Innovators and startups take many different paths on their journey from idea to execution. As a founder of SparkLabKC, an accelerator program in Kansas City, MO, I was privileged to witness many of the ways in which scrappy startup founders pursued funding. These entrepreneurs, driven by their unique vision for the future, work tirelessly to share that vision with the rest of us.
Of course, they can’t do it without funding. While the current investment climate makes it possible for many young companies to achieve the dream of landing venture capital or other major investments, not all startups are in a position to avail themselves of traditional methods. Where can they turn?
The Crowd-Funding Paradigm
Crowd-funding isn’t a revolutionary idea in 2017 – we’ve all seen campaigns from small businesses, individuals, arts groups, and more seeking community-based funding for a project, a program, or even a medical bill. But while sites like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Indiegogo are used for a variety of purposes (some less serious than others), there’s no denying their power to help innovators bring new ideas to the market quickly.
The beauty of crowd-funding, to my mind, is the dual value it can provide in both validating a product and a market as well as raising the capital necessary to develop and promote that product. For an entrepreneur with a big idea, a crowd-funding site can serve as a testing ground for a minimum viable product, an initial market approach on a global platform. If the idea is sound – that is, if it solves a problem or fills a need and people will pay for it – funding will follow. If not, that idea is sent back to the drawing board.
The diversity of ideas present on crowd-funding platforms is part of the appeal. Whether whimsical, aspirational, socially conscious, or technologically ambitious, there’s room for a multiplicity of products and messages. Ultimately, whether through marketing acumen or sheer genius, the most viable products or projects rise to the top of the heap.
At the end of 2016, Kickstarter revealed a fascinating, interactive video to highlight some of the products and programs that were successfully funded over the course of the year. Perusing the page gives us a window into the minds of innovators in art, business, and technology, and a look at how startups and entrepreneurs can use crowd-funding platforms to enable their growth and success. Here are a few I found notable:
The Smog Free Project
This team of innovators raised over $120,000 to build the largest air-purifier in the world. It’s a functional and also symbolic tower that will be displayed in cities around the world to raise awareness of air pollution and create communities spaces to discuss a healthier future. In order to incentivize donation and participation, organizers offered jewelry made from condensed smog particles – a unique product and a reminder of their larger vision and impact. This clearly resonated with their Kickstart audience, which more than doubled the initial fundraising goal and shared the project widely on social media.
BLAZE Bike Light
Another product that raised twice its goal amount was the BLAZE Bike Light, created by an Urban Design and cycling enthusiast to make the roads safer for bikers, drivers, and pedestrians. The BLAZE light is not only a super-bright LED front light for bikers, it also projects the image of a cyclist onto the road ahead. By drawing attention to the presence of a nearby cyclist, it reduces the kinds of accidents that impact urban bikers and drivers alike. By including a BLAZE light for donations of a certain amount, the product team was able to vet their product and determine its market value while raising money to expand production.
These projects and many others like them successfully leveraged a crowd-funding website into a product testing and market validation platform. Their creativity and passion was rewarded by the community of supporters they reached and inspired. Not only did they raise the funds they needed to take their idea to the next level, they were able to establish their brand, solicit customer feedback, and publicize their work to a global audience.
Crowd-funding platforms create an opportunity for creativity and innovation to flourish, and continue to grow stronger with each story of success. Last year on Kickstarter, the fashion, food, and publishing categories each surpassed $100 million in total contributions, and 3 of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of the Year had a presence on the site. Innovators and enthusiasts alike should take note.