Aria’s CEO and chair to be tech start-up investors

Ilan Gur and Matt Clifford will lead UK’s new ‘high risk, high reward’ scientific research agency

七月 19, 2022
Ilan Gur

Two leaders in technology-based start-ups have been chosen to lead the UK’s new scientific research agency.

Ilan Gur, the founder and chief executive of US-based science start-up organisation Activate, will become the first chief executive officer of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (Aria), while Matt Clifford, co-founder of Entrepreneur First, an investment company focused on research talent, will be its chairman.

Dr Gur, who has served as a programme director at Arpa-E, the US Department of Energy’s agency for funding breakthrough innovations in energy technology, will be asked to “set the agency’s agenda, direct its initial funding of high-risk programmes, build an exceptional team of programme managers and engage the domestic and international R&D sector”, the UK government said.

The pair’s appointment at the head of the UK’s new agency for “high risk, high reward” science follows a bumpy start for Aria, which was due to begin in May. Its initial choice of chief executive, Peter Highnam, a British-born computer scientist who had led the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) on an interim basis, resigned his post before taking up the role, citing “personal reasons”.

The recruitment of those from investor and start-up backgrounds may also raise questions about the direction of the new £800 million agency, which was originally envisaged by its architect Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief aide, as a vehicle to fund risky early-stage blue sky research in the same way that Darpa supported work that led to the development of the internet, driverless cars and drones.

Mr Cummings had suggested that he would have preferred researchers to run it, putting forward the names of two US-based scientists and a University of Oxford mathematician to lead Aria during a parliamentary hearing in March 2021.

The government is already planning to massively increase funding to its research commercialisation arm Innovate UK, whose budget will rise to £1.1 billion in 2024-25.

Announcing the new hires on 19 July, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng hailed Dr Gur’s appointment as a “a huge victory for the future of the agency, and for the UK”.

“He has a distinguished track record in translating exceptional talent and ideas into commercial success, and his leadership will ensure the funding of high-risk programmes that will continue to push the boundaries of science and technology,” he continued.

“Under Dr Gur’s leadership and with the support of the brilliant Matt Clifford, ARIA will ensure the benefits of research and development will be felt in our society and economy over the course of generations,” added Mr Kwarteng.

Dr Gur, who holds a PhD in materials science from the University of California, said the “opportunity to serve as Aria’s founding CEO is a great honour and a great responsibility that I will work tirelessly to fulfil”.

His organisation, Activate, had helped “scientists and engineers to bring ground-breaking research to market,” the UK government said, and “supported 142 fellows and catalysed the creation of over 100 science-based start-ups under Mr Gur’s expert leadership”.

Mr Clifford, whose company Entrepreneur First has helped build technological companies worth more than $10 billion (£8.3 billion), and previously worked at McKinsey, said Aria had the “potential to create a new model for accelerating the scientific and technological breakthroughs that the world needs”.



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