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An accelerator for ambitious coordinated research

We all want more human flourishing. Coordinated research programs, like those at DARPA, are responsible for a lot of it: from the internet to mRNA vaccines to entire fields like molecular biology.

Recently, there has been renewed interest in creating new institutions for enabling this kind of invention and discovery both in government (ARPA- H, ARPA-I, NCADE, ARIA, SPRIND) and nonprofits (AERDF, Convergent Research, Speculative Technologies).

However, these programs depend on agentic, visionary, and competent individuals with a critical balance of skills. No systematic identification or training efforts exist for these skills so recruiting for these positions, generally from academic or industry labs, is largely an exercise in luck. We need more Brains.

Brains is a training program to provide the skills and opportunities to translate ambitious research visions that aren’t a good fit for a company but are too big for a single academic lab into impact. These visions could be anything from upending the way we make carbon-based products to how we understand the brain or build air- breathing fusion engines.

Think YCombinator for coordinated research programs.

Brains will support participants with:


Calibrating risk and reward, thinking at the level of coordinated programs, and using best practices for program design and management.


Experienced mentors from DARPA and beyond will help rapidly mature participants and refine ideas for execution and impact.


Brains will connect participants to funders, partners, and peers; ultimately helping determine where to execute – whether a government ARPA, an existing nonprofit, or a new non-profit startup.

What will I actually do in the Brains program?

Brains is a virtual, remote 13-week part-time program, bookended by two in-person events. By the end of the program, you will have produced a pitch deck and short document, describing your ambitious research program. At Demo Day, you will have the opportunity to pitch your program to a variety of partners who are interested in funding such programs and/or employing research leaders.

If you already have a home for your program, Brains will help you take your idea and your ability to execute on it to the next level.


November 20 2023: Applications close.

December 10 2023: Participant decisions finalized.

January 2024: 2-day in-person Kickoff meeting

We will fly all participants and mentors together to a location in the continental United States to meet in person and kick off the program.

January - April 2024: Every week, the participants will

  • Have one hour of 1:1 mentoring with a program manager with experience in the trenches at DARPA, IARPA and other organizations.
  • Attend a mandatory small group meeting to discuss a case study or pre-recorded lecture.
  • Optionally join one hour of optional programming: attending a panel or closed-door fireside chat.
  • Spend several hours on personalized activities that help embed lessons and drive towards running an effective program.

April 2024: 2-day in-person Demo Day

We will fly all participants and mentors together to a location in the continental United States to meet in person and pitch your programs to interested partners

If you have any questions that aren't answered on the FAQ, please email us at


Image of Joshua Elliott, for Speculative Technologies


Joshua Elliott
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Ben Reinhardt
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Operations Lead

Jessica Alfoldi
Image of Eileen Nakahata, for Speculative Technologies

Program Manager

Eileen Nakahata
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Aimee Rose
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Tom Kalil
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Steven Buchsbaum


Fuck Yes.

An ideal participant:

  • Has deep technical background and has done PhD-level research in at least one area.
  • Has one or more ambitious ideas that don’t fit into existing institutions. (See “what kind of idea should I have?” for more)
  • Has worked both inside and outside of academia.
  • Has several years of experience outside of school.
  • Has a strong bias towards action.
  • Is comfortable with acting under uncertainty.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, especially on the frontiers of human capabilities.


Ideally, ideas would be ambitious “big-if-true” research-y ideas that have clear technical goals. Ideas should be poor fits for single academic labs or startups.

No - we welcome ideas from any scientific field.

At minimum, ideas should be developed enough to create a compelling one-pager with precise arguments. More developed ideas than that are great!

It will not cost participants anything! We will reimburse you for travel costs to the kickoff event and demo day.

No. For more details, see “what kind of time commitment is this?”

~10 hours/week for 13 weeks, including meetings and independent work.

You will need to be able to commit to one hour for a group activity, plus one hour of 1:1 mentoring per week and to attend both the in-person two-day kick-off meeting and demo day at the beginning and end of the program.

The kick-off meeting will be in early Jan; Demo Day will be in early April.


For this first round, we will only be accepting participants who are currently residing in North America.

The program will last 13 weeks, from the beginning of January 2024 to the beginning of April 2024.

Follow this link.

The application asks for your name, email, LinkedIn or CV, immigration status, location, and confirms that you can fulfill the time commitments of the program. It also asks you for a 1-pager describing your research idea, and what you want to get out of the Brains program. You can find it here.

If your written application makes it past the first round, you will do one or two short interviews.

November 20 2023.

December 1 2023.

Email us at!

No, Speculative Technologies is a nonprofit organization and the Brains initiative is supported by Emergent Ventures and other donors.

The Right People with the Right Ideas.

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© 2024 Speculative Technologies.
Created by And–Now and Anson Yu.