Lightspeed Grants provides fast funding for projects that help humanity flourish among the stars. The application is minimal and grant requests of any size ($5k - $5M) are welcome. Budget is $5M for this grant round, and (probably) more in future rounds. Applications close in 30 days (July 6th, AoE). Opt into our venture grants program to get a response within 14 days (otherwise get a response in 30-60 days, around the start of August). 

Apply here. The application should only take 1-2 hours!

If you want to join as a funder, send us an email at funds@lightspeedgrants.org.

Is the application really only 2 hours though?

Often, applicants get nervous about grant applications and spend a lot more time than they need to on them, or get overwhelmed and procrastinate on applying.

We really just want you to spell out some basic information about your project in a plain way and think this is doable in the 1-2 hour timeframe.

If you're worried about overthinking things, we'll have application co-working sessions and office hours every Thursday of June (edit: and July 6th) between noon and 2PM PT. If you think you might procrastinate on the application or get stuck in the weeds and spend a ton of unnecessary time on it, you can join one and fill out the application on the call, plus ask questions. Add the co-working to your calendar here, or join the Google meet directly at that time here!

Who runs Lightspeed Grants?

Lightspeed grants is run by Lightcone Infrastructure. Applications are evaluated by ~5 evaluators selected for their general reasoning ability and networks including applicants/references, and are chosen in collaboration with our funders. Our primary funder for this round is Jaan Tallinn.

Applications are open to individuals, nonprofits, and projects that don't have a charitable sponsor. When necessary, Hack Club Bank provides fiscal sponsorship for successful applications.

Why?

Improved grantee experience

I’ve been doing various forms of grantmaking for 5+ years, both on the Long Term Future Fund and the Survival and Flourishing Fund, and I think it's possible to do better, both in grant quality and applicant-experience. 

Applications tend to be unnecessarily complicated to fill out, and it can take months to get a response from existing grantmakers, often without any intermediate updates. Different donors also often end up playing donor-chicken where donors wait to fund an organization to see whether other donors will fund it first, delaying decisions further. This period of funding uncertainty can have large effects on organizational strategy, and also makes experimenting with smaller projects much more costly, since each grant application might be associated with weeks to months of funding uncertainty, meaning it takes months to go from an idea to execution, or to go from "the beta test turned out well" to moving forward with the project.

My goal is to have an application process that requires minimal additional work beyond "explain why your project is a good idea and you are a good fit for it" and where most responses happen within 2 weeks. This round, we're aiming for something somewhat less ambitious while we find our footing, and are planning to get back to people reliably in less than 60 days, with the ability to opt-into a 14-day response process.

Improved funder experience

Currently funders either have to find hyper-local grant opportunities among their friends and acquaintances and fund them directly, start something like their own foundation, or give up control over their funds and donate money to something like the Long Term Future Fund, which will then fund some portfolio of grants that the funder has relatively little insight into (especially with the decrease in grant writeups from the LTFF and EAIF).

The Lightspeed Grants process aims to be a way for funders to get involved much more directly, by being able to see applications, defer to selected evaluators (or bring their own evaluators), and fund organizations directly without needing to worry about double-funding or donor-chicken problems.

This seems particularly important given the recent uptick in interest in existential risks from artificial intelligence, which I expect will result in many people wanting to find giving opportunities to reduce that risk.

If you are a funder interested in funding applications to Lightspeed Grants, or want to more broadly use our process, email us at funds@lightspeedgrants.org and we will get back to you in 24 hours.

What if I want a response faster than 60 days? 

If you want a response faster than 60 days, select the "Allow venture grants" option on your application and give a short explanation for why you want an urgent response. A set of venture evaluators who can fund applications immediately (without waiting for the round to complete) will take a look at your application. 

As part of the round, we evaluate all venture grants and increase or decrease the venture grant evaluator’s budget based on how much value we think the venture grant has produced.

There is no cost to opting into the venture grant program, though venture grant capacity is limited, so it will overall help other applicants if you only opt into this if you would actually benefit substantially from a faster response. 

For this round venture grants are facilitated by allowing members of the Survival and Flourishing Speculation Grants program to use their balance in that program to make grants to Lightspeed Grants applicants.  

Who should apply to Lightspeed Grants?

We are looking for projects that have a chance of substantially changing humanity's future trajectory for the better. The areas in which this kind of change seems most likely to us are:

  • Reducing the probability of existential catastrophe from Artificial Intelligence
  • Preventing the development or propagation of novel biological pathogens
  • Improving the reasoning of key global decision-makers
  • Uncovering crucial considerations that could shift our understanding of the future

Applications that fall outside of these focus areas are still welcome, and we expect to fund several projects that don't narrowly fall into any of the categories above.

