My research crowdfunding experience

Hi GermiNature readers,

maxresdefaultI was hoping that by now I would be able to share the videos from our TEDxUniversityofAkron Salon event (April 5th, 2016) with you. However, the videos are not ready yet. So I’m going to tell you a little bit about my research crowdfunding experience that happened about the same time.

A little bit of the back story first, I was trying to 3D print some biomimetic prototypes in nanoscale utilizing a cutting-edge technology that is very expensive. Neither of my advisors had the funds required to pay for the service immediately. So, we were struggling to make it happen. One day, one of my advisors (Dr. Todd Blackledge) came to the lab and said: Have you heard of Experiment.com? They are calling for research crowdfunding proposals for a contest called “Animal Superpower Challenge.” How about we give it a try?

And that’s it! We prepared our Experiment project proposal within a week, shot an introductory video (Thanks, Sarah!) and we were ready to roll.

More context to illustrate how difficult the crowdfunding process is: Our crowdfunding project is a biomimetic applied research that follows our published blue tarantula study. The basic tarantula research has gathered significant media attention; it has been reported in eight different languages. On Facebook alone, it has more than 35,000 likes. In other words, it already had quite a wide reach. If a basic research can do that, how hard could it be to crowdfund for an applied research, right? WRONG!!!

It turned out to be tons of hard work. First of all, one needs to dedicate several hours (or at least one hour) every day to promote the crowdfunding campaign from every possible outlet that you can think of; otherwise, you’ll see the traffic to your crowdfunding page drop almost in real time. Another thing that I learned from our Animal Superpower Challenge manager is that your potential supporters for a crowdfunding project can be categorized into three layers: the first layer consists of people who know you personally, the second layer is your broader networks, the third layer is random people around the world, or, “the crowd”; and it’s very hard to reach the third layer. This turned out to be totally true. About 50% of pledges came from the first layer: my colleagues, friends, and family; 45% came from people that have some connections with me, such as, friends of friends, share the same cause (Biomimicry), came from the same institutes (UA, alumni of my alma mater); less than 5% came from the third layer. The single largest donation of my project came from the second layer, a friend of my uncle, who happens to be a venture capitalist.

Fortunately for me, the hard work paid off. In the end, we won third-prize of the Animal Superpower Challenge and raised $7,708 in total (challenge award included).

 

Here are some links to articles that mentioned our crowdfunding project if you’re interested:

STEM Stories – Blue Tarantulas and Biomimetics

An interview piece from actively reaching out to journalists and bloggers. A good article with limited effects (if any), because the readers are all from the third layer.

Crowdfunding contest will help biology students pay for research

A piece from University Communications and Marketing. After this article, more people from UA that I don’t know personally donated (the second layer effect).

 

After the crowdfunding period

Students use crowdfunding to pay for research – The Buchtelite

Savvy students embrace crowdfunding for research – Crain’s Cleveland Business

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