Oct. 20, 2021

UCalgary announces $10M gift to create Hopewell M.I.N.D. Prize

Local philanthropist hopes donation will lead to groundbreaking discoveries in brain and mental health
Sanders Lee looks at Calgary skyline
Philanthropist Sanders Lee is investing in the Hotchkiss Brain Institute's Hopewell M.I.N.D. Prize to help expand Calgary's innovation ecosystem. Nate Luit, University of Calgary

Calgarians are known for making big, bold things happen. Sanders Lee is one of them. A record-breaking new prize in brain and mental health research will bring new ideas to the fore — sparking innovation through cutting-edge research at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI).

The Hopewell M.I.N.D. (Maximizing Innovation in Neuroscience Discovery) Prize, created through a philanthropic commitment by Calgary business leader Sanders Lee, is the largest-ever prize for innovative research at the HBI — totalling $10 million.

“I've always been a supporter of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, and Dr. David Park approached me with what he called a bold idea,” says Lee. “I think at the end of the day, Calgarians are entrepreneurs and risk takers, and I loved the idea.”

The Hopewell M.I.N.D. Prize is unique in Canada, offering up to $1 million annually for 10 years to launch innovative, high-risk, high-impact brain and mental health projects at HBI.

Sanders Lee portrait

Sanders Lee, Hopewell M.I.N.D. Prize donor

Courtesy: Sanders Lee

The prize will fund research projects that are ‘ahead of the curve’ and at a critical crossroads where an injection of funding has the potential to transform the project into significant community impact.

“This prize will allow us to gain a reputation for being at the cutting edge, allowing researchers to be creative and bold and transformational. And this will attract the best and brightest to Calgary, to UCalgary and to Alberta,” says Dr. David Park, HBI director.

This impressive new prize will elevate the reputation of the university in the brain and mental health field among researchers at the international level. In addition to attracting prize recipients and engaging internationally recognized advisers, it is also a catalyst to attract top students and trainees to our city to work in this space. Through this award, there is opportunity for HBI to further contribute to the university’s innovation ecosystem, which includes Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking, Innovate Calgary, UCeed and the Creative Destruction Lab.

“The Hopewell M.I.N.D. Prize will motivate a new generation of students and scholars to think differently about how they approach grand challenges in neuroscience," says Dr. Ed McCauley, UCalgary president and vice-chancellor. "Sanders’ incredible gift stands to influence this next generation of leaders and form a long-lasting legacy as a part of our pioneering research at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.” 

Lee trained as an economist and first moved to Calgary in 1991. What was only meant to be a brief, 18-month work secondment turned into three decades of dedication to strengthening the community where he built the Hopewell Group of Companies and raised his family.

I believe that Calgary IS the city. We want everybody to come to Calgary because we want to expand our innovation ecosystem. If we achieve any breakthroughs, this will potentially benefit humankind.

- Sanders Lee

Winning researchers need to be members of the HBI by the time their prize is awarded. The prizes will be judged by three top international neuroscientists, including Dr. Beth Stevens, PhD, associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School; associate professor of neurology, F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center, Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston, Mass.

“The idea that this could catalyze innovative, interdisciplinary research, for someone with an amazing idea that might not normally get funded, is quite unique,” Stevens says.

Rounding out the judging panel are Dr. Alon Chen, PhD, president of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Head of the Max Planck Society, Munich, Germany, and Dr. Nelson Spruston, PhD, senior director of scientific programs, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Ashburn, Va.

While this is Lee’s largest gift to the university,  he is also an avid supporter of brain and mental health research through the N3 Non-Invasive Neurostimulation Network and Optogenetics Initiative as well as the Hopewell Professorships in Clinical Neuroscience Research and Brain Imaging. The Lee family has also established scholarships and supported several other UCalgary initiatives over the past 18 years.

The Hopewell M.I.N.D. competition is now open, with the first prize to be awarded in the fall of 2022.

"I believe that Calgary IS the city": Sanders Lee

Hopewell M.I.N.D. prize founder Sanders Lee explains what he wants the prize to accomplish for Calgary.

Mia Sosiak, Tanya Morton and Nate Luit, University of Calgary

Energized by our philanthropic community, we are creating lasting, positive change — on campus, in our city and beyond — by elevating student experiences, accelerating research outcomes and strengthening community connections

Brain and Mental Health strategy
Led by the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, Brain and Mental Health is one of six strategic research themes guiding the university towards its Eyes High goals.

Dr. David Park, PhD, is a professor in the departments of Clinical Neurosciences and Cell Biology and Anatomy at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) at the University of Calgary, and director of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the CSM.