As a more concrete guideline, here is a set of grants made by the Long Term Future Fund and the Survival and Flourishing Fund that seem to me (Oliver Habryka) to be particularly good and indicative of the kind of grant we want to fund:

Daniel Filan - $23,544
Make 12 more AXRP episodes

SERI MATS program - $316,000
8-week scholars program to pair promising alignment researchers with mentors in the field

Alignment Research Center - $72,000
A research & networking retreat for winners of the Eliciting Latent Knowledge contest

Robert Miles - $82,000
1-year salary to make videos and podcasts about AI Safety/Alignment, and to build a community to help new people get involved

Stephen Grugett, James Grugett, Austin Chen (Manifold Markets) - $200,000
4-month salary for 3 FTE to build Manifold Markets, a forecasting platform based on user-created play money prediction markets

Fund for Alignment Research (FAR) - $524,000
General funding for FAR AI funding research on adversarial robustness, interpretability and preference learning.

Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative (RADVAC) - $13,000
General support of RADVAC, a scientist collective developing self-administered vaccines against COVID.

How does the Lightspeed Grants process work?

Every grant evaluator decides how much value each project creates at various funding levels. Funders review the evaluator’s reasoning. We find an allocation of funds that’s fair and maximizes the funders’ and evaluators’ expressed preferences (using a number of somewhat dubious but probably not too terrible assumptions). Funders can adjust how much money they want to distribute after seeing everyone’s evaluations, including fully pulling out.

For a more detailed explanation see this footnote.[1]

Who will have access to my application data?

Applications will be visible to Lightcone Infrastructure employees and collaborators, evaluators, and funders (as well as venture grant evaluators if you opt into our venture grants program). Lightcone Infrastructure, the evaluators, or the funders might publish evaluations publicly. 

If you have confidential information that you want to make sure is not published, you can put that information in the corresponding field in the grant application, and it will not be shared publicly, though it will still be shared with participating evaluators and funders.

What can I do to help?

Apply

If you are not an applicant or are unlikely to participate as a funder in the process, the next most valuable thing you can do is share this post (or the website). We want to make sure we don't miss great grant proposals, after all, our grant-making program can only be as good as the grants that apply to it.

  1. ^

    Each evaluator specifies in what order they think it would be best to give money to different projects. They do this using a graphical tool that helps them specify marginal utility functions over different funding levels for the organizations. Each funder similarly specifies how much money each evaluator should distribute. We then run the following process: 


    1. For each evaluator, we check what they would give money to if they were the only person participating in this process, with the budget they were given by the funders
    2. Multiple evaluators will have recommended funding to the same organization. For each dollar where multiple evaluator’s funding recommendations overlap, we refund them a fractional share of their money (e.g. if there are 4 evaluators each giving an organization $1000, then each evaluator gets back $750)
    3. Each evaluator distributes the resulting refunds to whatever organizations they would fund next (ignoring how other evaluators are spending their funds)
    4. We repeat steps 1-3 until the refunds reach zero (or get very small). 
     

    The overall goal of this process is to allow funders to coordinate on funding projects, without accidentally double-funding a project, or without accidentally failing to fund a project because they were expecting their room for funding to already be filled. The above is the algorithm we settled on after trying a lot of different variations.

New Comment
41 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:09 AM

Opt into our venture grants program to get a response within 14 days (otherwise get a response in 30-60 days, around the start of August). 

In an environment where EA organizations don't seem to keep their promises about responding in promised timeframes and write things like "we get back to you" and then don't and seem to be willing to accept the negative mental health consequences that come along with that, is there a good reason why people should expect a different practice from this new process?

Please also provide a very rough breakdown of your budget (e.g., "45% on salary for me for 6 months, 35% for payroll insurance/tax, 10% for a contractor, 10% on software and other expenses"). If you prefer, you can provide a range of values or specify multiple scenarios. If you are applying as an individual and this grant is a primary source of income, please ensure you are applying for the full payroll cost including self-employment taxes.

You speak about how the whole application should be able to be done in 1-2 hours. I don't think that figuring out the exact way the taxation situation works is a 1-2 hour thing. Would you want someone who doesn't know exactly, to just apply or would you want them to figure out the taxation situation beforehand even if it takes longer?

In an environment where EA organizations don't seem to keep their promises about responding in promised timeframes and write things like "we get back to you" and then don't and seem to be willing to accept the negative mental health consequences that come along with that, is there a good reason why people should expect a different practice from this new process?

Yeah, it's a pretty fair criticism. I am quite confident we will keep the "responses around the start of August" mark, because that one is pretty inherently baked into our evaluation process. And I do think we will get back to you within 14 days if you chose that option, though I have a lot of uncertainty of whether this might mean we just end up rejecting a lot of people. 

