Flexibly Incubating New Ideas at Caltech

  • Education
  • 2015

Ron and Maxine Linde are long-time supporters of the California Institute of Technology, having trained there before building their own successful industrial firm. In 2015 they presented Caltech with an unusual present—a $50 million endowment that the college can use completely flexibly to advance promising initiatives of any sort in their early stages. Their money is earmarked not to a specific field, but to a process—early incubation of new ideas.

As soon as the idea being sprouted becomes established, it will be expected to turn to other funding, and the Linde endowment money will be redirected to some fresh unproven concept. This introduces a little of the method of the venture capitalist to university operations, and it encourages experimentation rather than bureaucracy and empire-building. “Our philosophy is to allow for flexibility, because you can’t know the future,” said Ron Linde. “Science is about exploring the unknown.”

This brought the Linde’s total giving to Caltech to more than $80 million.