In the latest sign of how technology riches are changing the Washington region, a Northern Virginia couple who profited handsomely from their stock in America Online Inc. have established a charitable venture that will begin its efforts today with two $100,000 "genius" grants.
The Stargazer Foundation's awards will go to anti-hunger activist Bill Shore, who operates a nonprofit that fights poverty and hunger called Share Our Strength in the District, and to Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and creator of the World Wide Web.
"Both exhibited an entrepreneurial spirit as we define it," said Art Bushkin, a former Bell Atlantic Corp. executive who set up the foundation with his wife, Kathy Bushkin, chief communications officer at AOL. "Wouldn't it be great if we turned out more people like that?"
The Bushkins see the entrepreneurship grants--expected to be awarded annually--as one small part of Stargazer's mission, which is to "encourage the creative spirit." Stargazer plans to eventually build a children's museum to inspire entrepreneurship. Stargazer also will have a profit-making side, which will run "angel" investment funds and clubs aimed at growing small technology companies--with 20 percent of the investment profits going to the Stargazer Foundation.
The Bushkins are initially funding the nonprofit side of Stargazer with $3 million. Art Bushkin, 56, will run Stargazer while Kathy Bushkin, 50, stays at AOL.
They are among thousands of new millionaires created by the likes of America Online, UUNet and Digex, and represent what some technology executives say is a shift in local philanthropy. Rather than donating only to established charities, some of the newly rich are creating their own conduits for giving.
For example, Mario Morino, who made his fortune in the local software industry and has become a leader in local investing and philanthropy, plans to launch next year a nonprofit fund called Youth Social Ventures. The fund will give away about $25 million of Morino's money to programs in areas such as early childhood development and education for young people living in low-income areas.
Morino said his fund will not operate like a traditional charity, but instead will use the investment management tactics he learned as a businessman.
"You're looking at a new form of philanthropy that's emerging," said Morino. "You're seeing people come into the money at a much younger age and therefore they have time to do something with it."
Morino said the younger, business-minded philanthropists won't be satisfied with writing a check and then getting invited to a gala, never hearing how the money brought about change.
"For the most part, you're not seeing the checks flowing to the Kennedy Center or the Washington Opera," Morino said.
At the same time, the new rich are also increasingly interested in investing in the younger generation of technology companies, with the dual goal of making money and helping less-experienced executives. As these two converge, nonprofits are hooking up with for-profits.
Michael Seltzer, director of the nonprofit management program at the New School University, calls such giving a kind of strategic philanthropy.
"You increasingly see a linkage between what the company is supporting and what its basic business is," said Seltzer. "For example, you have a large number of high-tech companies making investments in education, predicated on the idea that education is key towards producing a technologically literate society, a better work force, a bigger customer base."
Daniel Langan, spokesman for the National Charities Information Bureau in New York, said much of the country's charitable donations are now coming from technology centers. The largest sources are California and in Seattle, where the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is using its $17 billion endowment to fund causes such as children's immunization and college scholarships. "The e-millionaires are putting their own stamp on philanthropy," said Langan.
Of Stargazer's two grant recipients, Berners-Lee may at first seem more logical for a technology-minded foundation. But Shore, who lives in Silver Spring, has become a kind of touchstone for the technology elite in the area who are trying to figure out how to give back.
The acknowledgments of people who have helped him with his causes at the end of his book, "The Cathedral Within," reads like a who's who of the local tech community, including Kathy Bushkin. Shore and Bushkin once worked together for former senator and presidential candidate Gary Hart, she as his press secretary and he as legislative director.
"I was totally shocked," said Shore, when asked how he felt about receiving the grant. "It fell from the sky."
Berners-Lee, who already has a "genius" grant from the MacArthur Foundation, had a similar reaction. "It's quite a surprise," he said.
The two recipients agreed to use their money toward their current entrepreneurial endeavors, to deliver an annual report and give one speech.
The Bushkins say their ideas about charity began forming about a year and a half ago, as their paper wealth began turning into real cash. They started talking to other financially successful people about what they call "our problem": How to give money away.
"We view it as simply winning the lottery," said Art Bushkin, a former technology adviser in the Carter administration. "You can't think you actually did anything worth what we've gotten from AOL stock."
When asked which historical philanthropist he most admires, Bushkin names John Beresford Tipton, the fictional behind-the-scenes benefactor in the 1950s television show "The Millionaire." In each episode, Tipton gave away a check to a surprised recipient.
"I always identified with Tipton," said Bushkin. "Never the recipient, never the messenger. I prefer to be in the background."
Staff writer Cindy Loose and researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.
CAPTION: Former phone executive Art Bushkin set up a charitable venture with wife Kathy to reward entrepreneurship.