OVERVIEW: Jerome Lemelson was a highly prolific American inventor who, over the course of 40 years, landed more than 600 patents at a pace of one a month — anything from cassette players to fax machines to industrial robots. In the 1990s, he and his family created the Lemelson Foundation as a way to support the education and success of bright young inventors and "create a pipeline of inventors and inventor-based enterprises."
IP TAKE: Lemelson supports the entire chain of science education, from inspiring young minds all the way to helping them eventually find business success. Keep in mind that the foundation only funds programs related to inventors (it does not fund inventors themselves).
PROFILE: The Lemelson Foundation is based in Portland, Oregon, is a science funder that seeks to carry on the legacy of prolific inventor Jerome Lemelson by inspiring and educating young inventors and then supporting their enterprises.
In terms of science education, this means inspiring young people to become inventors and giving them the education they need. With recent giving coming in at more than $15 million a year, the funder divides its U.S. and international grants into Inspiration, Education, and Incubation initiatives.
The Inspiration initiative’s goal is to “inspire the next generation of inventors,” and has supported work to raise awareness about inventors, support of museums and science centers, and prizes, all of which seek to “give youth opportunities to become inventors.”
Education support involves giving for educational courses and programs, youth competitions, and after-school programs related to STEM education. The goal here is “to educate future inventors so that they are equipped with the tools that will allow them to generate new inventions and translate their ideas into businesses with economic impact.”
Lastly, Incubation is “a partnership with a network in nearly 200 colleges throughout the US.” Through this program, Lemelson supports the “creation of enterprises that have the potential to be self-sustaining and scalable, as well as attractive to downstream investors.” Funding here provides support for student- and faculty-based innovation start-ups.
The Foundation's flagship science education program is the Lemelson-MIT Program. The funder has given several million dollars in support of this joint project, which celebrates and awards young innovators in high school and college. It also awards the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, called the "Oscar for inventors."
Some of Lemelson's more recent grants have supported providing hands-on lab experience for postsecondary students, patent and marketing education for college students, and large grants to museums like the Smithsonian Institution, which has its own Lemelson Center that “uses fun activities to help kids and families learn about the history and process of invention.” More information on Lemelson’s grantees is available in its News page.
Lemelson does not approve many unsolicited proposals, but it does permit one-page concept papers that allow program officers to learn about work that may align with the foundation's goals. Learn more here, or check your eligibility here. If support is not available through Lemelson directly, the foundation recommends contacting its partners to see if there are opportunities to work with them.
- Carol Dahl, Executive Director
- David Coronado, Program Officer, Equal Access and Out-of-School Learning
- Alexander Nicholas, Program Officer, Higher Education
- Kenneth Turner, Program Officer, Incubation in Developing Countries