William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation: Grants for Higher Education

OVERVIEW: William K. Bowes, Jr., is a San Francisco-based venture capitalist. His foundation prioritizes medical research, and organizations based in California. Universities have benefited from significant Bowes funding for research into a wide range of diseases.

IP TAKE:  The Bowes Foundation lacks transparency; its does not accept unsolicited proposals and letters of inquiry. Bowes himself oversees grantmaking with a small staff.

PROFILE: William “Bill” Bowes, Jr., is one of the United States’ richest men. William K. Bowes Foundation recently declaring almost more $350 million in assets and giving nearly $40 million in grants a recent year. Unfortunately, the foundation lacks transparency restricting public information about its grantmaking guidelines and strategies. It’s a one-page website offers sparse information. Howevr, it only states that it "supports nonprofit organizations in several areas including (but not exclusively) medical research, access to college, the arts, and higher education."

For higher education grant seekers, two key areas of interest include stem cell research for the cure and treatment of deadly diseases—especially cancer. This work has prioritized California research universities. Past grantees include Stanford University's Bio-X fellowship, which received about $1.5 million on a regular basis. Grantees also include the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, UC Berkeley (site of the Bowes Research Fellows Program), UC Santa Barbara, and the California Institute of Technology.

While support for universities beyond California is less common, the foundation supports some stem cell research beyond the state. The University of Colorado Boulder, for example, recently received $500,000 to support endowed chairs at its Biofrontiers Institute. Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute has also received significant support. The foundation also sometimes supports higher education initiatives outside of the key areas mentioned above. For example, the foundation recently gave $400,000 to Harvard University’s Art Museums for museum construction and $200,000 to Sonoma State University for a “Green Music Center.”

Unfortunately, the Bowes foundation does not accept any unsolicited proposals, however contact information for all of its staff is readily available on the web page. In terms of decision making, the board does all its own selection and research on the organizations that it funds.

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