Note: We are currently closed to grant applications for the 2012-2013 academic year. You may see the grants awarded for this period here. The application for the 2013-14 year is anticipated to open in early spring 2013.

At the Brown Institute, we look for innovative ideas with the potential to change the ways in which media are produced, delivered, presented or consumed. David Brown believed that magic happens when innovative technology is combined with great content. Magic also happens when innovative people are given the opportunity to explore their ideas and vision of the future.

Typically, a Magic Grant supports a small team of graduate or postgraduate students who are expected to demonstrate the relevance and viability of their ideas by implementing a prototype or creating an innovative media product. Successful projects might continue as business ventures outside the universities.

We invite Magic Grant proposals for the 2012-13 academic year by teams of two or more students who are committed to work together under the roof of the Brown Institute at Columbia or Stanford. Each team is encouraged to submit a written proposal that clearly explains the unique idea and outlines a one-year plan for its realization or demonstration. We anticipate selecting 2-3 teams at each university through a competitive review process.



Two-person teams of graduate or postgraduate students, enrolled at Columbia University or Stanford University in disciplines relevant to media and technology–which include computer science, electrical engineering, communications, journalism, design and business–are encouraged to apply. Teams may also include exceptionally qualified undergraduate students or a visiting student, as long as the other team member is not a visitor. We particularly encourage applications from students with entrepreneurial interests, multidisciplinary teams, as well as Stanford/Columbia bicoastal teams. Bicoastal teams have to include at least one student from Stanford and one student from Columbia, and may include more than two students. Magic Grants can complement fellowships or similar unrestricted funding from other sources, and students who already have partial funding for the proposed project are also encouraged to apply. Applications may be submitted directly by students, with supporting letters from faculty, or by a faculty member on behalf of the team.

Benefits and Expectations

Each winning team will receive:

  • Funding of up to $150,000 for the 2012-2013 academic year (up to $300,000 for bicoastal teams)
  • Access to the resources of the Brown Institute
  • Opportunity to work with the Brown Fellows and other Magic Grant recipients


We expect that Magic Grant recipients will carry out their work in residence at the Brown Institute, either at Columbia or at Stanford, and participate in the Institute’s activities, including regular review meetings in California and New York. To promote cross-fertilization, we expect that Magic Grant recipients will devote a small percentage of their time to serve in an advisory role to another project.


Magic Grants for the 2012-2013 Academic Year have been selected and awarded (announcement). We are currently closed to applications. The application window for the 2013-2014 Academic Year will open sometime in early spring.


Application Process

Each team must submit an application to be considered for Magic Grant funding. Applications will be judged based on novelty, potential for broader impact, intellectual merit, and the strength of the team. The winning teams are selected through a two-stage process.

(1) Selection of finalists: Based on the reviews of the written applications, a small number of teams will be selected as finalists at each university. Each application must contain the following documents in PDF format::

  • Signed cover letter, including proposal title and the full name, affiliation, and contact information (postal address, email address, phone) of each team member
  • Two-page proposal which explains:
    • The innovative idea(s)
    • Originality, uniqueness, and relation to other work in the area
    • Potential for broader impact
    • Work plan to demonstrate viability of the idea(s) within 12 months
    • Expected outcomes, results, prototypes, or media products
  • Letters of support from two faculty members at Stanford or Columbia, preferably written by the advisors of the team members. If both team members have the same advisor, one letter suffices.
  • Resume and transcript of each student on the team
  • Budget for 12 months not exceeding a total of $150,000. The budget can include financial support of the team members (e.g., tuition and stipend), cost for specialized hardware, software, and materials, travel, services, etc. and should follow the rules of the respective university. Each line item must be justified. Do not include indirect costs/overhead. Students are urged to consult with their faculty advisor(s) and the university administration. Bicoastal teams must submit separate budgets for Columbia and Stanford, under respective rules, each individually not exceeding $150,000.


(2) Selection of winners: Each finalist team will be invited to give a formal presentation, followed by Q&A. Each presentation must have a set of slides in PDF or Powerpoint format. We also encourage supporting faculty advisors to join us for the presentations and Q&A, though their attendance is not mandatory. Finalist presentations will be organized both at Columbia and Stanford. Bicoastal teams should indicate their preference to present at either venue in the cover letter.

Each team should combine their application documents–cover letter, proposal, letters of support, resumes, transcripts, budget–into a single zip file named and email this zip file to the following address:

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can the two students on a team be from different departments?
A: Yes, of course. Multidisciplinary teams are especially encouraged.

Q: Can one student on the team be enrolled at Stanford and the other student be enrolled at Columbia?
A: Yes. Please explain in your proposal how you plan to collaborate.

Q: Can a team of one student apply?
A: No. We ask that a team of two students work together on forming and executing the idea.

Q: Can the same team of two students submit more than one proposal?
A: No. We expect that you devote your undivided efforts to the project, if it is funded.

Q: Can a student be part of two different teams who submit two different proposals?
A: No, for the same reason.

Q: What happens if one or both students on a winning team already have financial support?
A: This is great, if this support is compatible with carrying out the proposed project. For example, if a student has a fellowship or a research assistantship from his/her advisor to work on the proposed project, we welcome this as a partial offset of cost.

Q: If one or both students of a winning team already have financial support, should this support be included in the budget?
A: No. Cost that is not funded by the Brown Institute should not be included in the budget. It also does not count against the $150,000 maximum budget. However, you should explain in your budget justification that you already have support and this particular item is therefore not included in the budget.

Q: Can Magic Grant recipients apply for a project continuation after the first year?
A: Yes, if there are compelling reasons. Proposed projects should be designed to reach their goals within one year. Follow-on proposals will have to compete with new proposals and go through the same application and review process.