UK tech agency ARIA in disarray after failed CEO appointment

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The UK’s new £800m science funding agency, ARIA, has appointed a new chief executive after the first appointee didn’t start.

The Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) is modelled on the advanced research projects agency (ARPA) in the US but has yet to start operation. Dr Peter Highnam, deputy director at US defence technology agency DARPA, was announced as chief executive in February to lead the formation of the agency and direct its initial funding of high-risk programmes over the next five years. 

Now Ilan Gur, who has previously worked as a programme manager at US energy research agency ARPA-E, has been appointed as Chief Executive of the agency, which has £800m of UK government backing for high risk research projects.

This follows a three year search for a chief executive for UK research funding agency Innovate UK, highlighting the challenges of finding suitable senior executives willing and able to take on such roles. ARIA is likely to fund material and system development in areas such as 6G.

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Gur joins from non-profit organisation Activate, a US-based organisation which he founded. Activate helps scientists and engineers bring ground-breaking research to market and has supported 142 fellows and catalysed the creation of over 100 science-based start-ups

Entrepreneur Matt Clifford has also been appointed as ARIA’s Chair. He is co-founder and CEO of Entrepreneur First, an international investor in technical talent and co-founder and non-executive director of Code First Girls.

“The appointment of Ilan Gur as ARIA’s first CEO is a huge victory for the future of the agency, and for the UK,” said UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng. “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.

“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,” he said.

Kwarteng said the new agency was tasked with removing red tape from science and technology investment, which has been led by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Innovate UK.

“The arrival of ARIA will further strengthen the UK research and innovation system. I am excited about the appointment of Ilan Gur and Matt Clifford as the founding CEO and Chair,” said the Chief Executive UKRI, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser. “They will provide the expertise and energy required to make it a success and I am very much looking forward to working with them.”

“ARIA will play a key role in diversifying the ways in which we back talented people and teams working on truly transformative ideas, wherever and whoever they are,” she said.

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