'We're not simply another cancer charity:' Biotech nonprofit uses music to raise funds

Mona Jhaveri had a problem on her hands.

She was a cancer researcher for the American Cancer Institute on the path to discovering a new potential treatment. To get that treatment to the market, she had to leave the lab and become a biotech entrepreneur — and find a way to fund her treatment idea.

She couldn’t get the money together, and the company fell into a funding bottleneck Jhaveri calls “the valley of death,” the metaphorical place where ideas go to die due to lack of funding.

This is not an uncommon result, according to Jhaveri.

“It’s a global health problem because if we can’t move or advance ideas from the clinic, it’s a problem for the public. And the public doesn’t know about it.”

So Jhaveri put her company aside to deal with this new problem, and that’s how Music Beats Cancer began.

Music Beats Cancer is a crowdfunding platform on which people anywhere in the world can donate any dollar amount to a campaign that resonates with them. Then, up-and-coming musicians use their platforms to raise money, which is used to match the campaign donations.

“We’re a unique cancer charity in that we support innovators who have solutions in hand to fight cancer,” Jhaveri said.

“We are really the first organization of its kind to bring biotechnology to the public.”

Music Beats Cancer officially launched in 2014 and has raised more than $100,000 since then.

Jhaveri is not a musician, nor does she have any contacts in the music industry, but from the beginning she believed music would be the way to get the word out.

“One thing I realized is that music has always aligned with charities. Musicians have always been a platform to change,” she said. “I think about Bono and all these folks who have always rallied for change, and because of them, people have begun to think differently.”

But rather than rally around one big celebrity, Jhaveri decided to reach out to emerging artists.

“Their collective voice became more powerful than one celebrity voice,” she said. “It was amazing to me how many artists have been directly or indirectly impacted by cancer.”

The artists help raise awareness and funds through challenges. The artist who raises the most money gets a reward like a performance or a meeting with a music label.

However, Music Beats Cancer has met some resistance along the way. Jhaveri said in the beginning people didn’t understand why they should donate money to entrepreneurs. Most charities give money directly to labs, but there’s a gap in funding for that transitional phase, when research from the lab has to be turned into a cure to be put on the market.

“We’re not simply another cancer charity. We’re a charity focusing on a real breakdown in our system,” she said.

For the time being, some of the organizations that Music Beats Cancer supports have pivoted to looking for solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in testing that will find variants and tell patients whether their strain is asymptomatic, mild or serious enough for hospitalization.

“These things take a long time and there’s a lot of failure along the way, but if we don’t invest in failure, we’re never going to learn,” Jhaveri said.

And while Music Beats Cancer is built to be a global virtual platform, Jhaveri herself is based in Connecticut. She grew up in Westport and now lives in Ridgefield.

“My hope is to get this out there locally,” she said.

“The fact that I grew up here and that I love it here, my hope is that there are a lot of people like me in Connecticut.”

Sarajane.Sullivan@hearstmediact.com, Twitter: @bysarajane