By Lucy Zhang, CFB contributing editor
Startups and small businesses are becoming more prevalent in this age, where technology has facilitated communication. However, getting the necessary financial backing can be difficult. Bank loans require a somewhat tedious, bureaucratic process and are difficult for small companies to use. Fundraising through car washes is bake sales is extremely limited. However, there is a relatively new form of funding, called crowdfunding. Crowdfunding allows for anyone to invest in any project, company, startup, or product. It circumvents the many barriers for financial backing and occurs directly between the investor and owner.
One often overlooked area is crowdfunding for education–more specifically independent research and projects. Granted, crowdfunding sites such as Adopt-A-Classroom and Donors Choose exist to fund schools that lack resources to complete class projects or students who need financial aid to attend a class or college. However, there have been few productive sources that fund research projects.
The site Experiment features many brilliant scientists who aspire to further their inventions or research. According to a user review on CrowdsUnite, Experiment is easy to use and geared towards “traditional scientific research”. This specific type of crowdfunding provides an extremely important outlet for students both in high school and college. One synthetic biology competition, iGEM (international genetically engineered machine) which is held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, consists of teams all over the world from high schools and colleges. However, registration for the competition and payment for lab equipment require over a thousand dollars, a hefty sum for new teams that do not have sponsors or adequate resources. Crowdfunding is a viable option to raise enough financial backing. In fact, the University of California at Santa Cruz iGEM team is crowdfunding for their project, Sustainable Next Generation Biofuel Production. However, most high school research teams rarely think of such options, relying on fairly ineffective fundraisers instead.
Crowdfunding can also sponsor individual Intel research projects, Google science fair projects, and Siemens research projects. The Lemelson-MIT program called InvenTeam provides $2000 given that the team or school backs that money with the same amount. Again, crowdfunding is an easy way to reach that goal. Not only that, but web pages created to attract funders allow for greater media coverage and public awareness. The people who invest truly want the project to succeed, generating a source of confidence and public value.
The USA has always advocated education in the youth, especially in the face of competing countries with rapidly expanding technological advancements. Crowdfunding enables such a development among the youth. While there are sites such as Experiment that help fund research, they have yet to grow in popularity and reach the amount of attention that could raise enough money. Thus, before anything, students must be educated about the opportunities and advantages of crowdfunding in order to realize their aspirations to start their own independent innovative projects.