07:16 AM

Hertz Foundation: 6 Decades of Finding And Funding Top Scientific Talent


The SF/Bay Area based Hertz Foundation has found a way to surface the best young scientists and fund their work which accelerates the timeline for new breakthroughs. It’s attracted attention from the GatesFoundation with a $5m grant.

John Hertz is known as the eponymous founder of one of the largest car rental companies in the world; less well known is his foundation which in its 60 year history has discovered and funded hundreds of talented young scientists across applied disciplines in science, maths, engineering and biology.

Every year the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation chooses 12 to 15 Hertz Fellows from more than 750 merit-based graduate candidates.It is one of the most prestigious awards in academia and valued for its no-strings attached funding.

The selection process requires considerable time from the applicants with written submissions and interviews. And it requires considerable time from a large network of academics in top universities to select the best out of an already exceptional group of brilliant graduates.

Each submission requires four letters of reference and candidates are evaluated om creativity, drive, and innovation. Two personal interviews are required. Applicants that show entrepreneurial traits and own patents are favored in the selection process.

The Hertz Fellows receive five-year grants at any university they choose without any restrictions -- a rare feature with the majority grants tied to institutions or specific areas of research.

They also have access to and support from the community of all the other Fellows for mentoring and problem solving. The goal is to encourage a cross-discipline approach to new ideas.


Here are some of the testimonials from Hertz Fellows about the importance of the grants and the value of the continuing programs and events.

Here are some of the testimonials from Hertz Fellows about the importance of the grants and the value of the continuing programs and events.

"This incredible academic freedom is only surpassed by the extraordinary students, entrepreneurs, and professors I have had the privilege of meeting through Hertz Foundation events, such as the Fellows retreats and the Hertz Symposium." Gleb Akselrod Massachusetts Institute of Technology Hertz Fellow 2012

T.J. Rodgers, founder of Cypress Semiconductor and Astro Teller, head of Google's "moonshots" lab are among Silicon Valley's better known Hertz Fellows.

A rising elite...

The Hertz selection process is very rigorous and meticulous and it works very well. The foundation has become so good at it that it has attracted notice from other organizations also interested in discovering and funding the best emerging science graduates.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced a $5 million grant to fund two new Fellows in Global Health and Development. The new Fellows will spend two summers working with scientists as interns on projects funded by the Gates Foundation.

Robbee Baker Kosak, president of the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, says that the partnership came about because of people working at the Gates Foundation who were familiar with the transformational impact of the organization's work.

Inspired by Teller...

Kosak says the Foundation represents the entrepreneurial spirit of its founder John Hertz, "One of the great immigrant stories." He arrived in Chicago from Austria-Hungary just five years old, worked as boxer, a newspaper reporter, then founded The Yellow Cab Company and then created the Hertz car rental company.

Kosak says that Hertz was inspired by his friend Edward Teller, the theoretical physicist, to focus his philanthropy on graduate scientists because "engineering and applied sciences are the fuel that improves the human condition."

Secret funder...

Kosak jokes that the Livermore, California based organization is one of the best kept secrets in the San Francisco Bay Area despite decades of important work investing more than $200 million in nearly 1200 Hertz Fellows.

It's time to tell that story more widely and try to scale the work of discovery and fund more Fellows.

By engaging early in the careers of elite researchers and innovators the Hertz organization helps to accelerate breakthroughs and development of foundational technologies that can support large industries.

"We have a proven track record of finding and investing in the best young talent. We are hoping that other philanthropists will choose to support our work because they also believe that funding science is important."

Landing support from the Gates Foundation is an important step in attracting other benefactors and scaling what has become a superb process of discovering the best fundable talent in applied physics, maths, engineering and the biological sciences.

Silicon Valley business innovation depends heavily on advances in applied sciences. The Hertz Foundation's work helps fuel this global engine of economic growth.


Additional information: http://hertzfoundation.org/about/history