why science matters and how government can amplify its impact


Impactful scientific discoveries don’t happen in isolation. Scientists driven to solve society’s big problems need support from key stakeholders across the broader innovation and entrepreneurship (I&E) ecosystem: higher education, industry, and government. Innovators like Maria Artunduaga, MD, MPH, MTM, who launched the startup Respira Labs as a way to quickly and effectively help people suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), create impact with support from multiple sources along the way. She received training and funding from the VentureWell E-Team grant program and participated in the National Science Foundation (NSF) I-Corps program, and was awarded a SBIR Phase I grant from NSF. 

Key players in I&E must come together to ensure more innovators like Artunduaga have access to support, training, and funding to solve the world’s most pressing challenges. Last month, representatives from VentureWell engaged in one such opportunity, joining over 100 leaders from science, technology, and innovation—including Dr. John Holdren, the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government—at the National Academy of Sciences to launch the Day One Project. The new Washington, D.C.-based initiative—co-chaired by Dr. Holdren—is on a mission to collect and prepare the 100 best science and technology (S&T) policy ideas for action.

We support the mission of the Day One Project. The initiative focuses on opportunities for the S&T community to inform nonpartisan agenda-setting by sourcing ideas and developing proposals on key issues that can be useful to policymakers and that are of great importance to our country—from national security to economic progress to keeping diseases at bay. The initiative can ensure that significantly more S&T innovations with potential to address these challenges will come to fruition—from a diverse pool of innovators capable and driven to tackle these problems through invention and entrepreneurship.

collaborating for impact

According to Dr. Holdren, who provided opening remarks and participated in a fireside chat with Dan Correa, Director of the Day One Project, it’s important to start identifying the ways science, technology, and innovation can interact with each other—and with public policy—towards impact. 

“All of the challenges on the national agenda are both individually and collectively interdisciplinary, intersectoral, interconnected, and, in some respects, intergenerational. Achieving our national potential on any of them requires making important progress on all the others. It’s also clear to everyone by now that the progression from fundamental research to applied research to development to wide-spread diffusion is not a linear pathway. Rather, it’s a web of feedback, which is also a reason for partnership. I see a central role for public policy in incubating these collaborative partnerships to address compelling opportunities. Public policy can also support and fund research and development in concert with the private sector, leverage the resources of S&T-heavy federal agencies to widely support STEM education, and further shape collaboration within intellectual property (IP), tax, and regulatory environments.”

opportunity for renewed support for science

In line with the Day One Project’s mission to seek nonpartisan support for important scientific discoveries, there is an opportunity to integrate more scientific expertise and interest into government initiatives. Currently, many federal positions where technical experts can have the greatest impact are overlooked. Dr. Holdren expanded upon this idea. 

“There is an opportunity to reach out to the widest possible community and to develop the best ideas through which the government can advance collective societal interests by applying S&T innovation to the great challenges we face, and simultaneously educate a new generation of future leaders in policymaking…There are a variety of important initiatives being pushed forward under OSTP and valuable projects going forward at NASA, NOAA, and DOE. But in other domains our capacities, determination, and focus have been eroded. I believe that we have the opportunity to inject this domain with new energy and ideas in a way that will engage people across the political spectrum.”

Phil Weilerstein, CEO of VentureWell, echoed Holdren’s remarks during his Day One Project presentation about the opportunities to unleash untapped potential across the science and technology ecosystem. 

“There is a need for a national, multi-year plan that ensures that we make the most of our uniquely American entrepreneurial capabilities, and engage the full potential of everyone in our society.” 

As noted in VentureWell’s Day One Project policy proposal, Closing Critical Gaps from Lab to Market, building a broad, deep pipeline of S&T talent in the U.S. requires federal agencies to prioritize and fund activities in a way that better aligns educational, research, and  commercial goals. This includes striving to expand and diversify participation in federally-supported entrepreneurship programming, such as I-Corps, and to provide more innovators with the resources, tools, and connections they need to successfully advance inventions from lab to market. 

opportunities for alignment with S&T and policy 

As mentioned above, many issues on the national agenda can be addressed through scientific innovation. Dr. Holdren highlighted a set of compelling proposals across S&T that are important to policy makers.

“At the intersection of S&T and public health there are enormous challenges and opportunities. For instance, we’re not past the threat of flu epidemics for which we are not adequately prepared, nor have we done enough to address the challenge of antibiotic resistance. Energy, land use, and climate change also demand input from every sector of society, not just in understanding and implementing opportunities to reduce emissions but also for preparedness, adaptations, and resilience… Information technology, AI, security, and privacy [are also top priorities]. Navigating the tensions across these domains are very challenging and need to be addressed from creativity in S&T and innovation.” 

The need to tackle these problems before they worsen requires swift, intentional collaboration among leaders in government, higher education, philanthropy, and industry. “To hasten the pace of adoption through funding, advocacy, and new incentives, we must embrace innovation as a core value that can bring us together and pool our collective assets to support and accelerate the talent, ideas, and capital needed to create exponential opportunity.” 

Science, technology, and innovation have major roles to play in surmounting society’s challenges. Nonpartisan government partnerships and support are needed to bring scientific solutions into the world. “While different parties in government differ on the best ways to make progress, no one can disagree on the need to work together to navigate these differences so forward progress is possible. Acting with a mindset of humble collaboration is critical; much more can be accomplished when no one focuses on who gets credit,” said Dr. Holdren. We are optimistic that the Day One Project will help ready promising policy ideas for implementation.

Full video of the event, including a policy pitch from VentureWell CEO Phil Weilerstein, is available here.

Photo credit: Day One Project 

Photo caption: Dr. John Holdren, co-Chair of the Day One Project’s S&T Leadership Council, outlines the importance of readying S&T policy priorities over the coming year with Day One Project Director, Dan Correa.

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