Friday, May 25, 2007

Money chasing ideas or ideas chasing money?

Three of America's largest foundations are trying new ways to get ideas in the door. This is a good thing. These are all in early stages - and all worth watching.

The Rockefeller Foundation requests your ideas. As the site says - "we know we don't have all the answers." Check out the Foundation's online idea portal here.

The Packard Foundation is using a wiki to gather ideas on addressing nitrogen pollution. Access their site here.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is hosting a "disruptive innovations in healthcare competition." Get info on this effort here.

Lots of people have observed over the years that the commercial sector sends money out looking for ideas, while philanthropy requires ideas to chase money. The three efforts outlined above are interesting expansions of this model.

I feel compelled to contrast it with an email a medical researcher/doctor friend of mine recently received from a VC firm - with names and details deleted, I'll paste it in below:

"My name is XXX and I work for YYY, a strategic consulting firm and NASD-registered broker-dealer. We assist companies with business plan development, market research, and raising capital. We have offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and New York.

Many of the individuals and companies we work with are federal grant recipients who sought capital as the next step in their growth. One of our researchers found your name among a list of grant recipients. Are you currently involved with a project that currently needs, or will need, capital? If so, may I have one of our people contact you to see if we can assist you?


So, perhaps the old trope is true - in commerce the money will seek the ideas. But, at least philanthropy is becoming more innovative in how it lets ideas find its money.


Bruce Trachtenberg said...

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation relies on a sophisticated and very intensive set of activities, including sourcing and due diligence, designed to enable the foundation to find, vet and invest in nonprofits that it thinks have the potential to grow to scale and serve larger numbers of young people living in low-income communities. It puts its money at the service of proven programs and high performing organizations and works hard to find them.

Pete said...

Sounds like the funders in your examples are doing some version of crowd sourcing, while the VC has an idea what it is looking for and is looking in places viewed likely to bear some fruit. It reminded me of an anecdote a friend recently told me, about how a very talented friend of his had been approached by Google, at first out of the blue, 4 times in about 2 years. They were obviously proactively looking for talented people, something their competitors (Yahoo, for one, in this example) were not.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Lucy. Pioneering Ideas, the blog of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Pioneer portfolio, contains more information about the Foundation's interest in disruptive innovation and the competition being used to develop ideas. You can find the discussion here.

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