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.  The average grant size is $ million, but they can get as high as $5 million. Keck is interested in high-risk, high-reward research.

IP TAKE: Keck prioritizes projects with diverse ideas and researcher backgrounds that may not be the obvious choice for support. Funding is highly competitive, but this is an accessible funder.

PROFILE: The W.M. Keck Foundation, headquartered in Los Angeles, was established in 1954 by William Myron Keck, founder of Superior Oil. 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 focuses on science and engineering research, medical research, and undergraduate education.

Keck supports projects that are “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 larger funders as well as openness to a diverse group of scientists.

The Keck Foundation's grants are competitive, but they are worth the effort for those with a project that aligns with the foundation’s priorities. “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. Common grants in the Medical Research area have gone to cellular and genetic research related to cancer, intellectual disabilities, and other illnesses.

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. 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.