An essay by Kelvin Schrödinger, as provided by Kenneth Schneyer
From the Bulletin of the Society for Innovative Research and Invention, vol. 195, no. 3 (Summer, 2012):
Everyone knows that funding is a perennial problem. With so little hardware and so few suitable reagents available off-the-shelf, your work becomes impossible without moles of ready cash. It’s no coincidence that our big success stories have been men of independent means, successful industrialists, or war profiteers.
If that’s your situation, congratulations. I wish you well in your Carpathian castle or your Schenectady manufacturing plant; please invite me to tea! But if you’re like most of us, you wear out your slide rule trying to figure out how to pay for your next Beam-Based Armament or Program for Global Governance.
Yet even the genius of humble origins can capture enough golden geese to supply his most demanding needs for protoplasm and plutonium. I’ve helped many an unheralded Prometheus find the wherewithal to assemble his dream. Let me take you through some of the most promising lines of capital acquisition.
1. Angels and Patrons
In a just world, your rich friends would recognize the importance of your work and cheerfully back it. Failing that, a wealthy man or woman may “adopt” you as a project, much as she might take in a stray painter or poet. The social benefits of such an arrangement can rival the financial ones, and I could name several good marriages (and a dozen stormy affairs) that have grown from such seeds.
Finding a patron can be as much a matter of luck as inheriting wealth yourself, but I know several methods of putting yourself in the way of such opportunities. Saving strangers drowning in ponds is an established technique for breaking the ice, as is opening your door to disheveled young ladies seeking shelter from nighttime thunderstorms.
Warning: those affections can evaporate as easily as they coalesced, leaving you with a broken heart and unpaid electric bills. Further, your angel will probably be uninterested in learning the first thing about your chosen field, and may innocently blab your research in Predatory Flora in the local pub. Before you know it, her drinking buddies will be pounding on the lab door with pitchforks.
2. Creative Grant Writing
Most charitable foundations and government agencies blinker themselves to consider Mundane Research only, rejecting out-of-hand even something so sensible as a Servitor Species project. DARPA will support Innovative Research with military applications, but then your Pentagon masters will hobble the work in the narrowest way: they will want your Aggressive Pathological Microbe to infect only an opposing army, and won’t hear of its broader applications for Eugenic Improvement.
This is why I teach creative grant writing. With a little imagination and nimble use of language, you can reframe your Reanimation of Dead Tissue as a life-saving surgical appliance, your Obedient Android Phalanx as manufacturing automation. I can show you how to divine the foundation’s tastes from its current projects, then write the grant accordingly. Chances are that one of your colleagues already has a project on the list!
Some of us lack the compositional skills to pull off such a feat; long hours with petri dishes and Van de Graaff generators don’t turn you into Mary Shelley. But you can hire wordsmiths to massage your proposals, which presents only the minor problem of what to do with your ghost-writers afterwards.
Alas, creative grant writing has a built-in time limit. Foundations demand regular reports on progress from each Principal Investigator, and there’s only so long that you can pacify them before they pull the plug. Larger agencies may send an inspector first, and although this gives you more breathing room as you divert and dispose of him, ultimately it invites premature attention to the work.
3. Patent Sales and Licensing
Most of us sensibly prefer to protect our innovations through trade secrets instead of patents, in order to avoid public disclosure of our methods and designs. It’s hardly worthwhile to invent a Planetary Collapse Initiator if everyone else knows how to build one.
But consider the operating capital you can generate by selling a valuable patent, or the revenue that precipitates from licensing! Patent trolls (trolls you do not have to build yourself) will take all the nasty work off your hands, filing lawsuits against major tech corporations and leaving you free to perfect your Gravity Negation Engine!
If you don’t want to license the big, world-changing innovation, what about patenting some of the smaller developments along the way? Can the early components of your Temporal Displacement Device be marketed separately as food preservation or childcare apparatus? The license fees can speed the progress of the final stage, at which point you’ll have all the time you need.
Yet patents are infringed all the time, and the litigation can take years. And there’s always the risk that one of the infringers will take your Carefree Pet SitterTM and use it to develop Canine Lab Assistants before you do.
4. Private Debt Financing
Commercial lending is the global legacy system for securing liquidity; revolving lines of credit are especially convenient. Should the Innovative Researcher take advantage of this perennially deep pocket?
I’d advise against it. Banks are notoriously skittish about risk, and today’s loan agreements are filled with acceleration clauses and default triggers that let the lender disengage at a whim. They may institute monthly, weekly, or (in today’s technological environment) even daily assessments that can flatline you in a heartbeat. You could lose all your funding just as your second generation of Advanced Arthropods is hatching.
5. Private Venture Capital
Venture capitalists are visionaries, earning their bread by taking risks on the untried and unexplored. They are more likely than most to see the possibilities in Thought-Based Communication or Intelligent Megafauna. Some of your ambitions, such as Global Governance, may appeal to their own plans. Venture capitalists have enormous treasuries at their command that can keep you in particle accelerators and centrifuges for years. Lovers of proprietary business models, they will protect your secrecy and help you leverage it.
But these fellows are all about return on investment. They won’t fertilize a project unless they can calculate the schedule of probable profits. Some of your more speculative undertakings, such as Deific Simulation and Wholesale Hominid Replacement, may have too long a payback period to please them.
And they love to hold the reins. Your venture capitalist will insist on a controlling interest as quid pro quo for the risk, and it’s inevitable that you’ll come to a clash of wills. Still, the advantages are considerable, and you may be able to come to an accommodation or some other permanent resolution to your dispute.
6. Putting It Together
Taking into consideration the burdens of accountability and the unreliability of the uninitiated, there are no ideal solutions to the problem of funding Innovative Research. The advantages of each seem, at best, to be balanced by its drawbacks.
But Innovative Researchers are renowned for thinking out of the box and devising hitherto undreamed-of solutions to age-old problems. Why not the same in the area of finance? Why have our underappreciated geniuses focused so much on the hard sciences, ignoring the fields of economics and international currency exchange?
They haven’t. In the dungeon of some deserted Balkan monastery, even now a modern alchemist transmutes gold, which is only the first step. How do I know he’s taken this road? Because I helped to put him on it.
A regular contributor to the Bulletin, Kelvin Schrödinger has earned accolades for his five-day intensive seminar, “Getting the Research Support You Deserve.” 2012 Registrants who mention this article will receive a 20% discount. He is also available for lectures and conference appearances. Visit his web site at www.KelvinSchrodi.com.
Kenneth Schneyer’s stories have appeared in Analog, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clockwork Phoenix 3, Abyss & Apex, GUD, Daily Science Fiction, Ideomancer, The Drabblecast, and that disquieting note you found in your mailbox yesterday. He attended the Clarion Writers Workshop in 2009 and joined the Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop in 2010. In his other life, Ken is a college professor who teaches business law and science fiction literature. Born in Detroit, he now lives in Rhode Island with one singer, one dancer, one actor, and something striped and fanged that he sometimes glimpses out of the corner of his eye.
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