAs will help enhance industry and enable researchers to work with the creative industries and government departments to generate real social, economic, and cultural value.

Harmonised IAA approach

By participating in a harmonised approach to IAAs, this funding offers a unique opportunity for trailing more diverse and innovative ways supporting industry engagement and innovation.

It will give arts and humanities researchers access to models and mechanisms that help to unlock the value of their work and can implement new and innovative approaches to their research.

This model contributes to the government’s plan to ‘reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education’ and is part of the wider UKRI ‘reforming our business’ initiative.

Ongoing IAA successes

IAAs have a proven track record of driving economic growth, creating jobs and attractive private investment.

They have been vital in turning the bright ideas of UK researchers into reality.

World leading haptics

Ultraleap, a spin-out company at the University of Bristol, has raised over £60 million investment in its world-leading haptics and hand tracking technologies.

IAA funding was initially used to develop refined prototypes and create plans to commercialise the technology allowing the company to apply for an initial £600,000 seed round of investment.

Its funded research on ultrasonic wave phenomena now has the potential to be licensed into a diverse array of markets including consumer electronics, home appliances and the automotive industry.

Autonomous vehicle software

At the Oxford Robotics Institute, the IAA has supported partnerships and trials of new technologies with industrial partners.

The IAA was vital in developing prototypes and utilising key technologies that led to the commercial success of the spinout Oxbotica, which employs 170 staff and has a turnover of £20 million.

The IAA enabled the team to explore diverse uses of its technology and facilitated its engagement with the UK Space Agency. It resulted in its code being licensed for the EXOMARS project.

Decarbonising transport

IAA funding has been used at Cardiff University to hold the Decarbonising Transport through Electrification summit event.

This event laid the foundation for a £1 million funded network, consisting of 16 industrial partners including:

  • National Grid
  • Aston Martin
  • five universities
  • Welsh government.

The network has funded 10 projects and collaborated on multiple international projects. It has hosted a number of webinar series to address the challenges of implementing an electrified, cost effective and holistically operating transport sector for the UK.

Developing new clinical tools

Funding from an IAA predecessor scheme supported researchers at the University of Leicester. Researchers developed a device using two novel ECG markers to assess risk of sudden cardiac death, an area of high unmet clinical need.

The support enabled the team to:

  • optimise the LifeMap programme by extending the technology to exercise ECG analysis
  • develop it into an automated software platform using artificial intelligence and machine learning approaches
  • assess its effectiveness in a small cohort of high-risk patients.

The team has since secured further funding through the Medical Research Council (MRC) developmental pathway funding scheme. The funding will translate the lab-based device into a non-invasive wearable clinical tool ready for a pivotal clinical trial.

New approaches to drug discovery

An IAA project at the University of Warwick supported the development of a new natural product discovery company, Erebagen.

Erebagen’s platform combines bioinformatics and synthetic biology to discover new medicines and agrochemicals much more efficiently.

The initial IAA project, which helped establish Erebagan’s business plan, was followed by a broad range of other support from the innovation ecosystem.

Erebagen has gone on to access further funding to continue to develop the company and skills needed, from:

  • Innovate UK’s ICURe
  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) Pathfinder and follow-on funding
  • Royal Society of Edinburgh-BBSRC Enterprise Fellowship
  • local and institutional support.

They have now filed their initial patent and attracted significant venture capital investment.

Rapid response to COVID-19

In March 2020, the government announced the ventilator challenge, a call-to-arms to meet the upsurge in demand for ventilators caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A cross-disciplinary team from King’s College London and University of Oxford was able to prototype, test and upscale a design for a simple, safe, and low-cost ventilator in rapid time. This was thanks to the flexibility of IAA funding.

By June, the new ventilator, the OxVent, was selected as one of 16 out of 5,000 bids to join the challenge.

From there, the team worked closely with Smith and Nephew Plc, who shared their expertise on medical device manufacture, to help bring the OxVent to regulatory and production readiness.

