UK takes second shot at appointing a boss for its rival to DARPA

19 Jul 2022 | News

Ilan Gur, a veteran of the US’s advanced research agency for energy, will lead a risk-taking UK funding agency, after a previously appointed chief executive pulled out

Ilan Gur, founder & CEO of Photo:

The UK has appointed a new chief executive to steer a risk-taking research body touted as an answer to the US’s legendary Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Ilan Gur, who was previously a programme director for ARPA-E, which is dedicated to energy technologies, was this morning announced as head of the UK’s Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA).

Based in San Francisco, Gur is currently founder and chief executive Activate, a not-for-profit organisation that helps scientists commercialise their discoveries.

“I believe that ARIA can deliver the promise of a better future, not just for citizens of the UK but for the world,” he said in a statement announcing his appointment.

ARIA is billed as a “high-risk, high-reward” research and innovation agency with a budget of £800 million from now until 2025-6. It claims it will operate with the “flexibility of a start-up” and experiment with new research funding models.

It is seen as the brainchild of Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to outgoing prime minister Boris Johnson, who has long argued for a less bureaucratic, more risk-taking funding environment.

“Fantastic to see efforts from so many officials, scientists, deep state, & misfits pay off with something left/right/remain/leave can all support,” Cummings wrote on Twitter in response to Gur’s appointment, arguing that the new agency had support across the political spectrum. 

“Science must be core priority of UK + of No10,” he said. “And science funding must become much more diverse with much less friction.”

However, Gur’s appointment follows a false start for the agency earlier this year. In February, Peter Highnam, deputy director of DARPA, was unveiled as ARIA’s first chief executive, only for him to decide against taking up the post for personal reasons the following month.

Alongside Gur’s appointment, the UK government said Matt Clifford, chief executive of talent incubator Entrepreneur First, is to be ARIA’s chairman.

“ARIA has the potential to create a new model for accelerating the scientific and technological breakthroughs that the world needs,” Clifford said in a statement.

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