Investing in Ocean Innovations


Despite the many challenges it faces, the ocean still teems with potential. Cures, sustainable energy sources, and nutritional supplements await discovery. Countless industries and technologies await development. For all that people have taken from the sea, we have truly only skimmed the surface of the solutions it can provide. 

Few know this as well as marine researchers, whose work at the forefront of scientific discovery gives them tantalizing glimpses at new possibilities. Bigelow Laboratory is committed to ensuring our research addresses real-world issues and opportunities, but traditional ocean science funding doesn’t typically support early investigations into commercial applications.

Visionary philanthropists have emerged as essential partners in nurturing these fledgling ideas. One such generous donor helped us establish the Sash A. and Mary M. Spencer Entrepreneurial Fund in December 2015. It provides vital investment in promising concepts, giving our researchers the time needed to investigate opportunities and forge commercial partnerships to support them.

“This innovative funding is helping expand our enterprise activities,” said Jim McManus, vice president for strategy and administration. “It is envisioned that the fund will allow our scientists to expedite the transfer of scientific discoveries to the markets that can benefit from them.”

Spencer Fund grants are targeted investments designed to stimulate and support the utilization of our science for societal benefit. When our scientists identify a valuable idea or discovery as part of their research, they can apply to a review panel for funding. Evaluation criteria include commercial partnerships, marketability, and development strategy.

“Innovation and discovery are perhaps what is most exciting about this type of research, but a solid plan and verifiable data are at least as important to attracting commercial partners,” said Mike Lomas, senior research scientist and recipient of two Spencer Fund investments. “Building a compelling case for commercial investment takes time and resources that we just don’t have without early stage investment by the philanthropic community.”

Spencer Fund investments provide scientists with the time to prove their concepts, demonstrate their expertise, and attract commercial partners. Smaller investments, up to $10,000, can fund early stage market analysis, business plan development, intellectual property filings, and proof-of-concept experiments. Larger investments, up to $40,000, are intended to support activities such as prototype development, field trials, and pilot studies.

All Spencer Fund investments require matching support from a third party, and our scientists are actively seeking people and foundations to help them solve problems in the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, energy, and aquaculture industries.

Another unique aspect to the Spencer Fund is that it is designed to be self-sustaining. A portion of the income generated by funded projects goes back into the Spencer Fund. Over time, this strategy will grow the fund and multiply the resources available to our scientists.

“Entrepreneurship is core to the culture of Bigelow Laboratory,” McManus said. “The Spencer Fund is focusing that energy and creating a new way for donors to provide sustaining support for our innovative solutions to pressing ocean-related issues.”