Need funding? Join the crowd

Zach Smith, Reporter

Someone has an idea for the next big something, but they don’t have the money to invest into the project to make it possible. Where do they turn?

For the business-savvy entrepreneur, there are plenty of options with the potential for big-money yields, such as business incubators, business accelerators and angel investors, to name a few. It seems like a good time to dust off any dormant business plans. According to a report issued in February by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, more venture capital was invested in the first three quarters of 2014 than in every year since 2001.

But for those not plugged in to the startup scene, jumping into pitch competitions and investor presentations might be a little intimidating, or at the very least premature. Some ideas for the “next big thing” might be worthy causes, services or products that don’t necessarily lend themselves to a handful of high-stake investments.

Enter crowdfunding – where your wildest dream can come true if other people like it enough.

If someone had asked me at the beginning of the week whether crowdfunding was still “a thing,” I probably would have said no. It seemed like a trend that had its 15 minutes of fame on the Internet, and aside from some recently successful campaigns by filmmakers like Zach Braff and Spike Lee, I assumed that, as they say, was that.

Which just goes to show how far my fingers were from the crowdfunding pulse. Massolution, a crowdfunding research firm, projects the number of global dollars being pumped into crowdfunding campaigns this year will more than double 2014’s pledges of over $16 billion. There’s clearly money being spread around, and along with that comes some level of validation: I like your idea so much, here’s the green stuff to make it happen.

If a backer wants their pledge monies to stay in the Queen City, there’s no shortage of local opportunities to support new restaurants, equipment for school sports teams, study abroad and missionary travel, and even home births. Because crowdfunding is typically an Internet-based platform, it’s perhaps to be expected that a wide variety of projects are out there ranging from noble to very weird. Of the 14 Springfield-based projects currently launched on Kickstarter.com, one can donate to everything from a youth art camp to a college kid named “Davey” who just needs $25 “to get some meat on (his) bones”.

But if the money comes, who is anyone else to say whether the cause was “truly” worthy? Zach “Danger” Brown’s online joke last summer to gather a paltry $10 in donations so he could make potato salad for the first time turned into more than $55,000 in funding. Brown in turn used some of that money to fund charity events, with the proceeds going to Ohio nonprofits fighting hunger. So whether the funds poured as some sort of cruel trick to make the prankster read nearly 7,000 names in an online video thanking his donors, it did some good that might otherwise not have been done.

On both ends of the crowdfunding spectrum, the desire is still there to fund and to be funded. My idea? If the “next big thing” changes the fundamental aspects of our lives in some drastic way – how we live, work, play, communicate and so on – do the research and due diligence, seek out the investors or the partners that can bring the idea to fruition and if doesn’t pan out, there’s no shame in crowdfunding.

But for those who would seek crowdfunding to contribute to their community or customers a new business, movie or gadget, rather than chuck the status quo (and there are some who would maybe like to do a bit of both) – all I can ask is what are you waiting for?

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