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Photo via Flickr user Alan48.
Photo via Flickr user Alan48.

Amazon.com announced a new program today called Amazon Catalyst, which is designed to help fuel research and spark more entrepreneurial activity at universities. Amazon said it plans to provide grants in the range of $10,000 to $100,000 to researchers, students and faculties at universities working to solve big problems, from climate change to cybersecurity threats.

“We want you to think BIG! While there are no set guidelines, preference will be given to bold, creative, and fun projects that address clearly articulated problems with initial milestones that can be achieved in the time frame and budget of a grant,” the company wrote in a FAQ describing the program. “No prior data is needed – early stage projects are fine.”

The Seattle-based tech company is launching  Amazon Catalyst today in conjunction with the University of Washington, but other universities will be added over time.

amazon-catalystThe grants are available to students, faculty and staff at universities, with 100 percent of the funds going to the award winners. Projects that meet with success could receive additional financial support, the company said.

The intellectual property created under the program — including copyrights and patents — will be owned by university. Amazon.com also will receive a nonexclusive license.

Today’s agreement between Amazon and the University of Washington is part of an ongoing relationship between the two organizations. In 2012, Jeff Bezos led Amazon’s commitment of two $1 million endowed professor positions in the arena of machine learning.

Amazon Web Services already provides grants to academic researchers through a program called AWS in Education, but in those cases the company is looking at projects that could impact its burgeoning cloud computing business. And the grants are provided in the form of AWS credits.

The application process for an Catalyst grant is pure Amazon. Those seeking funds are asked to write a “press release” about the problem they are trying to tackle — taking a page out of the Amazon.com corporate culture which requires employees to do the same before launching a new product.

“Creating a hypothetical press release helps you clarify your thinking, provides a high-level overview of your project, and explains who would benefit and how they would benefit. It’s a very helpful exercise!” the company writes in its FAQ.

Amazon also asks researchers, students and faculty to think about the “customer” first, another key trait of the online retailer.

“Thinking about who benefits from one’s work is an important task. If nobody benefits from the project, then one might question why you would even want to do it in the first place!” the company explains in its FAQ.

Here’s the full blog post on the program:

We are excited to announce Amazon Catalyst, a new initiative between Amazon and select universities that provides funding and mentorship to support bold, globally-impactful, disruptive projects proposed by members of the university community, and helps expand the local entrepreneurial ecosystem of those universities. Amazon Catalyst’s purpose is to help the university community grow early-stage ideas – those ideas that may be too early for venture capital or government funding – into successful endeavors. Whether you are a professor, undergraduate student, graduate student, postdoc, librarian, nurse, or staff member of one of our partnering universities you can apply for the program. If selected, you will become a member of the Amazon Catalyst community and, with the support of Amazon Catalyst, explore your idea to its full potential.

Amazon Catalyst projects must address a key problem faced in the world today. Problems can be diverse, from computer security, to immigration, to climate change. Given the complex nature of many of these issues, we recognize that solutions will come from many different fields and many different perspectives. Therefore, the grants are open to all members of the university community, including but not limited to the humanities, arts, social sciences, medicine, law, engineering, natural sciences, among others. We want to enable people with a passion for invention to take an unconventional approach to a problem and develop that idea to change the world we live in today.

Amazon Catalyst’s first collaboration is with University of Washington (UW). With over 4,000 faculty, 50,000 students, 100 departments, and sharing our hometown of the greater Seattle region, UW is an ideal collaborator for Amazon Catalyst. Members of the UW community can apply at: http://catalyst.amazon.com .

Thanks,

Adam Siegel, Managing Director of Amazon Catalyst

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