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Innovation

Where the Gates money is going

While rival Steve Jobs is still focused on world domination Bill Gates is very busy these days acting as a non-profit venture capitalist for all the problems in the world.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

While rival Steve Jobs is still focused on world domination (because he didn't get it when he was a kid), Bill Gates is very busy these days acting as a non-profit venture capitalist for all the problems in the world.

Many of those problems are in health care, where the Gates Foundation's Grand Challenge program recently handed out 78 grants.

(Shown, from the Gates Foundation Web site, are Gates and his wife Melinda in Africa. Note the smiles. When was the last time you smiled, Steve?)

Given that Gates is also playing a game of Brewster's Billions with Warren Buffett, it may seem like he's giving out money with an eye dropper. (Even the Buffett gift has its detractors.)

A $100,000 grant given 78 times is still $7.8 million. When you're working with nearly $100 billion, it's not much.

But too much money can ruin a scientist as fast as too little. That's not a problem here - each grant is scientific seed money, the equivalent of angel investing.

Each Gates round in the Grand Challenge program is built around themes. The current round's themes are vaccine delivery, malaria and family health. The next round's applications are due next Wednesday, and the themes are cellphones, maternal and infant health, infection control and contraception.

That last indicates the trouble the Gates can get into as they delve more deeply into problems of health. Contraception was initially a topic for round four. Now it has slipped to round five. It is an important topic, yet controversial with many religious communities.

Of course the couple has already gotten a taste of controversy. A $10 billion gift for vaccine research has run headlong into a growing public movement against vaccination. There is also controversy over the balance between testing vaccines and making them.

The Foundation has responded by building its own government-like bureaucracy, highlighted by a huge new campus in the heart of Seattle. The Foundation hopes to be there for a century or more. They're in it for the long haul.

It's inevitable, unfortunately. Anything really big has to scale. It has to be organized. It has to have staff.

Whether you're a business, government, or just a very rich man trying to do good with his money, bureaucracy is inevitable. It's the one disease for which there is no cure.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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