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Nigel Gifford OBE

Nigel Gifford OBE
Nigel Gifford OBE
Nigel Gifford OBE

Best known for:

Nigel Gifford OBE is a passionate silver surfing disruptor and innovator with a penchant for exploration and adventure.


Championing dyslexia through a dynamic and diverse career that encompasses the world of the agile entrepreneur, international exploration, high altitude elite adventures, and innovation in aerospace and humanitarian aid. Mentor for the UK charity Heropreneurs.


In the early 1990s, Nigel designed a special camera platform for the first-ever hot air balloon flight at 33,000ft over Mt Everest. Nigel worked on Sir Richard Branson's round the world nonstop balloon  project, advising on the small capsule's internal layout and feeding the crew confined inside. 

Developing from the experiences and skill set learnt from his own expeditions and adventure, Nigel took to the entrepreneurial world applying the same attitude of resilience, risk, and reward gained as a seasoned mountaineer, Everester (five various style expeditions), big wall climber and skydiver, with over one thousand free fall descents. He is the founder of Himalayan skydiving and the organizer of the first-ever world record-breaking Everest Skydive from 29,500ft 

He was the entrepreneur who brought the (now multimillion-dollar) Merrell Outdoor Footwear to the UK and Europe and was the first mountaineering consultant for Rohan Designs and 3Ms Thinsulate division.

Change was afoot and in 2008 Nigel's adventure travel business was caught up in the financial crisis and went into liquidation. Aged sixty-three and broke, he was determined to rebuild his business life and succeed again. Nigel turned to his roots in aerospace, dusted himself off, and started again. His drive in business and innovation in planning adventures is renowned.

Beginning in 2009, he was part of the revolutionary team who created Ascenta™, a high-altitude solar-powered loitering pseudo-satellite communications platform that Facebook acquired in 2014 for a reported sum of $20 million. The project was renamed Aquila and morphed into a larger airframe as the HALE platform for Facebook's unmanned solar-powered airborne aspirations.

Nigel can take you on the extraordinary journey of determination and perseverance of how developing Ascenta™  was managed and brought to the market. This is a wonderful story of the people involved in its design, concept and capabilities and its journey from its humble beginnings on a farm in Somerset to Silicon Valley.

In 2016  Nigel's started taking ethical technology to a new dimension. He began work on a concept for a humanitarian air delivery cargo glider that delivers food and aid accurately in the 72-hour "primary shock" of a crisis. Some of the airframe components are also planned to be edible. 

Nigel told the New Yorker: "While unpacking one and a half metric tons of food, you make yourself a very nice sniper I said to the wing commander, 'I wouldn't do that. I would build the aircraft out of food." 

He credits the solution to his expedition catering skills and how people with dyslexia think and approach problems and challenges differently. This resulted in his airframe being nominated as a finalist for the global Katerva Awards in 2017, considered the Nobel Prize in sustainability.

In 2020 the global impact of covid caused the development of the airframe to falter. The planned flight trials in the middle east were cancelled. As with many progressive developments for the wider good, progress has been hampered. However, this has allowed for a re-think of design and capability and further investigation into the broader applications. He is exploring the opportunities in last-mile delivery, specifically low and zero access, where often aid agencies cannot deliver or assist.

Nigel is a mentor for UK charity Heropreneurs which aims to empower new entrepreneurs from the extended military community to achieve their business ambitions.

Nigel explains the power of disruptive technologies, risk and resilience, the business lessons learned from the world of adventure and expeditions, and the hard-earned ones from failure.

Publications: Expeditions and Exploration (1984 Macmillan); The Adventurous Traveller (2006 Constable & Robinson); Royal Geographical Society's Handbook on Expedition Catering (2001). Nigel has also contributed to the book 'Dyslexia and Us' A Collection of Personal Stories, Contributor (2012 Dyslexia Scotland).

Topic Areas:

  • The advantages of dyslexia in careers
  • Resilience and diversity
  • Risk and reward
  • Innovation and creativity – thinking outside the box
  • Agile Entrepreneurism 
  • The art of winning and gracefully losing
  • The power of cross-pollination
  • The importance of innovation
  • How to disrupt complacency and traditional mindset

Fee range:

Up to 5,000 GBP


Nigel and I have worked together in the agile aerospace sector of "Drones for Good." Within twenty minutes of meeting him, I knew I wanted to be part of his vision to deliver food from the skies to relieve desperate people surviving global disasters and horrendous conflicts with his drop glider HUM-AV. For some time. I thought he was a career aerospace engineer in his late sixties. What I didn't know then was what a ram packed roller coaster life he has actually led ~ 11 years in the British army, seasoned big wall climber and Everest mountaineer; top ranking skydiver with over a thousand freefall descents, Founder of Himalayan Skydiving, AND a professional executive chef who has also fed members of the Royalty, a plethora of VIPs, and some of the world's top explorers in every non-human environment. He's also had an exceptional career as an entrepreneur successfully launching and sometimes loosing, several greenfield businesses. Nigel established Merrell Outdoor Footwear from an unknown product to being the leading brand in UK and Europe in 18 months using marketing techniques that were audacious at the time. Here's a 'silver surfer' man of energy, enthusiasm vision and innovation carved out of hardened determination and raucous humour that lost everything aged sixty three in the 2008 financial crash and didn't give up. Nigel has some outstanding hair raising and funny life lessons to tell.

Bruce Dickinson, lead singer Iron Maiden and commercial pilot

Nigel's presentation on the background, development stages and route to market of the innovative solar powered high altitude unmanned aircraft, Ascenta, was absolutely brilliant. The Satellite Applications Catapult team at Harwell, and the invited audience were enthused, motivated and appreciative of him sharing his experiences and knowledge. This was a tale of innovation and dogged determination by a small British team who quietly took on the Goliaths of the aerospace industry with agility and by thinking outside of the box. We are delighted to have engaged with Nigel and have no doubt that our emerging high tech companies will benefit from his commercial and other skills to the future of sUAVs, pseudo satellites and robotics.

Finance Network Manager, Satellite Applications, Catapult