We clearly live in a golden age for innovation as, despite backward-looking concerns, funding and ideas feed off each other to support the next wave of productivity and products and services.

In the UK, Aria (the Advanced Research and Invention Agency) launched this week with £800m pledged and modelled on the US’s defence and energy agencies.

The move as part of the UK’s Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, also sees the National Security Strategic Investment Fund (NSSIF), the government’s “corporate venturing arm” for dual-use advanced technologies in areas of strategic importance, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and sensor technology, is expected to play a role in fostering technological innovation.

Across the channel and the European Commission (EC) has begun its €10bn ($12bn) grant and equity investment programme for startups looking for funding between 2021 and 2027.

This period covers the so-called Horizon Europe budgetary period for the European Union, which the commission administers.

The EC  has allocated €3bn to the European Innovation Council’s (EIC) equity fund to scale up innovative startups and small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs).

The EIC also includes research on emerging technologies with an accelerator programme as well the EU Prize for Women Innovators, European Social Innovation Competition, European Innovation Procurement Awards and the  European Capital of Innovation Awards.

The EIC follows its three-year pilot under the prior Horizon 2020 budget period when the €3.5bn programme supported more than 5,000 SMEs and startups, as well as over 330 research projects.

The funding opportunities announced on Thursday in the first work programme of the EIC include:

  • EIC Accelerator financing, worth €1bn, for startups and SMEs through blended finance combining equity (or quasi-equity such as convertible loans) between €500,000 and €15m through the EIC Fund, with grants of up to €2.5m. Out of the €1bn, €495m is earmarked for breakthrough innovations for the European Green Deal and for strategic Digital and Health Technologies.
  • EIC Pathfinder for multi-disciplinary research teams, worth €300m, to undertake research with the potential to lead to technology breakthroughs. Research teams can apply for up to €4m in grants. The bulk of the funding is awarded through open calls with no predefined thematic priorities, while €132m is allocated to tackle five Pathfinder challenges: self-aware artificial intelligence (AI), tools to measure brain activity, cell and gene therapy, green hydrogen, and engineered living materials.
  • EIC Transition funding to turn research results into innovation opportunities, worth €100m. This first EIC Transition call will focus on results generated by EIC Pathfinder pilot projects and European Research Council Proof of Concept projects, to mature the technologies and build a business case for specific applications.

All projects of the EIC have access to Business Acceleration Services, which provide coaches, mentors and expertise, partnering opportunities with corporates, investors and others, and a range of services and events.

From 1 April, EIC will be merging with the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, which manages the EU’s SME support programmes, to form EISMEA (European Innovation Council and SMEs).

This new agency, headed by the current chief of the EIC taskforce, Jean-David Malo, will distribute grant funding on behalf of the EIC, while equity investments will continue to be managed by the EIC Fund, according to news provider Science Business.

But, perhaps naturally, the biggest boosts have come from the US and China. President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed on 11 March focuses more on recovery of restaurants and protection than venture capital for entrepreneurs. But Biden also has a clean-energy plan that calls for a $2 trillion investment in clean energy and sustainable infrastructure to get to net-zero emissions by 2035 through innovations in alternative energy development, electric vehicles, and construction.

China has agreed its 14th five-year plan, which calls for increased investment in a number of emerging sectors, from cryptocurrencies to quantum computing and from 5G communications to clean technology, according to data provider Pitchbook in its analysis.

China’s public-private investment funds – known as guidance funds – managed RMB5.65 trillion (about $873bn) at the end of 2020, according to research group Zero2IPO, while specified sectors gain tax breaks and other support.

Security is a government’s main focus and whether physical, cyber or climate, actions and innovations in one technology will spill over to the others.