Nature Computes Better: Opportunity seed funding call

Are you sitting on a world-changing idea?

Intro to opportunity seeds

Breakthroughs require finding people who think differently about what’s possible – and empowering them to follow their vision.

To support scientific and technological breakthroughs, outside of programmes, ARIA Programme Directors can award opportunity seeds to support ambitious research aligned to the opportunity spaces they’ve identified. To understand how opportunity seeds work within our model, see how we’re working.

Nature Computes Better funding call

Programme Director: Suraj Bramhavar

In Nature Computes Better, we’re looking to fund high potential proposals with between £10k and £500k each. We initially expect to fund up to 10 opportunity seeds in this space.

We’re looking for bold ideas that could challenge assumptions, open up new research paths, or provide steps towards new capabilities. If you have an important idea you’re obsessed with, but you don’t currently have the resources or support to take it forward, we’d like to hear from you.

Ideas could come from anywhere, so we welcome applications from individuals and teams who are early in their career or who have atypical backgrounds. We care more about your idea and your intrinsic motivation than we do about your CV.

To help you decide whether this is the right funding call for you, here’s some guidance on the scope:

In scope:

 

  • Ideas that sit within the Nature Computes Better opportunity space. By this, we mean your proposal should show how your idea either aligns with or challenges the assumptions of the Summary, Beliefs, or Observations in the opportunity space document.
  • Ideas that could change the conversation about what is possible or valuable.
  • Ideas that range from early stage fundamental research through to pre-commercial science and technology.

Out of scope:

 

  • Ideas that relate directly to Suraj Bramhavar’s goal of Unlocking AI Compute Hardware at 1/1000th the Cost, as described in his programme thesis.We expect to release a programme funding call in the coming months. If you are unsure about whether your idea fits into Suraj’s Programme thesis, ask us by submitting a question using the messaging function within ARIA’s application portal.
  • Ideas that are undifferentiated or that are likely to happen without ARIA support.
  • Commercial or close-to-commercial stage products.

Beyond this scope and our evaluation criteria below, we don’t have preconceptions about what ideas you might send our way. You don’t need to contort your project to fit our goals: we want to hear what you really want to do.

If you require an accessible version of any of the documents associated with this funding call, please click here.

If you’d like to download this seed funding call as a PDF to view offline, please click here.

The Application

We’ve designed a short and straightforward application. We hope you can spend no more than 2-3 hours writing it, though you may wish to spend more time thinking through your idea before applying.

Part 1: Core Application

This is the main part of the application, which consists of five questions about you and your idea. We’ll base our initial shortlist and selection on this part, so try to make it clear why your idea is important.

Your proposal can be up to 1200 words. Optionally, you may include diagrams or graphics as part of your proposal. The total proposal can be up to three pages.

The questions are (click here to see guidance on answering each question):

  1. What do you want to do?
  2. Why is it of scientific or technological importance?
  3. Why hasn’t it been done yet?
  4. How do you plan to make it happen?
  5. Why are you the right person or team to work on it?

Part 2: Timeline, budget and administrative questions

Here you can provide a rough timeline and budget. If you’re not sure, you can put a ballpark estimate and we can work out details later in the process. We also need you to answer a few more questions, such as which country you plan to operate from.

These can be found under additional questions.

Read the application guidance here.

Criteria

Once you have submitted your application, it will pass through an initial review to ensure it is within the opportunity space identified above. At this stage we will carry out some checks to verify your identity and review any national security risks.

If a submission is not considered to be within the opportunity space or is outside of the scope, it will be rejected prior to a full review, and you will be notified accordingly.

We will evaluate the proposal against the criteria outlined below, rather than scoring each answer separately. We expect proposals to spike against our criteria, and to have different strengths and weaknesses. Final selection will be based on an assessment of the proposal as a whole.

