For staff

Principal’s Innovation Award

NEW competition for big ideas. Open to all research staff - 10 prizes of £10,000. Closing date 15 May 2020.

The Principal’s Innovation Award is a new competition, open to all research staff including PDRAs, for high risk, blue sky projects that have transformative potential. Ten prizes of £10,000 each will be awarded, with the prize enabling the winners to develop their projects into applications of ambition and scale (£1m+) aimed at novel funding mechanisms such as the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).

The Prize 

  • Ten prizes of approximately £10,000 each
  • Package of support from ERO/EI

Prize money is to be spent on proof-of-principle experiments, reports, buy-out etc.


  • Single applicant as well as team applications from any academic staff member including PDRAs are encouraged.
  • All disciplines and sectors allowed but fit with current University strategic priorities will be helpful.

How to enter

The application will consist of a simple one page, one diagram application outlining:

  • the proposal
  • names of the academics involved
  • how it would fit the criteria of a programme such as ARPA

Note: Applicants should inform their School or Centre leads of their participation in this competition and discuss and gain support for the likely commitment required, but costings are not required for the initial application.

Applications in your own choice of format should be sent to

Closing date 

Applications are open and will close on 15 May 2020 at 5pm 

Judging process

Proposals will be judged by a panel including:

  • three Deans of Research
  • Director of Edinburgh Research Office
  • CEO of Edinburgh Innovations
  • Chair of Edinburgh Innovations

A number of proposals will be shortlisted.  Those shortlisted will then be required to work with Schools or Centres to develop outline costings, and then “pitch” their ideas to and answer questions from the selection panel. The decision of the panel will be final. 


The world of research funding is rapidly changing, with the Government committed to substantially improving the proportion of GDP invested in research and innovation. A major focus will be large scale, transformational sources of funding which will sit alongside more conventional sources such as those from Research Councils. Examples include the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) and the proposed Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) based on the US DARPA model. ARPA if approved will search for “pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies”.

The selection process for projects to be funded under schemes such as ARPA is likely to be radically different to those of conventional grant funding bodies. There is likely to be very light touch peer review with authority for project selection vested in a small number of programme managers.

The projects supported will also be substantially different. They will be:

  • Significant scale (think millions rather than hundreds of thousands)
  • Seen as potentially transformational to the economy
  • Much higher risk than conventional Research Council projects – with the consequent high risk of failure
  • Pivotal to the development of a whole new sector or technology

Getting ahead 

We are keen to help develop such proposals in advance of the finalising of any scheme such as ARPA. As development timescales will be short, we are running this competition to help generate ideas for such projects. We will reward the authors of the best proposals with the Principal’s Innovation Award, providing both recognition of research innovation and support for their development towards a full application.