Go back

UK government appoints CEO and chair of Aria

Images: BEIS

Ilan Gur appointed CEO of £800 million R&D funding agency, and Matt Clifford appointed chair

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has finally appointed the leaders of the government’s Advanced Research and Invention Agency.

The news comes after Peter Highnam, deputy director of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) on which Aria is broadly modelled, pulled out of the top job.

On 19 July, the government announced it had appointed Ilan Gur (pictured, left), the founder and former CEO of the innovation non-profit Activate, to lead the £800 million funding body for “high-risk, high-reward” research.

As CEO, Gur will be responsible for setting the agency’s agenda, directing its initial funding and building a team of programme managers.

His appointment comes after Highnam decided not to take up the post in March due to personal reasons, in what was described as a “serious blow” to set up the nascent funder.

Meanwhile, the government has also appointed talent investor and entrepreneur Matt Clifford (pictured, right) as Aria’s first chairman. Clifford will be responsible for supporting the work of the CEO and acting as a steward for Aria’s governance. Both will take up their roles on 15 August.

Kwarteng described Gur’s appointment as 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 said.

“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.

“By stripping back unnecessary red tape and putting power in the hands of our innovators, the agency has the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow.”

The incoming CEO said: “I believe that Aria can deliver the promise of a better future, not just for citizens of the United Kingdom but for the world.

“The opportunity to serve as Aria’s founding CEO is a great honour and a great responsibility that I will work tirelessly to fulfil.”

Clifford said: “Aria has the potential to create a new model for accelerating the scientific and technological breakthroughs that the world needs.

“I am honoured to have the opportunity to work with Ilan Gur to guide Aria through its formative years and ensure its success.”

Movers and shakers

In addition to founding Activate, Gur has established two science-based startups and served in the first generation of programme directors at Arpa-E, the US Department of Energy’s agency for funding breakthrough innovations in energy technology.

Clifford is the co-founder and CEO of Entrepreneur First, an international investor in technical talent. He is also the co-founder and non-executive director of Code First Girls, has served as a council member at the innovation agency Innovate UK and is a trustee of the Kennedy Memorial Trust. Before founding Entrepreneur First, he worked at McKinsey & Co.

The appointments appear to have the blessing of the prime minister’s former adviser Dominic Cummings, who pushed for the establishment of the agency while in the role.

Reacting to the news, he tweeted: “Fantastic to see efforts from so many officials, scientists, deep state and misfits pay off with something left/right/remain can all support. Science must be a core priority of UK and of No 10. And science funding must become much more diverse, with much less friction.”

An act to create the agency received royal assent in February and the agency is expected to be established later this year.