You speak about how the whole application should be able to be done in 1-2 hours. I don't think that figuring out the exact way the taxation situation works is a 1-2 hour thing. Would you want someone who doesn't know exactly, to just apply or would you want them to figure out the taxation situation beforehand even if it takes longer?

I think applying anyways is fine. I do think most applicants probably will have a rough sense of their tax situation if they receive a grant, but I agree that it can sometimes be quite tricky to find out, and then it would definitely take longer than 1-2 hours to fill things in.

Extremely excited to see this new funder. 
I'm pretty confident that we can indeed find a significant number of new donors for AI safety since the recent Overton window shift. 

Chatting with people with substantial networks, it seemed to me like a centralized non-profit fundraising effort could probably raise at least $10M. Happy to intro you to those people if relevant @habryka

And reducing the processing time is also very exciting. 

So thanks for launching this.

Intros would be great! Now that we've launched I've been planning to reach out to more potential funders, and I think we will very likely get more good applications than we have funding for.

Feel free to send me a DM or send me an email at habryka@lightspeedgrants.org to coordinate.

(as an instance of Speaking for myself (re: how the LW2.0 team communicates), I'm going on record saying that while I think this project is a quite good endeavor, I think the name "Lightspeed Grants" should be reserved for things that literally give money at metaphorical Lightspeed, which my linguistic intuition says is "about 24 hours", and I think this project should be called "Quite Fast Grants" or something)

I just came up with "Lightweight Grants™", which a) has the prefix "Light" in it, and b) I think conveys the actual unique features of this project. :P

Congratulations, excited to see how this plays out!

I'm super confused about the relationship between Lightspeed Grants and the Survival and Flourishing Fund:

  • The primary funder of both funds is Jaan Tallinn (although FLI is also participating in the current SFF round).
  • The process of determining the funding basically sounds like the S-Process (~5 evaluators using an app that Lightcone Infrastructure developed that negotiates allocations among the participants).
  • The venture grants are, it sounds like, funded by the SFF speculation grantors using balances from their speculation grant funds.

As far as I can tell the main difference is the turnaround time, in that you're looking to get decisions out in 60 days max. Are there other important differences to be aware of? And perhaps most relevantly, can/should organizations who are applying to SFF submit a separate application to Lightspeed?

Lightspeed Grants is definitely meaningfully modeled as being a kind of spinoff of the SFF, and also as a way to create more competition between different funding distribution mechanisms for Jaan and other funders. 

This means for this round there are a lot of similarities on the backend, though I do expect the applicant experience to already be quite different. And then I expect much more heavy divergence in future rounds as we have more end-to-end ownership over the product, which allows us to make more changes (I've already made a lot of changes to the app and evaluation process, though those are less visible to applicants).

The evaluation process is completely separate (i.e. none of the evaluators participating in Lightspeed Grants are the same as the ones participating in either the last or the next SFF round), so I think applying to both makes a pretty large difference.

We are also planning to have our own fully separate venture grantor program, but it seemed quicker to get started by leveraging the existing SFF speculation grantor program this round, and then we will spin out more properly next round.

Thank you for the explanation!

Nice! Glad to see more funding options entering the space, and excited to see the S-process rolled out to more grantmakers.

Added you to the map of AI existential safety:


One thing which might be nice as part of improving grantee experience would be being able to submit applications as a google doc (with a template which gives the sections you list) rather than just by form. This increases re-usability and decreases stress, as it's easy to make updates later on so it's less of a worry that you ended up missing something crucial. Might be more hassle than it's worth though, depending on how entangled your backend is with airtable.

Yeah, I do think there are a bunch of benefits to doing things in Google Docs, though it is often quite useful to have more structured data on the evaluation side.

This increases re-usability and decreases stress, as it's easy to make updates later on so it's less of a worry that you ended up missing something crucial.

You can actually update your application any time. When you submit the application you get a link that allows you to edit your submission as well as see its current status in the evaluation process. Seems like we should sign-post this better.

What kind of certainty are you looking for? Can applicants change their mind between being offered money and starting the project? If you're considering multiple projects, should you apply separately for them?

It is kind of a logistical headache to handle withdrawn application after we figured out a funding allocation, though it's not that bad. 

If you do have a lot of uncertainty on whether you will actually want to go ahead with the project (or think it's somewhat conditional on funder enthusiasm), I think it's best to choose the "get a response within 2 weeks" option. That's I think also the best option if you are applying for multiple projects (in which case I would recommend filling out one application that gets processed in the 60-day window, and then some secondary applications that you might pivot to if you get funding within the 2 week window).

If some of the project ideas are smaller, is it easier for you to handle if they're added on to just one larger application as extras that might be worth additional funding?

This is amazing, thanks! I'm happy people are setting up new places to absorb potential funding given the overton window shift.

