Fairbanks Foundation’s Commitment to Strengthening the City’s Key Economic Drivers: A Review of Grantmaking within our Vitality of Indianapolis Focus Area from 2015 to 2019

Claire Fiddian-Green is the President & CEO of the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.


The life sciences sector is a major driver of Central Indiana’s economy and a key contributing factor to the vitality of Indianapolis. While Indiana’s life sciences sector is robust – wages for the sector have grown to $5.8 billion in 2018, and venture capital investments over the last four years totaled $360 million – competition is intensifying as other markets also compete to attract the investments, companies and talent required for continued growth. Cross-sector collaboration, coordination and alignment are key to ongoing economic prosperity in Indianapolis and elsewhere around the state.

To ensure the continued strength of the local life sciences economy, the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation reaffirmed its long-standing commitment to strengthening the life sciences sector in Central Indiana in November 2015 when establishing funding priorities for the period 2015 to 2019.

The Foundation’s primary grantmaking priority within our Vitality of Indianapolis focus area is supporting the systemic and operating conditions necessary to sustain and grow a robust life sciences sector. This priority is exemplified by two grants awarded by the Foundation since 2015. The first is a $1.48 million grant for general operating support for BioCrossroads. BioCrossroads serves as a catalyst for life sciences ideas in Indiana by facilitating investments in promising startups, educating through data, reports, and conferences and engaging corporate and community partners in the work of supporting the life sciences. Total grant funding for BioCrossroads from the Fairbanks Foundation since 2003 totals $10,148,752. The second is a $2 million grant for general operating support for 16 Tech – a new innovation district in the heart of Indianapolis that will serve as a collaborative space for innovators and entrepreneurs in the fields of life sciences, technology, advanced manufacturing and engineering.

The second grantmaking priority within our Vitality of Indianapolis focus area is helping to grow the talent pipeline in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields. Unfortunately, there is much work to be done in this area.  For example, in 2019, less than half of Indiana 6th graders met ILEARN proficiency standards in science, and only 38 percent of 8th graders achieved proficiency in math on the statewide exam.

To help address the urgent need for STEM talent, the Foundation awarded a $ 1.25 million grant over three years to Purdue Polytechnic High School. Purdue Polytechnic is reinventing the high school experience and is committed to preparing students – particularly low-income and minority students – for college and STEM careers by developing students’ STEM skills and connecting students with work-based learning experiences in STEM fields.

The Foundation’s Vitality of Indianapolis focus area is also where we categorize grants made to two family legacy grantees: Butler University and the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park at Newfields. Our founder, Dick Fairbanks, believed that every great city needs a strong private liberal arts university and designated Butler as that institution. During his lifetime, Mr. Fairbanks served as a Butler trustee. In 2019, the Foundation awarded $3 million to support Butler’s Sciences Complex, adding to a prior $10 million grant awarded in 2013 and bringing the total grant commitment to $13 million. Mr. Fairbanks also wanted to honor his wife, Virginia, who was an avid gardener. In 2018, the Foundation awarded a $10 million grant over 10 years in support of the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, bringing the total amount awarded by the Foundation in support of the Park to $25 million.

Here is a complete summary of the Foundation’s work since 2015 to strengthen the Vitality of Indianapolis. While there is more work to be done to continue to prepare students for careers in STEM fields and to enhance Indianapolis’ standing as a top life sciences destination for innovators and entrepreneurs, we are proud of the work being done by the Foundation’s grantees and other community partners to ensure the continued strength of the local economy. We are also proud of Butler University’s and Newfields’ significant efforts to advance the vitality of Indianapolis.

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