What is (and is not) an FRO?

What is and is not an FRO?

First off - what is a Focused Research Organization? An FRO is a new organizational structure for doing science. FROs undertake projects that:

An FRO is a fixed-duration project (existing FROs are 5-7 year projects with around 10-30 employees) led by technical founders. For example, one existing FRO, Cultivarium, focuses on building an end-to-end toolkit for cultivating currently unculturable microbes. Such a toolkit would considerably accelerate the study and engineering of microorganisms for applications in industrial biotechnology, carbon removal, and beyond.

There are many different institutions and organizations for solving scientific problems, and some institutions fit specific problems better than others. 

To understand the differences and to know which avenue should be pursued, the FAQ from this paper is extremely helpful (I have made slight additions). This could be considered a checklist that pertains to the nature of the project or idea. The table can be viewed at the end of the article. 

Note: In this context, an ARPA is an “Advanced Research Projects Agency”, like DARPA. “Academia” is a standard academic lab with a single PI, postdocs, and student researchers. Meanwhile “startups” refer to deep tech startups that aim to solve a technical problem and commercialize it, like many of the companies here

By charting out the landscape of institutions and organizations, it is easier to understand under which umbrella a project fits. A DARPA project sounds awesome, but if it is not the right mechanism to solve a problem then it is possibly not going to work. In other words, you wouldn’t want to drive a sports car on water, even if you really like sports cars.

Assuming it does fall reasonably well within the checklist above, here is my guess of some important considerations for what might make a good FRO.

What is not an FRO?

Another unique feature of an FRO is that it necessitates a roadmap that the team can follow throughout the duration of the project. While scientific roadmapping can be a nebulous term, in this context it means charting out exactly what is necessary to achieve the end goal of the FRO - and how to do it. Convergent Research can provide feedback on FRO ideas. 

While FROs sunset after 5-7 years, it is hoped that non-profit organizations or startups will be created based on the work done by the FRO or that other organizations will take up FRO talent and technology to scale the work further.

Related readings: 

Unblock research bottlenecks with non-profit start-ups 

How to think about the differences between FROs and private ARPA programs

Nadia Asparouhova | Idea machines 

Special thank you to Milan Cvitkovic and Adam Marblestone for feedback and insight on this piece, as well as the Convergent Research team more broadly.