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Donors come forward, aid in the Emergent Ventures fight against COVID-19

April 24, 2020   /   by John Hollis

There’s been a strong response to efforts by George Mason University professor Tyler Cowen to incentivize the response to COVID-19, as generous donors have flooded his Emergent Ventures program with an additional $16 million in the hopes of immediately slowing the global pandemic. 

“People I knew who read or heard about it simply contacted us and expressed an interest in donating,” said Cowen, a professor of economics within Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the faculty director of the Mercatus Center.  

Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics within Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the faculty director of the Mercatus Center.

Cowen, who is also a national columnist for Bloomberg, helped put together the Emergent Ventures Prizes in March in the hopes of inspiring immediate breakthroughs. Initial prize money was gifted by several anonymous donors, with the Mercatus Center-based Emergent Ventures announcing its first four winners in late March. 

Most recently, Australian software billionaire Scott Farquhar and his wife, Kim Jackson, donated $1 million to the Emergent Ventures program.

Other donors include John and Patrick Collison of Stripe; former YCombinator head Paul Graham; Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke; LinkedIn co-founder and venture capitalist Reid Hoffman; Thistledown Foundation founder and chair Fiona McKean; Israeli-Russian entrepreneur and venture capitalist Yuri Milner and his wife, Julia; SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk; and investor and entrepreneur Chris Sacca and his wife, Crystal. 

The combined $5 million from Lütke and McKean has been exclusively designated for the coronavirus response in Canada, although Emergent Ventures will be making the recommendations for the allocation of those funds through the Thistledown Foundation, Cowen said. 

“We can all be proud that—to get something done quickly—Silicon Valley came to us,” he said. 

Cowen will rely on 16 individuals from different universities to help make those decisions, and believes that other major donations may be forthcoming. 

“I will feel satisfied only when things are back to normal,” he said.