Crowdfunding gives city’s worthy causes a chance

Lai Jing-man, show jumper

Lai Jing-man, show jumper

Feel like bankrolling an independent movie? What about an artist who makes treasures out of trash? Perhaps you’d rather support one young woman’s dream of representing Hong Kong as an equestrian show jumper at the Asian Games.

Hong Kong’s entrepreneurs and creative types have a new way of getting funding for their projects. The recently launched website FringeBacker has brought the growing trend of crowdfunding, where individuals decide to contribute money towards a project, to Hong Kong.

“In the US, indie movies funded through crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter have gone to Sundance and the Tribeca film festivals,” said Vivien Chan Yee-wan, marketing director for the website.

“There is so much interesting, creative stuff going on in Hong Kong, but you never hear about it. This is a way for creative professionals to get the word out to regular people.”

The website, which has been approved by the United Nations cultural arm Unesco, promotes projects in art, design, fashion, film, food, games, music, performance, publishing and technology. It was started by a group of investment professionals who realised there were projects with great potential that they could not support because the ideas weren’t big or profitable enough, or didn’t fall within the framework their companies required.

“Government funding can be restrictive – you don’t know who’s reviewing your application and if they really understand what it is you’re trying to do,” Chan said. “With institutions, you might not fit in with their aims, or you might be too small.”

One of the latest projects on FringeBacker seeks funding for the care and training of horses for Jacqueline Lai Jing-man, a professional show jumper.

Lai, a graduate of Chinese International School, started riding professionally in 2010, but was injured when she fell off her horse in 2011. After undergoing months of rehabilitation, including riding with the disabled, she is now training for the 2014 Asian Games in South Korea.

Although based all over Europe, she and her team represent Hong Kong and are funded by the Jockey Club until July.

“I may go to university at some point … but I love this, and think I can make a career of it,” said Lai, who has so far raised just over a third of her HK$300,000 target through the site.

The 21-year-old, who trains in Denmark, says she is back on track to placing in more competitions in Europe and China, where interest in the sport is growing. She has until March 27, a self-set deadline, to raise the full amount.

In 2011, over US$1.5 billion was raised through crowdfunding platforms, according to the Crowdfunding Industry Report by Massolution, which looked at 135 of 452 crowdfunding platforms globally.

While the site is run as a non-profit concern, FringeBacker collects an administrative fee of 5 per cent of the final amount raised. If the project fails to raise the full amount, all backers are refunded their money, and the site doesn’t collect the administrative fee.

“You can’t just post on the site and expect people to donate – you have to be active in promoting yourself,” Chan said.

To ensure the money is used wisely, the staff in Hong Kong perform due diligence – reviewing the project, where the funds will go, and interviewing those who want funding.

Applicants with the best chance of approval are those with reliable backgrounds such as the a capella singing group All the King’s Men from King’s College, London. The group’s Asia tour last year was funded through FringeBacker.

South China Morning Post

Christie Choi

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