The new wave of science and research models

There has been an increasing amount of experimentation in the philanthropic and scientific funding space over the past few years. This is good news — as I mentioned in my last post, we need better ways to fund crazy ideas.

Here’s a sampling of some of the recent efforts:

  • The Astera Institute — Pursuing new tech areas through multiple models including FROs, PARPA (based on the DARPA model).
  • Fast Grants — An effort by Tyler Cowen, Patrick Collison and others to quickly disburse grant money to COVID-related ideas. Funded by many wealthy donors and philanthropies. Impetus Grants for longevity research was recently launched and inspired by Fast Grants.
  • New Science — Funding life science labs outside of academia. Partly funded by Vitalik Buterin.
  • Arcadia Science — Bio research institute.
  • Arc Institute — Funds individuals similar to HHMI, in partnership with Stanford, Berkeley, and UCSF. Founded by Fast Grants “alumni” Silvana Konermann, Patrick Hsu, and Patrick Collison.
  • Convergent Research — Uses focused research organizations (FROs) to solve specific scientific or technological problems. Funded by Eric Schmidt’s philanthropy.
  • Altos Labs — Biotech lab, another “academia outside of academia” model.
  • VitaDAO — A DAO-based longevity funding org where holders get a cut of IP proceeds.
  • Actuate — Also using the DARPA approach to fund and implement R&D.
  • FTX Future Fund — A non-profit fund from the FTX crypto exchange, aiming to allocate at least $100M this year to a wide variety of long-term focused areas.

In “Illegible Medicis and Hunting for Outliers” Rohit observes that:

There are two common themes here. That’s speed and autonomy. They mostly act under the assumption (the correct assumption it would seem from a betting lens) that they can identify talent, not bug them excessively, and leave them to do their thing. Instead of imposing rules and strictures and guidelines, they focus on letting the innate megalomania do the work of focusing their research.

The academic and government driven funding models have come up against their limits in recent years (decades?). These experiments provide new methods to allocate capital to research, development, and implementation of efforts that for whatever reason aren’t amenable to the startup funding ecosystem.

Prior to World War II, support from non-government or educational institutions was the norm. Patrons like Alfred Loomis ran a lab at Tuxedo Park, hosting scientists and engineers from around the world that was integral in the creation of radar. Funding was provided by philanthropies from the likes of Carnegie and Rockefeller. Or private R&D from Edison, Bell Labs or Cold Springs Harbor Lab.

These past models are still doing well of course — HHMI, the Gates Foundation, Google X, etc. — but much more is needed to expand experimentation. The government can continue to play a valuable role, particularly as a buyer of first resort.

I’m super excited to see what comes from these orgs. A few like Fast Grants have already had some impact.

For more on the topic, see:

Cover photo by The National Cancer Institute, Unsplash.

Fumbling the Future at Xerox PARC

Current PARC campus
There is a wide difference between completing an invention and putting the manufactured article on the market.” — Thomas Alva Edison

In this week’s New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell writes about innovation and how Xerox PARC failed to profit from the many incredible inventions that came out of its lab. (You can read the summary here.)

PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), located on the Stanford University campus, was founded in 1970 as a division of Xerox Corporation. They were an R&D lab that Xerox planned to use to both create new products and augment their current ones. They were tasked with creating “the office of the future.” In the mid-1970s, almost half of the world’s top 100 computer scientists were working at PARC. Within five years of its founding, PARC had developed a wide array of important computer technologies, including the following:

  • Xerox “Alto”– the first personal computer with a mouse and graphical user interface (GUI) that included windows, icons, and pull-down menus.
  • A WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) text editor.
  • Computer generated graphics.
  • An Ethernet local-area-network.
  • Laser printing.

In Everett Roger’s book Diffusion of Innovations, he uses Xerox PARC as a case study in the “commercialization” phase of the innovation-development process. What led the engineers and scientists at PARC to such an amazing track record? Rogers breaks it down as follows: Continue reading “Fumbling the Future at Xerox PARC”

6 Sources for Company Research

I find it useful to know as much as possible about any potential investment, especially if it may become a large position down the road. Why is Company X where it’s at today? Knowing their history, philosophy, and information about current/past management teams can help you solve that question. In turn, it will help when you estimate where they’ll be 10 years from now.

Sometimes I like to take the activist investor approach: For large long-term holdings, you’re ultimate goal should be to know the company better than the management team running it. Nine months ago, there was a story on activist investor Nelson Peltz in Fortune magazine. Commenting on his research methods, the author wrote: “Peltz prides himself on knowing businesses so intimately, from factory floor to supermarket shelf, that he can systematically break down any management’s rationale for mediocre results.”

Below are 6 useful sources for researching individual companies.

Continue reading “6 Sources for Company Research”