Crowdfunding academic research — Funding projects through the Internet

CrowdfundingIt seems like wherever you turn today in tech news there is another successful crowdfunding story. Funding projects through the Internet has garnered a great deal of attention because of platforms such as Kickstarter. But can the same idea for generating money to give small businesses or creative types a head start work for academic research as well? Some universities and researchers are testing the waters as increased competition and decreasing federal funding leave academia searching for ways to pay for their scholarly endeavors.

More than money

Traditionally crowdfunding has been applied to people seeking money for their small business, a film/music project or for disaster relief. A group of people offer up donations to help create and implement an idea—whether it is new software, a video about a local hero or helping flood victims—which gives the investors an opportunity to promote projects they believe in and sometimes become a shareholder in the endeavor with the hope of making their money back.

These fundraising campaigns usually are focused on getting a business off the ground, and they often struggle with managing the expectations of its funding participants. Leigh Beadon blogs in a June 4, 2013, post on techdirt.com “More Money, More Problems: The Challenge Of Managing Crowdfunding Success” about the issues that can arise for crowdfunded projects. “Apart from ensuring that a project delivers its goals on time, there’s the fact that most crowdfunding campaigns are also about starting a business, which means hopefully converting lots of backers into repeat customers.”

Unfortunately, the article cites a 2012 study that found that many overfunded projects show a high rate of late delivery. An added challenge is that funders want to be kept up-to-date on results and expect forward movement from the moment they donate, even while a project may still be searching for additional funding. Communicating the progress of a crowdfunded project is essential to keep backers happy.

Crowdfunding academic research

Of course, applying the same idea to academic research is a bit different. According to “Crowdfunding Academic Research” posted June 10, 2013, by Lauren Ingeno on Inside Higher Ed, there are some interesting advantages for academic researchers. She writes, “More “high risk” projects that the government would not regularly invest in can receive funding, and the public can directly engage with the research being produced.” But there are also still pitfalls as well. Chief among these are:

  • It requires a great deal of marketing effort on behalf of the researchers to find backers.
  • How do crowdfunded researchers involve the university, which typically takes 30 percent of any funding to cover overhead costs?
  • There’s currently no group ensuring the legitimacy of research projects, so funders have no guarantee that a project will even get off the ground.

Ingeno does cite several websites that are specifically geared to scientific or technology-based projects such as iAMScientist, Microryza, Petridish and FundaGeek, which can help interested researchers and funders, although they do not address all of these issues.

Why crowdfunding can help

Funding projects through the Internet may just be what academia needs at the moment as groups like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have cut back on the amount of money they hand out for academic research. Ingeno quotes Jonathan Thon a research fellow in medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and a strong advocate for scientific researchers to begin using crowdfunding platforms as saying the NIH funds about 10 percent of projects overall, while there are at least 20 percent of research projects out there that are likely of “excellent quality” and worthy of funding.

Another way that crowdfunding can help academic research according to Thon is by holding scientists accountable to the public who will funding projects that the general public cares about and understands. “There’s been a lot of criticism lately about government investing in projects that make no sense to the public,” Thon said.

Interested in learning more about how crowdfunding works? Questia offers multiple magazine and newspaper articles, as well as academic journals that delve more fully into the topic, including “Exploring Agency Dynamics of Crowdfunding in Start-Up Capital Financing” by Andy Ley and Scott Weaven.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below: Should academic research be jumping on the crowdfunding bandwagon?

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