Meet Crowdsourcing’s Nerdy Genius Cousin

Think of it as crowdfunding's nerdy genuis cousin. Instead of bringing wallets together to fund a new playground or a well in Africa, this new initiative of the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT exists to help affluent young professionals fund scientific breakthroughs. 

The project is called BroadIgnite. The idea is that there are lots of smart, engaged people out there with an interest in supporting big breakthroughs, but who don't have the resources to be major donors. They have shallower pockets, but equal passion for innovation. What’s a small-time, would-be patron of invention to do in that situation? There aren't many good choices for making modest donations that sponsor high-risk, high-reward science.

BroadIgnite exists to fill that niche. As of April, the program had raised $200,000 from at least twenty donors for five early-career scientists at the institute. That isn’t going to change the world overnight, to be sure, but for fundraisers trying to cultivate new philanthropic donors, incubator programs like this one give young professionals an easy way to wet their feet in the tempting waters of philanthropic giving. On a lot of levels, philanthropy is just another good habit—like flossing, or using turn signals—that fundraisers want to see take root in promising folks just starting out in their careers. Who knows? Someday those seeds BroadIgnite planted may pay big dividends. Sure, it's starting small, but the fact that it's making a contribution, however small, to high-risk, high-reward science is still exciting.

"To be clear, $40,000 or $50,000 isn't going to create a breakthrough that will cure cancer or diabetes," said Sharmil Modi, an investment analyst at the Baupost Group, “though it may help a scientist progress to a more advanced stage of research and qualify for additional funding from more traditional sources.”

Safraz Ishmael, a lawyer who expects to make a donation to BroadIgnite, told the Boston Globe he views the incubator as "a way to donate to something where you fund a specific person with a specific research goal and see specific results," unlike some types of giving, when "you don't know where your money is going."