Rutgers partners with Benefunder to increase research funding


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Christian Braemer is the chief executive officer and co-founder of Benefunder, a non-profit group that recently secured a partnership with Rutgers. 


Rutgers announced a partnership with Benefunder on March 19 after Christian Braemer, CEO and co-founder, met with University officials and discovered a mutual interest for the company and University.

After meeting with Christopher Molloy, senior vice president for Research and Economic Development, Braemer said Rutgers would be a good partner with Benefunder.

“Christopher was giving a presentation about his vision for Rutgers going forward, which inspired me, and after talking we came to the conclusion that Rutgers would be a great fit with Benefunder,” Braemer said.

Founded more than one year ago, the Benefunder works to facilitate relationships between wealthy investors and researchers in need of funding, he said.

“We noticed that there’s about $240 billion in individual philanthropy in the United States and only about 3 percent of those funds are actually going to research,” Braemer said.

The organization works as a communal foundation with a national reach, Braemer said. With involvement from 65 universities and more than 600 researchers, Benefunder thrives on the mission of supporting innovation everywhere.

“Based on the importance and economic return, we realized there was a major disconnect (between investors and researches), and we had to do something,” he said.

Through The Charitable Donation Fund, wealthy clients with advisors from wealth management firms can complete questionnaires about goals, past donations and time horizons to match researchers’ interests, Braemer said.

Potential researchers are selected through a qualification process similar to that of the National Science Foundation and Guggenheim Foundation, which examines past fellowships, publications and more, Braemer said.

“Part of our consideration is also the need in a certain research lab,” he said. “We understand that a bio-tech or life science lab might have a different need than a data science lab, so we are very careful about matching the capacity to give.”

Rutgers is among four colleges that has a Research Institutional Agreement (RIA), which provides a unique relationship between donors and researchers, Braemer said.

“This special relationship is especially beneficial to donors, as there is full transparency (concerning) where the money is going,” he said.

Along with the University’s Office of Research, Benefunder also works with the Rutgers Foundation, which is a separate entity that raises money from alumni, corporations and foundations, to support collegiate programs and research, said Eileen Murphy, director of Research Development.

Although Rutgers is one of the top three universities in terms of research funding grants, the University had more difficulty in obtaining funds, Molloy said.

“Benefunder could be a way to open up opportunities for additional supports in areas where it’s harder to get federal or state support,” he said.

Many might not consider university-level research to be an impactful place to invest money, Braemer said.

“In other forms of philanthropic giving, you can feed the homeless and see an impact almost immediately,” he said. “The problem with University research is that the impact might not be realized for almost 20 or more years.”

Rutgers has faculty and students working on research projects in the life sciences, environment and technology, which are three of the key targeted areas of Benefunder’s support, Murphy said.

“With this new partnership with Benefunder, we are hoping to take advantage of the fourth area, the social sciences and humanities,” she said.

The humanities currently have the smallest number of research opportunities and funding, Murphy said.

The partnership will open new doors and reinforce the idea that university-level research is critical to the world at large, Murphy said.

“Research in general is crucial (to) understanding the world around us, things like human behavior and disease,” Murphy said. “In my opinion, the crux of this research is done at university level.”

The benefit to contributing to the University, as opposed to corporations and foundations, is that the students are here and can benefit directly by learning from researchers, she said.

Benefunder’s university partnerships, with colleges such as the University of California, San Diego, have allowed for funding on numerous projects, from research on cancer to wearable technology.

There is a clear social and economic impact from the new innovations that are coming out of universities, Braemer said.

By building partnerships between wealthy donors and top research universities like Rutgers, funding will no longer be a hindrance to groundbreaking innovations, Braemer said.

“We are looking to become the largest non-government source of funding for research, and plan on bringing at least $1 billion for funding in over the next five years,” he said.


Shazia Mansuri

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