What to Know
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a fund that invests in both nonprofit and for-profit companies
The initiative was started in 2015 with a focus on education
Chan Zuckerberg's latest focus is funding science to cure disease
It's known as a place for startups to get noticed — and at this year's TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco, some are hoping to be noticed by Priscilla Chan, the pediatrician and philanthropist at the helm of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.
"You can only try to break the rules so many times before you realize the whole system is broken," Chan said of why she wanted to enter the world of philanthropy.
The daughter of Chinese-Vietnamese refugees, Chan studied at Harvard before becoming a teacher, and later a pediatrician. Her ambition came from a drive to give all children the same good fortune she'd had when mentors helped her succeed, she told TechCrunch Editor-At-Large Josh Constine in a rare public appearance.
"This is about as good as TechCrunch Disrupt gets," remarked fellow TechCrunch editor Jordan Crook as the talk concluded in front of a crowd packed nearly to standing room.
And yet, this sort of appearance is the essence of the Disrupt conference, and the reason why it's so valuable for startups.
"It's really tough to find the movers and shakers in the tech world," said TechCrunch Editor-At-Large Josh Constine. "They're all protected in their offices, they're all really busy. So you have to have a crazily important event to get them all in one place together."
That's what Disrupt aims to be: A place where early-stage startups can pitch Silicon Valley A-listers at their booths on the conference's bustling Startup Alley.
"They're here, and they're gonna wander through that Startup Alley and see what's coming next," Constine said.
After founding the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative in 2015 with a focus on education, Priscilla Chan and husband Mark Zuckerberg announced they were expanding the focus of the $49 billion fund to include investment in science that could cure all disease by the end of the century. Far from a traditional foundation, the initiative is a decidedly Silicon Valley take on philanthropy.
"Rather than just donating money, they're also investing in startups, hoping these companies will be able to create lasting change, but also give returns back to the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative that they can also invest in other companies," Constine said.
Constine said this year's Startup Alley exhibitors are advancing the latest innovations in biotechnology, from gene editing to mapping the inner workings of human cells. They're on an exhibit floor three times the size of past years: for the first time, Disrupt has moved to the storied halls of Moscone West, which has played host to countless keynotes by Silicon Valley legends, including the launch of the iPhone by Steve Jobs in 2007. It also happens to be an easy walk from TechCrunch's offices.
"It definitely makes it more convenient, and it gives us more time to prepare to ask hard questions and get the real answers for our audience," Constine said.