Chronicle of Philanthropy covers Emergent Ventures

Here is the very good Alex Daniels story, here is one excerpt:

One of the benefits of receiving a grant from the center’s Emergent Ventures program, Cowen says, is that grantees will have access to a brain trust associated with the center and with his own well-established contacts among Silicon Valley’s tech elite. Cowen, a highly regarded economist who writes daily on his popular blog Marginal Revolution, doesn’t envision supporting a lot of traditional nonprofits. Instead, he tells the social entrepreneurs interested in applying that it’s OK to score a profit from their idea, calling a quick path to self-sufficiency a “feature, not a bug,” of any plan.

But the thrust behind Emergent Ventures isn’t ideological Cowen says. He’d simply like to get money out the door as quickly as possible to people who have a vision and need some support to bring those big ideas to fruition.

It’s a clear departure from what’s currently in fashion among institutional donors. Foundations often spend long hours tinkering with strategies to change broad societal systems. Some require grant applicants to enter monthslong challenges that are open to public input. Grant makers develop “scans” of the players involved in various social issues, employ consultants to develop measurements to determine success, and set up “feedback loops” to hear from other organizations and beneficiaries of grants.


Emergent Ventures may offer some insight, he says. So, too, could a philanthropy guided by public intellectuals with other perspectives, including Malcolm Gladwell, Paul Krugman, and Steven Pinker.

“I want to see a dozen or 20 other people set up their own version of this,” he says. “I’ll consider this a success if we’ve inspired people to do something similar.”

There is more at the link.


'There is more at the link.'

Not really - 'This content is available exclusively To Chronicle subscribers.'

lateral thinking is not one of your strengths ;)

Access via twitter

"And Thiel, the primary backer of Emergent Ventures"

This begs Emergent Ventures to be assessed in the context of the Thiel Fellowship from 2010.

My first question to Prof. Cowen would be why the Thiel Fellowship was college education agnostic while Emergent Ventures seems neutral to college? What happened between 2010 and 2019? Is college education that important after all?

I think the only 2 Thiel fellows that have shinned are Vitalik Buterin and Laura Deming. Mr. Buterin after becoming an expert math/coding guy is discovering social science is a thing, that politics are important when you deal with humans.

Mrs. Deming had a dream in life extension. Worked a few years on it, then pivoted and went full meta. Meta means that after getting a grant to study life extension, she set her own fund to identify brilliant people interested in life extension research and give them grants. Outsourcing is great, i do it at my job and I love it =)

'Access via twitter'

Well, I don't use twitter at all.

How foolish of you not to have realized that when Tyler said there was more at the link, what he meant was obviously that you were supposed to follow a different link posted by someone else on a website you don't use.

"get money out the door as quickly as possible to people who have a vision ..."

well, the Federal Government is already the champion at dumping money at gazillions of such vague public and private efforts.

The "vision" thing seems especially fuzzy here.

What is the Mercatus "Brain Trust" track record on successfully mentoring these types of small start-up people/projects?

How does one identify people with the proper "vision" for that quick money-dump?

(does Peter Thiel get a vote?)

'does Peter Thiel get a vote?'

Who cares about a vote, when he gets something much more valuable - the chance to get in on the ground floor whenever one of these ideas looks like it might be profitable.

(This is a good bet on multiple levels - 'Kelly Smith has a project to further extend and organize a parent-run charter school system in Arizona, Prenda, using Uber-like coordinating apps and “minimalist” educational methods.')

How much would you like to have invested in Apple when it was just two guys in a garage or something like that? Mike Markkula did and he did fine for himself. Well, maybe you have the chance to invest in the current equivalent. President Captain Bolsonaro has vowed to create a Brazilian Cancún to attract tourists. Foreign investments will be welcome. Think about it.

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I have been impressed with the diversity of the recipients and their ideas and the uses to which they will apply their grants. One never knows from whence great ideas will emerge: plant a seed, nourish it, and see if it grows into something worthwhile. There is a recent long article in Vox about Silicon Valley venture capital and the surprising (to me anyway) source of much of the capital. There's a good reason why tech seems to have hit a wall, as recipients of venture capital fit a very definite profile. Sure, some recipients fail and fail spectacularly, but not because their profile is that much different from the recipients who succeed and succeed spectacularly. Indeed, the harsh criticism directed at tech is the result of the sameness that permeates throughout. Another iteration of past success does not a breakthrough make. Cowen and Emergent Ventures should be encouraged for following a different path.

Tyler is living his liberal dream -- handing out other peoples' money as he sees fit.

And what constitutes success in this effort? Making the world a better place? Tangible improvements to anyone's life, anywhere?

Nope. "Inspiring others to hand out other peoples' money as they see fit."

Philanthropist: a misanthrope with disposable wealth or discretionary income.

Chris Hughes on the meaning of success:

What's the business model of these "social entrepreneurs" besides rent seeking?

The people chosen by Emergent Ventures all seem to be dedicated to the goal of acquiring more public and private funding for vague sounding activities.

The problem is indeed what you say it is. You cannot easily patent a business method anymore. At one point in patent law, you could patent a math formula if you had some hardware implementing it, even a PC, but that's been scaled back in a series of US Supreme court decisions. The Sup. Ct is traditionally anti-patent. So nowadays whatever is profitable is left by default to becoming popular with consumers and being first to market, which leaves by default "social media" type inventions.

a highly regarded economist who writes daily on his popular blog Marginal Revolution

A popular blogger and popularizer, sure, but a journal article publication history involving some years spent in the Austrian ghetto followed by meandering articles on the economics of art and autism certainly doesn't make one a "highly regarded economist".

There is one benevolent thing we can do for mankind.

Do a deal with NSA and give every individual person the right to self secured, digital bearer monetary assets. A deal that goes something like this: Our counterfeit proof plastic cards can enforce security until cancellation by the owner. So our plastic cards can promise to deliver only short monetary transactions in the network, bounding the possibility of secret messaging or stolen data. The network is free access to forensic investigation and regulators who may enforce voluntary contracts, guaranteed by our plastic cards.

Get that deal through Congress and our quality of life should steadily improve for some time. This would be a major advance in payment systems, in line with increasingly intelligent credit cards.

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