Awesome Foundation Looking For Offbeat Ideas That Need a $1,000 Boost

7/10/09

Flame-thrower enthusiasts and giant dinosaur puppet-makers of the world, rejoice. The Awesome Foundation for Arts and Sciences wants to support your efforts. Starting in July, the new Cambridge, MA-based “microtrust” will be giving out one grant each month in the spirit of supporting creations that evoke “surprise and delight.” The application process is simple: explain your activity, project, or research idea in 500 words or less. Sufficiently awesome ideas will net their creator $1,000 and a month’s workspace in Beta House, the creative and technological work co-op in Cambridge’s Central Square.

But what lends an idea awesomeness? “It’s something ambitious. Outlandish. Unexpected,” says Tim Hwang, the founding member of the Awesome Foundation. The winning idea could be a computer program, an art project, a machine, or some unforeseen combination of the three. “We’re intentionally keeping it vague,” says Hwang. The foundation is reluctant to define “awesome” too rigidly, he says, for fear of restricting grantees’ creativity.

Ideas do not have to include a business model, though the Awesome Foundation is not averse to supporting a for-profit project. “We’re agnostic as to whether or not you’re going to make money off your idea,” Hwang says.

A researcher at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the Web Ecology Project, Hwang came up with the idea for the Awesome Foundation while immersed in the grant application process. Applying for funding, he says, “is a really depressing thing. People get really excited about their idea, but run up against the bureaucratic nature of grants.” He hit upon the idea of creating a “microtrust” where a group of people would commit to donating a small amount of money—$100 a month. The money would be given free of any stipulations or strings. In early June, Hwang announced on his blog that he was looking for 10 people to contribute and form the first board of the Awesome Foundation.

Reed Sturtevant is one of Hwang’s “microtrustees.” When not funding awesomeness, he manages Microsoft’s Startup Labs in Cambridge. He sees his involvement with the Awesome Foundation as a way of giving back and encouraging entrepreneurial spirit. $1,000 might not seem like much, Sturtevant says, but “so many people just do amazing things for no reason. There are great creative people and ideas that just need a little spark to help them come forth.”

The application form for an Awesome Grant went online last Friday. By the end of the first day, the foundation had already received 30 prospects, Hwang says. Aside from a few joke applications (such as this one from “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad”: “I need funds to help fix an election in my country. Funds will go to paying people to vote for me, changing votes, lashing out at Western media, and getting my snazzy beard trimmed”), the ideas have run the gamut from technical to artistic. The first winner will be announced near the end of July. Hwang says the only thing the foundation asks of the winner is to show off their work at the end of their month at Beta House.

“We’re thinking of ordering a big checkbook,” Hwang said, “and some of those big scissors to do a ribbon-cutting.”

Awesome.

Roxanne is an intern in Xconomy's Boston office. You can reach her at rpalmer@xconomy.com. Follow @

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