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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, ARIA, SPRIND) and nonprofits (Blueprint Biosecurity, Convergent Research, Speculative Technologies).

However, these programs depend on empowered, 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 an accelerator that provides the skills and opportunities for ambitious individuals to execute on research visions with potentially huge impact that aren’t a good fit for a company but are too big for a single academic lab. 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 supports 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 help rapidly mature participants and refine ideas for execution and impact.


Brains connects 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.

The first cycle of Brains ran from January through April 2024, and was a rousing success! You can find the original syllabus here, a description of our incredible first cohort of sixteen fellows here, and a discussion of our Demo Day here, including a supercut of the fellows’ presentations.

Stay tuned for our second cycle of Brains, which will kick off in January 2025, with applications opening in September 2024.

What will I actually do in the Brains program?

Brains is a remote, 15-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.


September — October 2024: Application period.

November 2024: Participant decisions finalized.

January 2025: 3-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 - May 2025: 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.
  • Spend several hours on personalized activities that help embed lessons and drive towards running an effective program.
  • Attend a mandatory small group meeting to discuss your week’s work on your program with your peers.
  • Optionally join one hour of optional programming: attending a panel or closed-door fireside chat.

May 2025: 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 Ben Reinhardt, for Speculative Technologies


Ben Reinhardt
Image of Jessica Alfoldi, for Speculative Technologies

Operations Lead

Jessica Alfoldi
Image of Eileen Nakahata, for Speculative Technologies

Program Manager

Eileen Nakahata
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Aimee Rose
Image of Tom Kalil, for Speculative Technologies


Tom Kalil
Image of Steven Buchsbaum, for Speculative Technologies


Steven Buchsbaum


Fuck Yes.

An ideal participant:

  • Has a deep technical background, a PhD or has done PhD-level research, and several years of work experience.
  • 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 a strong bias towards action.
  • Is comfortable with acting under uncertainty.
  • Is interested pursuing their ideas by getting a new role and/or starting a new institution with philanthropic funding, to pursue their ideas

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

You can see the first cohort of Brains fellows and their ideas here.


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.

You can see the first cohort of Brains fellows and their ideas here.

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 15 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.

Applications will be open September — October 2024.

Fellow selection will finalize in November 2024.

The kick-off meeting will be in January 2025.

Demo Day will be in May 2025.


All fellows need to be able to attend meetings during continental US working hours. In addition, we can only cover flight costs equivalent to those within the continental US

The program will last 15 weeks, from late January 2025 to May 2025.

Applications will open in September 2024.

More information coming soon!

October 2024.

November 2024.

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.