If I'm applying to multiple funds and receive a funding from one of the other funds first, what should I do? I will list what I'd do with additional funding, but is there someone you would like me to email if I get funding from elsewhere first?

If you get funding from other funds, it would be best if you update your application (you can edit your application any time before the evaluation period ends), or withdraw your application. We'll get notifications if you make edits and make sure to consider them. 

Perfect, thanks!

Any guess as to the start date of the second round (assuming the first round goes well, funding exists for round 2, etc.)?

Will this run again soon?

Probably not. The current manifold market on whether another round will happen before EOY 2024 is at 30%, and by Feb 2024 is at 17%.

You mentioned Hack Club provides fiscal sponsorship. Once we have this, will it work with arbitrary donors or just Lightspeed?

My guess is Hack Club bank is happy to work with other donors as well. They do take a fee, so they are probably happy to keep doing this. I do think the other donors would need to actively approach them.

Is the 14 days from submission or close of applications?

Submission

Very exciting initiative. Thanks for helping run this. I think the co-working calendar link may be broken though.

Exciting.

I like the Lightcone logo. I am confused by the Lightspeed Grants logo.

Oh, I actually like the Lightspeed Grants logo more. 

It's the Lightcone Logo with a dollar sign in it!

Ah, I am no longer confused!

Thank you for initiating this grant opportunity. I submitted my application, focusing on conducting wastewater surveillance in an area lacking a centralized wastewater system, such as Nigeria. Similar to many other applicants, I received a communication from the grantmakers on July 29, 2023.

"This email is going out to everyone who checked the “Allow venture grants and also evaluate grant as part of current round” option on your Lightspeed Grants application (over 200 people).
 

Since the full evaluation round is wrapping up within the next 2-3 weeks, the time for venture granting is now over, and if you get a grant, it will now be as part of the full grant evaluation round. My best is that you'll get an email on August 14th about a final grant decision, and money will go out by end of August"

 

It has now been several months, and I have not received any notification regarding the acceptance or rejection of my proposal. My assumption is that it might have been rejected.  I am uncertain whether this silence  is an oversight. 

My apologies, Emmanuel. I just checked our records and it appears the email we sent to you on August 8th bounced. I'll send you the contents in a DM

Thanks a lot for organizing this!! This is a really great thing.

I submitted my application, and now I'm trying to make some last-minute edits. I clicked on the "this link" link in the application conformation email, successfully created an Airtable account, clicked on "this link" again, requested "access to interface", and now I'm waiting for an approval to get access and edit my application. Is this how it's supposed to work? Or is this a bug to be fixed before applicants can update their applications? Thanks again!

Sorry about that! I had a more optimized process here at the beginning, but I had to work around an Airtable sharing issue (applicants could see who else had gotten access to the Airtable, which of course is a privacy problem) and this required having people manually request access. I should clarify this in the confirmation email.

Thanks a lot! Now I have access, and  I've just updated my application. I haven't found a "save" button or anything like that, but I assume it works without it (when I reopen my application in Airtable, it shows the updated version of the application).

Yep, editing works without save button.

Very excited about these grants, which I’ve only just become aware of. I realise submissions close on Thursday 6th July. Can I check if they’ll close at a particular time on that day? Thanks in advance.

I just edited the article. Just make sure you submit while it's the 6th anywhere on earth.

Does "General Support" for a person count as a "project" to apply for?

Yep, just paying a person a salary works, though the person needs to do enough things that are somewhat legibly for the public benefit to justify their salary to the IRS.

Interesting!

A Couple of questions:

  1. You have a clause about China and India, but not about Russia. So, Russia is OK? (Among other things, in Russia, it is difficult to receive money from abroad: many banks are disconnected from SWIFT, some of the rest have stopped working with transactions from the US on their own initiative, and there is a chance that a Western bank will refuse to conduct a transaction to Russia. So the most reliable way is to have a trusted intermediary person with money in a bank account in Russia and a second bank account somewhere else.)
  2. I already applied to LTFF and now wait for an answer with not very high hopes for success. Does it make sense to apply to Lightspeed and, if I receive a positive response from one fund, just cancel the application to other one?

You have a clause about China and India, but not about Russia. So, Russia is OK? (Among other things, in Russia, it is difficult to receive money from abroad: many banks are disconnected from SWIFT, some of the rest have stopped working with transactions from the US on their own initiative, and there is a chance that a Western bank will refuse to conduct a transaction to Russia. So the most reliable way is to have a trusted intermediary person with money in a bank account in Russia and a second bank account somewhere else.)

I think Russia is marginally more doable, though I think also quite hard. I might add Russia to that checkbox just to set expectations correctly. 

I already applied to LTFF and now wait for an answer with not very high hopes for success. Does it make sense to apply to Lightspeed and, if I receive a positive response from one fund, just cancel the application to other one?

Yep, that seems reasonable to me.