By Dave Peery
Once in awhile, something comes along that doesn’t fit, but it matters. Yesterday we decided to support an organization called Embrace, which has adeveloped an ultra low cost Infant Warmer that costs less than 1% of a traditional incubator. This product has the potential to save the lives of millions of prematurely born babies. The product also happens to have the right business model, the right entrepreneur, and highly favorable results in its pilot testing. Last year we reluctantly declined to fund them because they didn’t “fit” our global portfolio’s criteria, which has increasingly favored programs focused on livelihood creation. However, I could never seem to remove the post-it on my wall that said “Embrace” on it. What they are doing might just be more important than our guidelines.
Another such case was our support last year for the Myelin Repair Foundation (MRF). I initially met with them because a family friend introduced us, but didn’t expect to get involved; first, because there is almost no connection to our mission, and second, because funding medical research often feels like a never-ending quest with no real results. MRF has developed an accelerated research model that promotes accountability, results, and ultimately a real treatment for multiple sclerosis. Their work has the potential to not only bring a treatment for MS to market, but eventually revolutionize the way medical research is conducted, funded, and the pace at which treatments and cures are brought to light. MRF has been funded by numerous individuals and large foundations, many who were able to ignore their primary mission in order to support something of potential major importance.
By no means should we get distracted by every interesting opportunity that comes along (as they always will), but let’s build in some flexibility for the ideas that may just matter the most. We would love to hear any examples of other funders that have pursued a tangent because of its immense potential.