By John Pletz

May 15, 2023 01:29 PM

"Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Citadel founder Ken Griffin are backing a new University of Chicago-led effort to jumpstart private-sector solutions to some very big public problems such as pandemics and climate change.

The Market Shaping Accelerator is led by Michael Kremer, who won a Nobel Prize in economics in 2019 for work on poverty before coming to U of C. He's joined by fellow U of C economist Rachel Glennerster, as well as Christopher Snyder, an economics professor at Dartmouth College. 

One piece of the program involves using cash to crowdsource ideas that could be used to tackle problems for which the market so far hasn't created solutions. The accelerator will give away $2 million in prizes over the next year to people to turn existing ideas into reality, ideally in the form of signed contracts or purchase commitments.

Leah Rosenzweig, director of the Market Shaping Accelerator, says it's focusing on 'pull mechanisms,' or commitments from the market, to subsidize the purchase of a specific innovation if it is brought to market. They differ from government grants, or 'pushing' funding toward scientists to work on particular fields of research. 

The accelerator will start accepting applications for the prizes this week, selecting the first group of winners by the end of the summer.

'The goal is to help government, philanthropy, innovators and private companies accelerate innovation to solve these global challenges,' says Rosenzweig, who leads a staff of five.

She points to how five countries and the Gates Foundation pledged $1.5 billion in 2007 to subsidize and incentivize development and production of a vaccine for pneumococcal disease, which was killing children in developing countries. The commitment helped bridge the gap between the cost of the vaccines and the price developing nations could pay, leading to vaccinations of 50 million children.

'We don't know when the next pandemic will hit but we know it's coming and we know, on average, we will lose $800 billion every single year (in expectation) to pandemics,' Glennerster, an associate professor of economics at U of C, said in a statement. 'There are lots of great ideas about how to protect against the next pandemic, including vaccines that could protect against any future coronavirus or any future flu. But how do we make sure these are produced at sufficient scale that everyone can benefit from them when the next pandemic hits?'

The U of C accelerator launched last week with a reception at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. 

Griffin and Schmidt's financial contributions to the program were not specified. Although they come from different industries and opposite ends of the political spectrum, two have a shared interest in U of C. Griffin donated $125 million to the school in 2017. The school's department of economics is named for him. Griffin, who moved to Miami last year, also has donated to the university's Chicago Crime Lab. 

U of C is among nine universities with postdoctoral fellowships in artificial intelligence funded by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropy founded by Schmidt and his wife, Wendy. Nearly a decade ago, the Schmidts funded a summer fellowship program with a focus on using data science for social good."

This article appeared in Crain's Chicago Business. Read the original article here

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