A New $100K Genius Grant, The Cyrus Prize, Seeks Brilliant Iranians

Countries around the world have never quite been able to recreate the innovative prowess of Northern California’s Silicon Valley. According to Berkeley Professor Anna Sexanian, a tradition of cultural support groups, mainly Chinese and Indian, is one of the Valley’s most unique and lucrative traits. The “brain circulation,” as she calls it, reins in top talent from around the world and helps greenhorn entrepreneurs solve global problems [PDF]. To help extend the cultural advantage to the Middle-East, noted Menlo Ventures investor, Shervin Pishevar, has launched a $100,000 genius grant for Iranian innovators, dubbed, the “Cyrus Prize,” named after the Persian King and inventor, Cyrus the Great.

“Human capital is the greatest untapped resource. Iranians talent is worth more than all the oil and gas reserves in Iran,” he tells TechCrunch in an email, “However, it is still untapped.”

Consistent with Sexanian’s findings, Shervin’s own start came from his Persian connections, “My first angels were from the Iranian tech community.” But, unlike behemoths of India and China, the Iranian community is much smaller. Indeed, some of Shervin’s original angels, such as early Google investor Bobby Yazdani, went to the same Iranian private Catholic school, with other notable Valley businessmen, such as former Google executive advisor, Omid Kordestani.

He explains, “Although Iranian Americans are a relatively small part of the U.S. population they have an outsize role relative to their population especially in Silicon Valley. I believe that the Cyrus Prize will help expand and scale that impact,” Referencing other influential persian figures, such as eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.

Unfortunately, given Iran’s beleaguered and repressive state, Shervin believes that success can only come from Persians to leave their home country. “For now the only real chance for top talent in Iran is to go abroad to achieve their dreams. Iran’s loss is the world’s gain.”

The prize will be awarded by the end of 2013 and paid out over 3 years. Asked about how innovators can contact Shervin, he writes, “They don’t. We contact them.”