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Ministers finally land leadership team for ‘moonshot’ agency ARIA

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The stuttering search for a leadership team for Britain’s new “moonshot” scientific research body will conclude this week when ministers announce the appointment of its inaugural chair and chief executive.

Sky News has learnt that Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has signed off the recruitment of Matt Clifford, a co-founder of the technology investment vehicle Entrepreneur First, as chairman of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA).

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will also announce that Ilan Gur, the founder of a US-based organisation which helps scientists and engineers to bring ground-breaking research to market, will become ARIA’s chief executive.

The dual appointment will mark an important step in the development of ARIA, which was the brainchild of Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson‘s former chief aide.

Mr Gur will be responsible for shaping ARIA’s agenda, directing its initial funding of high-risk programmes, building its workforce and engaging the domestic and international research and development sectors.

He was the chief executive of Activate, which is said to have spawned the creation of more than 100 science-based start-ups under his leadership.

Significantly, he also served in the first generation of programme directors at ARPA-E, the US Department of Energy’s breakthrough energy technology body.

Mr Gur’s appointment comes four months after Dr Peter Highnam, deputy director of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), reversed his decision to become ARIA’s inaugural CEO.

Ilan Gur is the founder and former CEO of Activate
Image:
Ilan Gur is the founder and former CEO of Activate

The arrival of Mr Clifford will also be a victory for the latest generation of British tech entrepreneurs, given his status in that sector.

Mr Clifford, a former McKinsey employee, is also a council member at Innovate UK and was responsible for establishing Code First Girls.

Britain’s new ‘high risk, high reward’ inventions agency, as it has been dubbed, will have an initial budget of £800m, and is aimed at helping the UK “maintain its position as a global science superpower”, according to an announcement from the government about its establishment last year.

BEIS has said that ARIA would have “a much higher tolerance for failure than is normal, recognising that in research the freedom to fail is often also the freedom to succeed”.

ARIA’s mandate will be to focus on “moonshot” projects spearheaded by “inspiring inventors”, BEIS added.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been contacted for comment.

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