OVERVIEW: Jerome Lemelson was a highly prolific American inventor who received more than 600 patents, “an average of one patent a month for more than 50 years” — anything from cassette players to fax machines to industrial robots. In the 1990s, he and his family created the Lemelson Foundation 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 process of science education, from inspiring young minds all the way to helping them eventually find business success. New grantseekers should remember that the foundation only funds programs related to inventors and does not fund inventors themselves.
PROFILE: The Lemelson Foundation, based in Portland, Oregon, is a science funder that seeks to continue the legacy of prolific inventor Jerome Lemelson by inspiring and educating young inventors and then supporting their enterprises. Lemelson funds programs in the United States and in developing countries, but both giving areas involve supporting invention-based education and business. Grants average more than $15 million a year, and the foundation divides its grants into Inspiration, Education, and Incubation initiatives.
The Inspiration initiative seeks to “inspire the next generation of inventors,” raise awareness about inventors, support museums and science centers, and fund prizes, all of which seek to “give youth opportunities to become inventors.”
Education grantmaking funds educational courses and programs, youth competitions, and after-school programs related to STEM education. This funding initiative seeks “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.” Incubation funding supports student- and faculty-based innovation start-ups.
The Foundation's flagship science education program is the Lemelson-MIT Program, 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 grants have provide 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 past 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 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.
- Dorothy Lemelson, President and Board Chair
- Robert Lemelson, Vice President and Secretary