Richard Scheller, Genentech Foundation

TITLE: Chairman of the Board

FUNDING AREAS: Science and health education and research throughout the United States; community wellness in certain parts of California, Kentucky, and Oregon

CONTACT: foundation@gene.com, 877-313-5778

IP TAKE: A highly decorated scientist, Scheller also gives his attention to making sure others are getting the scientific education they need. He and his team at the Genentech Foundation also direct money toward helping marginalized populations live healthier lives.

PROFILE: The charitable arm of the biotech firm Genentech, this eponymous foundation funds scientific research in university settings, helps patients (particularly children with cancer) understand their conditions and obtain better care, and promotes community wellness in select regions of the United States. The Foundation's chairman is Richard Scheller, a scientist by trade and an executive vice president on the corporate side of Genentech.

Even before he began his career in academia, Scheller had a passion for scientific research. He reports that, as a child, he had the periodic table of the elements on his bedroom wall, and created a makeshift lab for himself in his parents' Wisconsin basement, where he investigated the mysteries of locally obtained bugs and pond water. Scheller continued his scientific pursuits into college, where he studied biochemistry. Scheller went on to get his Ph.D. in chemistry from Caltech and did his postdoc at Columbia, where he studied biology and health.

Over the years, Scheller earned many recognitions and awards, including (but not limited to): the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology, the Presidential Young Investigator Award, the NSF-Alan T. Waterman Award, a MERIT Award from the National Institute of Mental Health, and fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Institutes of Health, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the McKnight Foundation. Not bad for a guy who started his scientific research career with "a couple of chemistry sets, a microscope, and any utensils [he] could swipe from the kitchen."

Being a reasonably competent firm, Genentech has enough cash left over from its business endeavors to spend on charitable ones. And Scheller apparently has enough time and energy left over from his research endeavors to direct how Genentech's charitable operations are run.

The Genentech Foundation is sizable. The foundation has assets of more than $32.7 million and allocates about $3 million annually toward grant programs. Some examples of the projects Genentech Foundation spends its money on:

  • $20,000 to the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund, based in San Francisco, which provides financial assistance to women in northern Californian in need of breast cancer treatment
  • $125,000 to New Door Ventures in San Francisco, an organization that helps disconnected youth find meaningful employment
  • $50,000 to the St. Anthony Foundation, also based in San Francisco, to support free medical clinics for children

While Genentech clearly has a preference for grants that benefit the surrounding communities in northern California, the foundation sends grants to universities around the country (for example, the University of Michigan, Princeton in New Jersey, and Johns Hopkins in Maryland) to support health science education programs. Additionally, the foundation's fellows have grants of varying dollar amounts for schools in states from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. So while Genentech's community wellness projects tend to be close to home—with exceptions, interestingly, for Washington County, Oregon, and Jefferson County, Kentucky—the Foundation does not appear to discriminate geographically with its science education dollars. (Which is nice because, really, who doesn't benefit from living in a more scientifically literate country?)

Genentech's website is helpful in explaining its grant application process. Essentially, a nonprofit, a university, or a researcher with a project that either (1) benefits marginalized communities in select regions in California, Oregon, or Kentucky or (2) advances scientific research and education (including patient education) anywhere in the United States is probably eligible for funding. And the Foundation conveniently accepts applications four times throughout the year. The funding guidelines are available here, and you can access application-specific information here.