In evaluating your proposal, we’ll consider the following criteria:

  1. Importance and vision of the proposal.
    We’re looking for ambitious and/or consensus-shifting ideas that have the potential to change the conversation about what’s possible or valuable. So we want to understand: if your idea worked out (and we know it might not), would we learn or demonstrate something important? Might it provide a step towards unlocking an important scientific or technical capability? If initial results are promising, would we want to double down on the bet with additional funding or support?
  2. Our confidence that the individual or team can deliver on the proposal.
    This doesn’t mean your CV or credentials. Instead, we’ll be looking for whether you can demonstrate deep problem knowledge, a well-considered plan, and intrinsic motivation to work on the idea.
  3. Relevance to ARIA.
    We’re looking to support ideas that would be unlikely to happen without us; for example, because they are particularly speculative or are underserved by other funders. We also want to enrich the opportunity space, so we will consider the proposal’s potential to diversify skill sets and backgrounds that can contribute to the space.

As part of our evaluation, we will also consider:

  • Whether the proposed plan or experimental design is likely to deliver on the goals of the proposal.
  • The reasonableness and realism of the proposed budget and timeline, to the extent appropriate.
  • If you’re not currently operating in the UK we’ll also assess the extent to which the proposed work will benefit the UK.

Timelines

Please note that applications for Round 1 are now closed. Stay updated on Round 2 by following us on Twitter/LinkedIn, and sign up here to get real-time updates about all ARIA opportunity spaces.

This call for opportunity seed proposals was initially open for two months, and may be extended to add additional rounds. We will review each application on a rolling basis, with two funding decision points in February and March as detailed below.

As this is our first opportunity seed call, we may update timelines based on the volume of responses we receive or other learnings.

Round 1 Round 2
Round 1 applications open. We recommend creating an account on our application portal at least 1 day before applying, or by 15.02.24.11.01.24Round 2 applications open. We recommend creating an account on our application portal at least 1 day before applying. Early March
Round 1 applications close.19.02.24 (16:00 GMT)Round 2 applications due. Early March
Round 1 – Shortlisted / unsuccessful applicants notified. Shortlisted applicants invited to meet with Programme Director.w/c 26.02.24Round 2 – Shortlisted / unsuccessful applicants notified. Shortlisted applicants invited to meet with Programme Director.March
Round 1 – Final award decision; successful/unsuccessful applicants notifiedw/c 04.03.24Round 2 – Final award decision; successful/unsuccessful applicants notifiedMarch
Round 1 – Agreement negotiation & signature targetby 28.03.24 Round 2 – Agreement negotiation & signature targetApril

Guidance

Part 1: Core application

How to format your proposal

  • Content layout: A short title, followed by each application question and your answer.
  • Word count: No longer than 1200 words (the questions are not included in the maximum word count).
  • Page count: No longer than three pages, including diagrams.
  • Font: Arial. Colour: Black. Size: min 11pt.
  • Margins: At least 0.5 inches on all sides
  • File type: PDF

Guidance on answering the questions

 

  • Where possible, be concrete and provide justifications for any claims you make.
  • Write your application with simple and clear language that would be understandable to an expert from an adjacent field.
  • Remember to review the evaluation criteria shared above.

 

In addition, we’ve provided a few prompts below that might help spark your answers.

 

Application

Guidance

What is the title of your proposal?Keep your title short, ideally less than one line.
What do you want to do?
  • What’s the hunch or big idea you can’t get off your mind? Is there a problem space you want to explore? A hypothesis you want to test? A new method, tool, or technology you want to create?
  • How does your proposal align with or challenge the assumptions of the Nature Computes Better opportunity space?
  • What will be the output of your effort?
Why is it of scientific or technological importance?
  • If it works out, how would it disrupt the current frontier of knowledge or supersede the state-of-the-art?
  • What capabilities or future work could it unlock?
  • Why do you want to spend your time on this?
Why hasn’t it been done yet?
  • Have recent developments only now made it possible? Has the research community overlooked it? Perhaps no one has put the pieces together like this before?
  • How is your approach different or unusual compared to what’s being funded or developed elsewhere?
How do you plan to make it happen?
  • Where will you start and what steps will you take?
  • What are the technical challenges?
  • What does success look like to you? If there are ways to measure it, do you have early thoughts on how you’ll do that?
Why are you the right person (or team) to work on it?
  • Where does your insight come from?
  • Do you have any examples that showcase your motivation, niche expertise, or ability to commit?
  • If you’re looking to extend your team, what key expertise should the next member bring?
[Optional] If you would like, you can include diagrams or graphics as part of your application.Consider including one or more visual aids that help us understand your innovation. Examples could include: a diagram, schema, graph, graphical abstract, etc.

