Crowdfunding Science


Crowdfunding has recently taken an interesting turn. This time into science.

With government grants shrinking and investor funds becoming ever harder to procure, crowdfunding is hardly an obvious place to turn to support the highly speculative science research industry.

For a start there is the daunting task of trying to explain science projects that an average investor can understand. Kickstarter and Indiegogo handed out some $2.7 billion dollars last year but you had to be ‘sexy’, ‘cool’ or ‘quirky’ to stand any chance of securing funds.

Georgia Tech in the US was convinced that the ‘will’ was there to back science.  Arizona State University and the University of Virginia in the US have both partnered with a crowdfunding site called Useed with some success. The University of Vermont had also partnered with another called Launcht and the University of Utah had partnered with still another called RocketHub.

Georgia Tech’s decided to do it alone and independent, which gives the school a couple of advantages.

For one, it adds a review process. They are vetted by a department head who looks for conflicts of interests and makes sure that the project can actually be completed for the budget requested. The other advantage is projects pay a 35% fee to Georgia Tech in exchange for running the review process, site administration, and lab facility upkeep. This is relatively steep in terms of crowdfunding costs (kickstarter charges a 5% fee and Indiegogo charges a 4% or 9%) but it is similar to what universities charge for grants they receive.

Projects on Georgia Tech Starter at launch fall into a familiar crowdfunding format. A video with the researcher explaining his or her project, a funding goal, a running tally of how much has been pledged, and a list of rewards for contribution. The real challenge is for the researchers to break their proposition down into understandable chunks of information that the average investor can understand.

Rewards tend toward the experiential. One $5 reward for a honey bee study, for instance, offers “a receipt that you may use for tax purposes.” Another project, which asks contributors to help “shoot lasers into the atmosphere to improve air pollution forecasting!” promises a color plot of the atmosphere for a certain day in exchange for a $50 to $100 pledge. A coral reef research team simply invites all contributors to “join us via our expedition web site.”

Its early days but Science and the potential returns for investors is one crowdfunding area to keep an eye on.

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