W.M. Keck Foundation: Grants for Science Research

OVERVIEW: The foundation has two programs that are research-related, Science and Engineering, and Medical Research. Each program gives out only a dozen or so grants each year, but million-dollar grants seem to be the norm, and they can get as high as $5 million. Keck is interested in high-risk, high-reward research.

IP TAKE: Keck is a big fish, but the foundation likes projects that aren't obvious targets for support, with diverse ideas and researcher backgrounds. It's still highly competitive, but you don't need to be in the "in crowd" to get Keck's attention.

PROFILE: The W.M. Keck Foundation, headquartered in Los Angeles, was established in 1954 by William Myron Keck, founder of Superior Oil. Its grantmaking activities emphasize science and engineering research, medical research, and undergraduate education. Through this work, Keck sees itself as “laying the groundwork for breakthrough discoveries and new technologies that will save lives, provide innovative solutions to complex problems and add immeasurably to our understanding of life on Earth and our place in the universe.”

The foundation gives a small number of grants to each program every year, but according to its own numbers, research grants generally range from $500,000 to $5 million, and are usually $2 million or less.

These awards support projects that Keck sees as “distinctive and novel in their approach, question the prevailing paradigm, or have the potential to break open new territory in their field.” Projects that cross multiple research disciplines are also favored by the foundation. This includes smaller institutions that might be ignored by huge funders as well as openness to a diverse group of scientists.

Common grants in the Medical Research area have gone to cellular and genetic research related to cancer, intellectual disabilities, and other illnesses.

The Keck Foundation's grants are competitive, but they are worth the effort for those with a worthy project. For a researcher with a bright but undeveloped idea, the Keck Foundation’s $1 billion endowment is a promising source of support. “Research universities, medical colleges and major private independent scientific and medical research institutes” are all eligible. Note that policy research is not supported, nor are fellowships, scholarships, or “clinical or translational research, treatment trials or research for the sole purpose of drug development.”

While there does not appear to be a searchable database of past awards, the foundation does provide a list by year of grant abstracts that give an overview of each award, classified by year and program area.

Keck recommends grantseekers contact staff to set up initial consultation between January 1 and February 15, or between July 1 to August 15, depending on the program. Applications submitted by May 1 are reviewed for the December grant cycle and those sent in by November 1 are considered for the June cycle, so be sure to have your ducks in a row early on in the game.