Part 2: Timeline, budget and administrative questions

How to format your answers

You can fill out these questions directly in the application portal, so there’s no need to format them in a particular way.

Guidance on answering the questions

Application questions

Guidance

What timeframe do you think you’ll need for your proposed work?
  • There is no minimum length for a proposed project. The maximum length is 36 months.
We value speed, so if you think you could do the work faster with a greater budget, we'd prefer you to bias your proposal in that direction. It’s ok if you’re not sure – you can input a rough estimate or range.
How much funding do you need to bring your idea to life?
  • Please provide an estimate in GBP (inclusive of VAT where applicable and all other costs) of what you consider a reasonable funding amount for your goals. The minimum funding amount is £10,000. The maximum amount is £500,000.
Ask for the amount of funding needed to get your idea somewhere exciting. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious. It’s ok if you’re not sure – give your best estimate.
[Optional] If you would like, you can provide:
  • Alternative budget and timeline scenarios
  • And/or a breakdown of costs
This is not required. However, we recognise that you might want to provide two different scenarios such as a Proof of Concept vs a more expansive plan. If so, let us know what the two scenarios would look like, and which one you think makes the most sense.
Does your proposal depend on background IP (pre existing)? If yes, give us an indication of:
  • What background IP is required
  • Whether you currently have rights to that IP
Have you already secured grant funding for a similar project or are you currently in the process of seeking support from other funding sources for the same idea?If yes, tell us more about the funding you already have or are applying for.
Are there any other factors or restrictions that might impact your freedom to operate and deliver the idea?These might include, for example: potential conflicts of interest; import/export restrictions; security, ethical, legal and regulatory restrictions that you are aware of.
Are you planning to give a portion of the work to external subcontractors? If yes, let us know what work you plan to give to a subcontractor. Subcontractors are any proposed third parties that you plan to enter into a contract or agreement with for services necessary for the delivery or management of the project.
Do you intend to carry out the project as part of an organisation or as an individual? In the application portal, please select the option that best describes your situation and provide details where required.
Where are you currently operating from?If you’re not currently operating in the UK: We'd like to know your location and your perspective on how the funded project would benefit the UK either immediately or in the long term. Benefits may include:
  • enhancing economic growth in the UK.
  • fostering scientific innovation in the UK. (This could include where you are currently operating outside the UK, but you would want to conduct the research in the UK).
  • enhancing the quality of life in the UK (or both in the UK and internationally).

Opportunity Seeds FAQs

How do these projects relate to the upcoming ARIA programmes?
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Each ARIA Programme Director has identified an opportunity space that we believe represents fertile ground for scientific or technical breakthroughs. Within that opportunity space we will formulate a focused programme with specific goals and milestones.

Opportunity seeds enable you to propose ideas that are in an opportunity space, but outside the scope of a focused programme.

As an opportunity seed applicant, you can propose any project that meets the scope outlined in a specific seed call document.

If I apply for an opportunity seed, will that preclude me from applying for the programme?
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No, applying for an opportunity seed does not preclude you from applying for the programme or other ARIA funding calls. Remember that for any application, you should ensure that your proposal is in line with the scope and criteria of the specific funding call.

How much funding should I ask for?
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We provide funding from between £10k and £500k, inclusive of VAT (where applicable) and all other costs such as overhead. You should ask for the amount of funding needed to get your idea somewhere exciting. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious.

