Should VCs Do Grant Review?

Interesting comment on technology review from Ed Martin of D-Wave (the quantum computer thingie):

“Businesses aren’t too fascinated about the details of quantum mechanics, but academics have their own axes to grind. I can assure you that our VCs [venture capital backers] look at us a lot closer than the government looks at the academics who win research grants,” Martin said.

As a related aside, I shared a gondola with D-Wave founder Geordie Rose last week at Whistler. Nice guy.


  1. A very bad idea.

  2. Sridhar Vembu says:

    I don’t know about the specifics of this quantum computing situation, but I will agree with the sentiment in general – government does a pretty lousy job in grant reviews. That is not to say that VCs should do grant reviews for doling out government money – the real answer is for the government to get out of that business altogether.

  3. I must say that just like VCs, who like to say that they invest in teams and not just an idea, governments and grant-awarding bodies also take a similar stance. Sometimes, on an off-chance, a bold VC will fund an outlier, just as an awards body will fund a spectacular, if controversial, piece of research.
    Also there are differences between how various grant bodies operate. Federal bodies in the US (and the Research Councils in the UK) decidedly work differently from private or family foundations such as say, Gates Foundation. My hypothesis is the difference in their respective focuses and agendas – somewhere governments promote and should promote basic science, whereas other sources may have more ‘translational’ or ‘applied’ perspective. That is an eternal debate – science versus technology, basic versus applied, even Popper versus Kuhn. My guess is most VCs operate in more or less the same way with a focus on translational or applied aspects of science/ technology.
    So, no, VCs should not review research grants.

  4. Terry Foecke says:

    My niche in the world of peer review of grants has been in helping the USEPA evaluate proposals made under their part of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Peer reviewers need domain experience; career experience; and the ability to come up to speed quickly on new topics. This type of peer review, done in small teams reporting out to large groups for further discussion, has been independently evaluated as both efficient and effective. Not that it can’t be improved, but a decent overall approach.
    Domain experience and being a quick study help the most, judging by the quality of the reviews I have read. At least in Phase II SBIR topics, many of which have a strong commercialization bias, a peer reviewer who is a VC might actually be a good thing. Even Phase I SBIR, essentially proof-of-concept, benefits from questions about size of market and addressable market and a sharp eye on project teams and available support.