TITLE: Senior Program Officer, Science and Technology
FUNDING AREAS: Neuroscience, climate change mitigation technologies, biodiversity, and medical research
CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)
IP TAKE: Her gazillionaire boss's interests may be all over the map, but Richmond is a solid scientist with serious research experience. Don't contact her, she'll contact you.
PROFILE: The Paul G. Allen Foundation has emerged has a leading funder of basic science research. But while the Microsoft cofounder is the public face of the foundation's efforts, its science and technology initiatives are really spearheaded by an individual with a unique mix of business and scientific expertise: Kath Richmond.
Richmond, senior program officer for the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation's Science and Technology Program, knows a little something about basic research. After earning her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in cell and molecular biology, Richmond started her career working in the trenches of academic research. She spent several years as a scientist at the University of Wisconsin and as a consultant to a local company called Genetic Assemblies. In 2007, she joined the newly created Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, which is based at the University of Wisconsin. In this role, Richmond led the Enabling Technologies department, where projects included cell wall technology, plant transformation services, and omics—a broad category that includes topics like gene expression and analysis of metabolites.
During her time as a researcher, Richmond notched an invention—a new device that promised to help lower the cost of genetic analysis—and gained attention by coauthoring a paper on the impact tiny creatures called diatoms might have on global climate change. The paper suggested that if oceans were fertilized with iron, these diatoms might respond by growing larger, absorbing more climate change-causing carbon dioxide. The implications of the research extended into other areas, too, such as the production of computer chips.
Yet Richmond demonstrated business acumen as well as an aptitude for scientific achievement. Even while working on her research, she earned a master's certificate in project management and an MBA in strategic management from Wisconsin's School of Business.
This well-rounded educational background provided a launching point for her career in philanthropy. Richmond joined the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation in May 2012 as senior program officer. Since the foundation does not accept unsolicited proposals for funding, it relies on her for guidance on distributing its science research grants because she's just as tuned in on the philanthropic world as she is on the latest advancements in basic research.
As Paul Allen's right-hand woman on science issues, Richmond is looking for research that promises to satisfy one of the foundation's diverse but specific goals. Projects receive attention if they can be tracked with solid metrics and seem likely to provide a "broad, long-term benefit." Multidisciplinary approaches also get bonus points.
It can also help if researchers are working in an area, or have a personal profile, that makes it harder to get funding from more traditional sources, such as the National Science Foundation. For example, the Allen Distinguished Investigator Program targets young researchers who have potentially groundbreaking ideas but need a little extra financial boost to see them bear fruit. In other words, researchers after Allen's and Richmond's own hearts.
"When Mr. Allen started out looking at making progress toward answering some of these questions in science, he noted that many early stage projects struggled to find funding," Richmond said in an interview about Hana El-Samad, a University of California-San Francisco assistant professor who is among the latest crop of Allen Investigators. "These are curious scientists who are tackling what no one else is. He decided to really focus on early stage research and ambitious innovative science that may seem too risky for traditional methods of funding. We won't foster innovation if we play it safe."
With a voluminous Rolodex and a good share of the foundation's $385 million endowment to play with, those diamonds in the rough are exactly what Richmond is looking for.