If successful ARIA will fund 100% of the costs, so you do not have to provide match funding.

How long can projects be?
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We value speed, so if you think you could do the work faster with a greater budget, we’d prefer you to bias your proposal in that direction. There is no minimum length for a proposed project. The maximum length is three years.

Who can apply?
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Ideas could come from anywhere, so we welcome applications from individuals and teams who are early in their career or who have atypical backgrounds.

Applications are welcome from:

  • Individuals (including those not affiliated with an organisation)
  • Universities and other research institutions (including proposals from students, postdocs and staff)
  • Startups and companies (small, medium and large)
  • Charities, not-for-profits and public sector research organisations

If you are an overseas applicant you should note that our primary focus will be on funding those who are based in the UK or those willing to conduct all or part of the project from the UK. However, funding will be available to applicants outside the UK if we believe the proposed project can significantly benefit the UK.

What is ARIA's approach to funding, including IP, budgeting, and contracting agreements?
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Please read our general funding FAQs here, for more information on:

  • IP
  • Budgeting, including allowable costs and Full Economic Costing
  • Our standard grant + contracting terms
  • Our template funding agreements.
Do I need my organisation's consent to apply?
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Ideally you should have your organisation’s consent prior to submission of your proposal. We realise this isn’t always possible, so we don’t require it at the point you apply. However, if your application is successful and you wish to conduct the research at your organisation, we will need their consent to formally agree the funding.

Who will evaluate my application and how?
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Detailed evaluation criteria can be found here.

The Programme Director along with one other technical expert from within or external to ARIA will evaluate each application submitted. We recommend writing your application with language that would be understandable to an expert from an adjacent field.

Any external evaluators will be subject to conflicts of interest checks and confidentiality agreements. You can find more on this below, under “how will confidential information be protected?”.

Supporting data, journal articles, blogs, code or other materials are not required, but may be referenced or linked to in the submission if they directly support your application. However, ensure that your proposal stands on its own.

How will confidential information be protected?
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Subject to the conditions of this call, ARIA will treat your proposal confidentially. You should provide enough information to allow us to evaluate your proposal, but you should not submit potentially patentable information before a patent application is filed or commercially sensitive information. If there is information that would support your application, but that you do not wish to disclose because you believe it may be patentable or commercially sensitive, please make this clear in your application.

We may enter into an NDA where you have been shortlisted and you want to discuss potentially patentable or commercially sensitive information.

Where possible, evaluators will be internal to ARIA. However we may choose to use external evaluators if we require specific expertise. Any external evaluators will be subject to non-use restrictions, confidentiality agreements and conflicts of interest checks. We will not use evaluators that present a conflict of interest.

ARIA Board members and advisors (as named on the ARIA website) are not part of the decision making process for ARIA research funding; as such, they will not have access to proposals.

When will I find out if my application has been successful?
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The timelines for the funding decision points are detailed in each opportunity seed call. Generally each opportunity seed will have at least two funding decision points. We’ll let you know if you’ve been successful or not as soon as possible after the decision point.

It might be that your application was not funded at the first decision point but may be reconsidered at a later decision point, if this happens we’ll let you know (you won’t need to submit a new application).

What happens if I'm not successful?
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We’ll let you know if you have not been successful in applying for ARIA funding. We appreciate that feedback on unsuccessful applications is important for applicants and we’ll endeavour to provide some level of feedback. However, depending on the stage that you were rejected and the volume of applications we receive, the level of feedback provided will vary.

Can the same application be submitted more than once?
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If your proposal was not successful at the first decision point we will not accept resubmission of the same proposal. If you have a materially different proposal you can submit a new proposal.

What happens if I’m successful?
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We’ll let you know if you have been successful in applying for ARIA funding for your idea. Commitment of the funding will be subject to ARIA carrying out some due diligence on you or your organisation and agreeing the scope, price and the grant/contract terms and conditions.

Once we’ve agreed the grant/contract we’ll give you the freedom to take the research forward in the way you think best, and we understand you may pivot your approach as you go.

We want to invest in understanding what you’re working on. At the beginning of your project, the Programme Director will meet with you to go deeper on your project. After that, we’ll have check-ins at least four times a year (with the Programme Director or a member of their team) to see how things are going.

This is a pilot initiative for us, so we’ll evolve it as we go. Our main goal is to give you freedom to work on your idea, but we’ll also be looking to build community – so this could involve connecting you with other funding applicants, or inviting you to events or workshops.

What happens at the end of my proposed project?
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We recognise that research is unpredictable, and often doesn’t fit pre-planned timelines or budgets.

Therefore, our approach is as follows: if your application is successful, we’ll agree a sensible scope and timeline together at the beginning. At the end of the timeline, we’ll review where you’ve got to relative to the scope, and plan next steps accordingly. If you have a compelling result, whether during or at the end of your project, the Programme Director may invite you to apply for additional funds.

We expect post-project paths to look different for each project. For example, the next step for your Seed project might be to:

  • Grow into a larger project, or even inspire a future ARIA programme.
  • Develop your research findings further with other sources of capital.
  • Share your learnings, whether you have positive or negative results.

Importantly: for many seeds we expect that, together, we’ll learn the approach wasn’t feasible. As long as we researched a great idea with a well-considered methodology, this is an excellent result.

Can I download this document as a PDF?
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Yes, you can download the full seed call document for the Nature Computes Better opportunity space here.

Still have questions?
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Your question may already have been answered — please check our list of the questions you’ve asked us so far. We’ll continue to update this list on a regular basis. If you still have questions, please contact us at tenders@aria.org.uk.

How to apply

Before submitting an application we strongly encourage you to read this seed call in full, as well as the general ARIA funding FAQs.

If you have any questions relating to the opportunity seed call, please submit them using the messaging function within ARIA’s application portal. Any questions or responses containing information relevant to all applicants will be provided to everyone that has started a submission within the application portal.

Please read the portal instructions below and create your account before the application deadline, as specified in the timeline section above.

In case of any technical issues with the portal please contact tenders@aria.org.uk.

Please note: when the next funding application round is open, we will publish the links to apply here.

Stay updated on Round 2 by following us on Twitter/LinkedIn, and sign up here to get real-time updates about all ARIA opportunity spaces.

Click here to read the conditions of the call

ARIA will treat the information you provide in your submission documents as your confidential information and subject to the below ARIA will not disclose or use it other than as a part of an assessment of your submission.

ARIA will process any personal data contained within your submission for the purposes of assessing the submission in accordance with its privacy notice here. As part of this assessment ARIA may also contact individuals named in the submission directly using the details provided to discuss aspects of your submission.

As part of the submission review process, ARIA will need to share your submission with certain employees, contractors and potentially third party expert reviewers. Anyone that ARIA shares your submission with will be subject to confidentiality and non-use restrictions for the confidential information shared and conflict of interest checks.
Although ARIA will keep your information confidential, we recommend that you do not submit potentially patentable information before a patent application is filed or commercially sensitive information. Where you have been shortlisted and you want to discuss potentially patentable or commercially sensitive information before a patent application is filed we may enter into a NDA.

ARIA may disclose your confidential information in order to meet its obligations to supply information for parliamentary, ministerial, judicial or administrative purposes as a public body including the supply of information to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

ARIA may publish statistics and metrics related to this call, this will not include any confidential or personal data.

ARIA reserves the right to waive or change the requirements of this call, disqualify any applicant that is guilty of serious misrepresentation, presents a significant national security, fraud and regulatory risk, or withdraw this call at any time. Unless expressly agreed otherwise ARIA is not liable for any applicant’s costs, expenditure, work or effort incurred in carrying out enquiries in relation to, proceeding with, or participating in this call.

Applicants recognise and accept that it will be at ARIA’s sole discretion as to which, if any, proposal is accepted.