Sharmil Modi, an analyst at Baupost Group, a giant hedge fund in Boston, was surprised to learn that some scientists at the Broad Institute, a Cambridge biomedical research center, were having trouble funding their biomedical research. His surprise led to the creation of BroadIgnite, which connects up and coming scientists with new-to-the-field philanthropists.
Formed in September 2014, BroadIgnite has raised $200,000. But the numbers they’re focusing on are actually fairly low: they push for donations more in the range of $40,000 to support high risk scientific research at its earliest stages, before it’s eligible for more formal funding from organizations like the National Institutes of Health.
“We’re taking a chance with what we view to be relatively small amounts of money—20, 30, 40 thousand dollars—on young scientists and their ideas relatively early in their careers,” Modi said. “To be clear, $40,000 or $50,000 isn’t going to create a breakthrough that’s going to cure cancer or diabetes” but, he argues, it could be the first step toward traditional funding.
BroadIgnite grew out of a presentation by the Broad Institue’s president, Dr. Eric Lander, to the Baupost Group. Subsequently, members of the Baupost Group have donated $32.5 million to the Institute.
“The Broad Institute is strongly committed to empowering bright young scientists to pursue their biggest and boldest ideas,” says the BroadIgnite website. Their focus areas are inherited diseases, cancer, infectious diseases, therapeutic development, and cellular responses.
BroadIgnite also takes philanthropy one step further, encouraging donors and scientists to meet and socialize. Those who give to the organization are invited to visit the lab and see their financial backing in action. Other social and networking events are also planned throughout the year.
There were 5 awardees for the 2014-15 season: Nicholas Haining, Daniel MacArthur, and Eliezer Van Allen, all of Harvard Medical School; Ben Ebert of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute; and Anthony Philippakis of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.