This team has now founded OxVent Ltd, a social enterprise set up to help developing countries meet ventilator demands during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Law change and new guidance protect patients’ best interests

IAA-supported work from Cardiff University into medical decision-making for patients in vegetative or minimally conscious states.

It has contributed to legal changes, new clinical guidelines and increased public awareness to ensure that humane, person-centred, robust decision-making processes are applied to patients who lack the capacity to decide for themselves.

This work identified many cases of doctors prescribing life-sustaining treatments (such as clinically assisted nutrition and hydration) without consulting family and friends on the patient’s wishes.

Frequently, patients were being kept alive for many years without any consideration of their best interests.

Following the IAA project, the law and guidelines are now clearer.

The researchers continue to work towards ensuring timely person-centred decision-making for all ‘coma’ patients as well as patients more generally.

From astronomy to security

Cardiff University used IAA funding to develop a proof of concept for the next generation of real-world environment, scanning for airport and border security, using ‘kinetic inductance detectors’.

The detectors can help it detect the equivalent of the heat of a 100-watt lightbulb at a distance of half a million miles.

The technology has been trialled in Cardiff Airport.

It is projected to enable up to eight times the throughput of travellers through security checks, delivering vast improvements in airport efficiency, cost savings and higher levels of traveller satisfaction.

The team have secured an additional £1 million funding and launched a spinout company, Sequestim. They are working towards securing ECAC and TSA certification, allowing the technology to be officially used in airports around Europe.

Further information

In addition, research organisations interested in funding to unlock the impact of economic and social sciences research are also invited to apply to the ESRC IAA. The opportunity is currently open and due to close 16 June 2022.

List of awards

Institute Total IAA funding (all research councils)
University of Oxford £7,249,457.51
University College London £6,540,140.11
Imperial College London £6,434,248.46
The University of Manchester £5,651,970.24
University of Glasgow £5,208,829.73
The University of Edinburgh £4,504,376.46
University of Birmingham £4,432,048.04
University of Cambridge £4,421,654.31
The University of Sheffield £4,290,786.08
University of Bristol £4,270,732.17
University of Leeds £4,001,798.48
University of Nottingham £3,830,459.57
King’s College London £3,065,876.09
Cardiff University £2,998,604.49
Queen’s University Belfast £2,810,197.48
University of Southampton £2,800,923.74
University of Warwick £2,271,976.08
Newcastle University £2,264,753.51
University of York £2,231,600.06
Swansea University £2,058,212.88
University of Liverpool £1,972,558.86
University of Exeter £1,804,045.58
Durham University £1,620,425.01
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine £1,614,600.00
University of Dundee £1,614,600.00
Heriot-Watt University £1,609,111.37
The Francis Crick Institute £1,490,400.00
Lancaster University £1,416,293.62
University of Strathclyde £1,372,029.68
University of Leicester £1,342,000.00
UK Dementia Research Institute £1,242,000.00
University of Surrey £1,207,169.62
University of St Andrews £1,163,041.04
University of Bath £1,056,602.66
Queen Mary University of London £1,046,573.65
University of Huddersfield £1,008,370.77
University of East Anglia £946,800.00
University of Kent £850,000.00
University of Hull £840,000.00
University of Plymouth £757,546.47
Institute of Cancer Research £745,200.00
Loughborough University £635,275.00
London Institute of Medical Sciences £621,000.00
Aston University £580,971.13
Aberystwyth University £570,000.00
Ulster University £450,000.00
University of Sussex £450,000.00
Bath Spa University £450,000.00
Museum of London Archaeology £450,000.00
Royal College of Art £450,000.00
Teesside University £450,000.00
The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London £450,000.00
University for the Creative Arts £450,000.00
University of Brighton £450,000.00
University of Hertfordshire £450,000.00
University of Reading £450,000.00
University of the West of England, Bristol £450,000.00
Cranfield University £449,218.49
Brunel University £400,221.52
University of Sunderland £300,000.00
Rothamsted Research £300,000.00
University of Portsmouth £150,000.00
The Pirbright Institute £100,000.00
University of Essex £100,000.00

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