Four Things You Need to Get Money From Ellison

As of November 2013, the Ellison Medical Foundation is no longer pursuing biomedical grantmaking. Please read our article about the foundation's sudden announcement here.

The Ellison Medical Foundation (EMF) hands out $40 million to $50 million annually, and the money falls in big sums across a wide range of projects. (See Ellison Medical Foundation: Grants for Brain Research and Treatment.) But if you want a piece of the foundation's pie, you have to know how to play the game. Below, four things your proposal absolutely must have to be considered:

  • Creativity. Ellison is not looking for slow-and-steady-wins-the-race science. It isn't even particularly interested in play-by-the-rules science. It wants science that's out there, pushing boundaries, being innovative, and chasing breakthroughs. "Most technological and scientific advances are subtle improvements, enhancements, or adaptations of existing principles," says Kevin Lee, EMF's executive director (read Kevin Lee's IP profile). "But true discovery requires risk — taking a step into the unknown. The engine of scientific progress depends on revolutionary steps for lasting growth."
  • A Focus on Aging. Larry Ellison, EMF's founder, has a bit of a personal vendetta against death. He lost two major figures in his life — his adoptive mother and his mentor — fairly early on in his career. Since then, his goal has been to find breakthroughs that improve the quality of mature life and, at their most risky, even cheat death. Recently funded projects cover all sorts of aging-related areas, from locating the genetic markers that influence lifespan to researching how stem cells age.
  • Agility. This quality means having the energy and ambition to embrace and incorporate change — whether in the form of new research, an unexpected outcome, or an influx of funding — when it really counts. A lot of science takes place in the musty inner core of giant research institutions, where little change ever filters down to even the most cutting-edge scientists. Although Ellison does fund initiatives launched by researchers at big schools, projects undertaken by small independent labs have a better shot at getting the money.
  • Risk. With risk comes fame, and we at IP believe that is EMF's ultimate goal. This funder wants to be able to point to something remarkable, something that truly changes the world — and know that EMF helped make it happen. "Funding agencies are increasingly focused on the application of basic scientific knowledge, and prefer to fund the known, rather than the unknown," says Lee. "But the next generation of scientific breakthroughs will never see the light of day if we are unable to provide scientists with the freedom, flexibility, and resources to take risks."