Taking a VC Approach to Charity, Greylock Veteran’s Alzheimer’s Research Foundation “Dares to Be Great”

8/25/10Follow @xconomy

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succeeding in venture capital is support the visionaries with top executive leadership. To apply that principle in the nonprofit context, the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund needed to hire the equivalent of a go-to-market person for the organization, McCance says. They brought on a president and CEO, Tim Armour, a Harvard Business School graduate who ran another nonprofit, the JASON Foundation, focused on improving science and math performance among middle school students.

The Cure Alzheimer’s Fund has also thoroughly embraced McCance’s third tenet, establish a frugal culture. Greylock donated office space to the nonprofit for its first two years. It has since moved to modest office space in Wellesley, MA. And the three founding families pay all overhead costs for the fund, so that 100 percent of every dollar they solicit from external donors goes to research, says McCance. “Everybody who knows me knows I stretch a dollar in every way,” he says.

It is largely by following McCance’s last piece of advice—dare to be great—that the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund seeks to set itself apart from existing scientific research organizations.

When the Fund was getting together in 2005, Tanzi gathered a group of scientists who he hoped would join the fund’s consortium of Alzheimer’s researchers. McCance and the other founders held a dinner for them in Washington, DC during the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience. McCance recalls the researchers saying that night that the organizations that traditionally dole out the grants are so risk-averse that they don’t want to fund anything that has the slightest potential for failure. “‘We are forced to submit proposals which we almost already know the answer to,’” was their lament, McCance says. “‘Research that does get funded is akin to a 1-yard plunge. There is no organization that is willing to throw to us a 20-yard pass down the field.’”

That dinner helped convince McCance and the other Cure Alzheimer’s founders that they needed to bet on riskier, but promising, research projects. “Most venture capital investments are not trying to improve something by 5 percent or 10 percent, he says. “They’re trying to do something transformational and change the dynamics of whatever industry they’re in.

The fund is also trying to transform how grants are made and managed, at a time … Next Page »

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