Alexander Nicholas, Lemelson Foundation

TITLE: Program Officer

FUNDING AREA: Innovation, invention, secondary education, postsecondary education

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

PROFILE: Since 2012, Alexander Nicholas has managed invention and education funding at Lemelson Foundation, a Portland-based outfit. He funds the process from start to finish: inventions, their inventors, and the organizations employing the inventors. Many of those organizations are universities and hospitals, but not all.

In his pre-foundation life, Nicholas earned a PhD in neuroscience from Florida State University. He went on to do postdoctoral work at Harvard's medical school and served on the Harvard Postdoctoral Association Governing Board. He also did research at Beth Israel Medical Center. In 2009, The American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded him a fellowship that he served at National Science Foundation for several years, seguing to a year as a senior policy advisor in the Department of Commerce's Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurshipbefore Lemelson picked him up in 2012.

Lemelson's partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is a central component to Nicholas's work. Jerome Lemelson, a prominent inventor and entrepreneur, along with his wife, Dorothy, established this partnership in 1994; it administers a variety of prizes and other cash-incentives to creative problem solvers:

  • They give a $500,000 prize to inventors who have successfully "developed and patented a product or process of significant value to society," and seem likely to continue doing so.
  • The $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation goes to inventors whose inventions benefit economically marginalized populations and inspire young people to try their own hand at innovation.
  • Lemelson also gives $30,000 prizes to graduate-level student inventors at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and MIT Illinois
  • Lemelson-MIT "InvenTeams," collaborations between high school students, teachers and mentors, can apply for grants of up to $10,000 from the foundation.

Another aspect of Nicholas's work with Lemelson involves the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA). NCIIA helps college-level students with the business end of inventorship. They give college students "instruction, mentoring, and financial support to invent, prototype, patent and market their new inventions and innovations." The organization has an "E-grant" program that mirrors the Lemelson-MIT "InvenTeam" project described above, although it works at college level. E-grants have enabled as many as 70 businesses to get off the ground. NCIIA also gives curricula development grants to over 350 universities nationwide involved with invention and innovation.


Watch the video below to learn more about the MIT-Lemelson partnership: