The mission of BrainMind is to support and cultivate the most important and impactful ideas in brain science -- focusing our collective energy on critical gating discoveries and structurally underserved areas. To do this, BrainMind is intelligently reorganizing abundant energy, capital, expertise and resources already in the system, using the following guiding principles:
Create a high-consciousness community of powerful and influential people interested in brain science to drive a cultural shift valuing ideas principally on their potential human impact.
Establish a roadmap for effective forward progress maximizing impact in brain science, focusing special attention on areas and ideas that are currently under-supported relative to their importance.
Infuse these ideas with high consciousness capital, leadership, and network support to grow and scale innovations that can benefit humanity from the lab to society.
Founder and President
FACULTY ADVISORS, PROGRAM ADVISORS
MIT Summit Advisory Board
Director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory and Picower Professor of Neuroscience, MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Y. Eva Tan Professor in Neurotechnology at MIT, Leader, Synthetic Neurobiology Group, Associate Professor, Media Lab and McGovern Institute, Co-Director, MIT Center for Neurobiological Engineering
Doris and Don Berkey Professor of Neuroscience, Director, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
The next decade of brain science has the potential to reshape humanity. If we are passive, the coming brain revolution will either fall short of its potential or drift towards negative outcomes.
In the field of neuroscience, we are beginning to be able to access and manipulate brain and mind activity in powerful ways - for both benefit and harm.
This inflection point in neuro-scientific discovery is comparable to the cracking of the genetic code and the splitting of the atom, but differs in two important ways:
Compared to the genetic revolution which took place mostly in academic centers, a large part of this revolution is taking place in the private sector, where pubic oversight is limited.
Unlike cracking the genetic code or harnessing nuclear power, society is not yet fully aware of how potent this leap in BrainMind capability is, for both risk and reward.
As a species, we must navigate this rapidly emerging watershed era proactively -- with vitality, creativity, and thoughtful care.
THE FUNDING GAP
The Valley of Death in Brain Science Innovation
The current economically driven engine of capital formation is not built to support ideas that will most benefit humanity. Many impactful and sustainable ideas will need to be intelligently supplemented with tools beyond economic incentives.
There is ample capital in the healthcare space for early idea formation for research and academia. This front end of the idea funnel gets most of the attention and capital, albeit in an unorganized fashion from philanthropy and public funding (NIH, DARPA, etc).
Americans dedicate hundreds of billions annually ($38bn+ from philanthropy, $170bn+ the US government) towards idea creation in the sciences.
Thoughtful investment into the academic roots of BrainMind technologies will always be critical and important. However, for important BrainMind technologies ought to reach patients; they much leave the lab.
At the Far end of the funnel, the economic focus of venture capital filters out many impactful ideas and supports only the minority which promise venture-like returns.
We believe that the venture capital system is incomplete, not broken. Medically-oriented VC funding does what it is designed to do, to drive innovation that can also produce a market beating (3x+ aggregate) return for its investors.
There is comparatively little support in the middle ground. Most impactful technologies that are mature enough to leave the lab will not meet venture criteria. These potentially self-sustaining impactful technologies get stuck in what is often called the ‘Valley of Death.’Impact investing which is focused on non-concessionary, venture-like returns follows the same pattern as normal venture capital is not an answer to the valley of death and should be bifurcated as impact-focused and investor-focused.
What about Impact Investing?
Impact investors who claim or aim to produce >3x ‘venture-like’ returns are, by definition, not focused on making investments in impactful companies that are more likely to produce a 1x-2x return (the majority of such impactful ideas). We refer to these funds as investor-oriented impact funds.
The Ecosystem supports the full spectrum of idea formation across neuroscience and the study of the human mind, from basic science research to commercial ventures. Within our wider roadmap, BrainMind is surfacing and focusing special attention on ideas that are either critical to the advancement in our understanding of the brain or underfunded in relation to their importance. Examples include:
Prevention and wellness-focused innovations
Research tools that will enable faster discovery at scale
Mapping in the brain: proteomics, cell types, circuitry, systems
Large-scale efforts to generate and share data
Neuroscience-informed AI research, and vice versa
Educational neuroscience, and other areas of neuroscience focused on human flourishing
High risk / high return, non-venture backable but sustainable, capital- or time-intensive ideas with high potential impact on public health
We see the current state of idea formation as a meadow, where growth happens semi-randomly and opportunistically. BrainMind envisions the future of brain science innovation as a garden, wherein ideas are seeded and nourished according to a plan, with specific results in mind. This is why we are establishing a multidisciplinary coalition supporting both impactful innovation and ethical stewardship for future research
Over $38 billion dollars are donated annually to healthcare causes from philanthropic sources, much of which goes to basic research at universities. Government grants amount to over $100 billion annually for basic scientific and medical research. At the other end of the spectrum, venture capital invests around $20 billion in healthcare companies. While basic research and commercial companies with high expected returns are funded readily, a "valley of death" of investment separates promising research from mass-scale innovations, especially for ideas that promise significant health impact but modest financial gain. BrainMind seeks to coordinate capital across philanthropy and venture capital to deliver stewardship of fundamental neuroscience to impact-focused stakeholders.
Today, a global network of scientists, engineers, and clinicians are doing brilliant work to uncover the underlying mechanisms of cognition, motivation, learning, memory, sleep, attachment, resilience, neurological disorders, and the process by which consciousness arises. The neurological underpinnings of the human mind are being explored in the nation’s most prestigious institutions, with the creation of multiple centers of excellence for these academic pursuits at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Oxford, and many more.
Just as the scientific community has made significant strides in neurobiological research with the advent of fMRI, the medical community is converging on transformative discoveries of the physical and psychological impact of the human mind. The human mind is also being studied in the context of real-life interventions, including medical, personal, and social approaches. These practices are being studied for applications in stress and anxiety management, cognitive behavioral therapy, stroke recovery, chronic pain management, cancer treatment, child self-regulation, and more.
By exploring the intersection of brain and mind, we gain insight not only into the mechanisms by which the mind affects the brain and the body, but into consciousness itself. By convening the world’s top thinkers, researchers, and innovators on the convergence of neuroscience and the study of human consciousness, we open the door to collaborations and discoveries that will quicken the pace of innovation. The BrainMind team is uniquely equipped to execute on this strategy, with experience in medicine, social entrepreneurship, venture capital, and donor development.
BrainMind’s initiatives have been made possible with generous philanthropic support from Reid Hoffman, Bo Shao, David Sze, Josh Koppelman, and all ecosystem members who contribute via their participation at our gatherings. BrainMind’s summits have also been supported by the Stanford Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. We would also like to honor and thank the following sponsors of BrainMind:
Evolve Foundation makes philanthropic grants and pursues direct philanthropic initiatives that reduce human suffering and facilitate the evolution of consciousness.
Greylock Partners is a leading venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley. They back entrepreneurs who are building disruptive, market-transforming consumer and enterprise software companies.
The Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute is a non-profit institute founded by husband and wife Tianqiao Chen and Chrissy Luo with the aim of supporting study into the human brain.
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati is the premier legal advisor to technology, life sciences, and growth enterprises worldwide, as well as the venture firms, private equity firms, and investment banks that finance them.