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techUK webinar: Positioning the UK for Success: How the CEO of ARIA can drive forward innovation for the tech sector

Bringing leading figures from industry together, techUK discusses how the Government’s ARIA can be an asset for innovation in the tech sector.

On 17 June, techUK’s Policy and Tech & Innovation team brought together innovators and industry leaders from across the technology sector to explore what the tech sector believes ARIA needs to get right to achieve the ambitious, research and technology goals set by the UK Government.

We were joined by an excellent panel including:

  • Andy Nicholson, Director of Technical and Innovation, Thales
  • Jonathan Keighley, Director, Customer Process Experiences, Dassault Systèmes
  • Pete Stirling, CEO/Founder, STL Tech
  • Sue Daley, Director, tech and Innovation, techUK

What is ARIA and why is this important?

In March 2021 the Government announced the creation of the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA). ARIA will be a new independent research body that aims to fund transformational scientific research in the UK with a focus on high-risk, high-reward projects. 

Headed by leading scientists and innovators, ARIA will backed by an £800 million investment from the UK Government and will be given the flexibility and independence from Government to use their knowledge and expertise to identify and back ambitious, research and technology challenges. Able to partner with businesses and academia the agency could have a transformative impact on the UK’s innovation landscape. 

ARIA’s CEO will be central to the agencies initial projects and will become a major player in the UK’s discussion on technology and innovation when appointed.  You can read more about the agency here.

During our discussion techUK focused on what ARIA and its new CEO will need to get right to ensure it can position the UK for Success and drive forward innovation for the tech sector.

ARIA needs a clear focus 

The panel agreed that ARIA would need to select a few key missions to focus on to be a success. This was largely due to the £800 million funding pot the agency has been granted ahead of 2024 which is not sufficient to effectively back a large portfolio of projects, meaning the CEO will need to carefully choose a small number of key projects. Jonathan Keighley also highlighted that in his experience getting these kinds of projects off the ground will mean the agency will need a more efficient approach to approving projects so that the period from bid to grant can be shortened from months to weeks. However, in doing so the agency must be careful to ensure its processes are well scrutinised and transparent so that trust in ARIA can be maintained.

The difference between invention and innovation 

Andy Nicholson pointed out the difference between invention and innovation. While ARIA is defined as an invention agency its policy scope focuses on innovation. Andy said that in his view the two were subtly but significantly different with invention about driving funding toward creating new ideas while innovation was about using ideas to create more prosperity. He believed ARIA should focus on the later as the UK tends to do invention well but is weak on innovation. He said that the CEO should have a clear view whether the agencies approach should be invention or innovation.

ARIA and intellectual property 

The panel took a strong view that a major risk to ARIA’s success was the creation of intellectual property (IP) that ended up never being used. Panellists said they had experience of where contestations over IP had prevented value from being delivered from innovation. As a result, there was a shared view that the IP generated from ARIA should be public and available for UK companies and research institutes to use to generate value rather than sitting on a shelf or becoming the subject of legal wrangling.

Who should the CEO of ARIA be 

Pete Stirling gave his view that the CEO of ARIA should not just be an academic but should have experience in growing a company or successfully commercialising research using the UK’s existing research support system. The other panellists said that the attitude and aptitudes of the leader of a start-up/scale-up company would be suitable as making ARIA a success will require someone who can drive forward difficult, high risk, high reward ventures.

What would success look like for ARIA by 2024

ARIA’s funding is currently due to run out in 2024, the panel was therefore asked what does good look like by 2024. There was agreement that ARIA would not by 2024 be able to achieve the major technological revolutions envisaged in its long-term objects by this date, but should seek to show early success and prove the agency’s long-term value. The panel suggested a number of features that would define good by 2024. These included,  creating more opportunities for crowding in funding around ARIA projects, such as through the British Business Bank and venture capital funds, attracting world leading talent to work on ARIA projects, creating some initial spin-outs from ARIA projects to show early success and establishing a strong culture and philosophy around the agency that is seen as successful by its partners and Government.

You can watch the full panel discussion above or at this link on YouTube.


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