Access Science: Have you ever wanted to fund progress? Here’s how
Parkinson’s research and water treatment in Kenya are two examples of successful crowdfunded efforts
Crowdfunding: ‘It has to be the correct flavour for the correct cause’
Got a few euro to spare? Through crowdfunding websites, some researchers and start-ups are asking the public to pitch in directly. And while crowdfunding science is still relatively niche, some projects have brought in substantial support.
Flies for Parkinson’s research
University of Edinburgh spin-out Parkure has attracted about £80,000 (€110,000) through ShareIn to genetically engineer flies to screen drugs for their potential in treating Parkinson’s disease, and the crowdsourced funds will be matched by a grant from the Scottish government.
With the funds, Parkure plans do a small screen and follow-up on their discoveries, building traction to raise the funding needed for a full-scale screen of tens of thousands of candidate drugs, says Parkure chief executive and co-founder Dr Lysimachos Zografos.
So what’s in it for the crowdfunders? They get shares. “These are bought for a small amount, but if we are commercially successful the value of the company increases and thus the value of their share increases,” he says. “Once an exit opportunity opens they can exit with a financial profit. ”
For Dr Joanne Mac Mahon, capturing people’s imaginations was key to a project that she and Dr Laurence Gill wanted to crowdfund.
“We wanted to provide an alternative water source for a pilot solar water-disinfection system which had been installed in the rural village of Ndalani, Kenya, in 2008,” says Mac Mahon, who recently completed a PhD in environmental engineering at the department of civil, structural and environmental engineering at Trinity College Dublin.
Gill and his team at Trinity had developed the pilot disinfection system, but by 2011 drought had dried up the dammed river that acted as the main water source, says Mac Mahon.
“We wanted to drill a 60m borehole and rehabilitate the solar disinfection system back to working order,” she says. “It was clear that traditional research or academic funding routes would not fund this type of project, and we needed to be creative about raising the money.”
The researchers set a target of €22,000 on Ireland-based website Fund-It, and offered donors a range of rewards, including downloads of music from the village that would benefit, a day at Trinity to see the ongoing solar-disinfection research and even a trip to Kenya to be part of the project installation.
The money started to roll in, but it was a nail-biting time. “It definitely became very stressful, particularly when we had raised more than €15,000 and knew we would lose everything if we didn’t hit our target of €22,000,” says Mac Mahon. “A lot of time and effort had been invested at that stage and the thought of it all being lost was a real motivator to keep pushing the campaign.”
The effort paid off: they raised €24,375, allowing the solar disinfection unit to be successfully restored in 2013, giving people access to clean water. Mac Mahon also wrote about the project as part of her PhD thesis.
Zografos would recommend crowdfunding, but notes it is not “free money” and there are caveats. “I think that it has to be the correct flavour for the correct cause,” he says.
“Also, it has to be something that is very likely to result [in] a very profitable venture or alternatively something that resonates with people. I think that when crowdfunding becomes an ‘official’ part of the early funding process – with the respective support from the government – it will definitely make a difference in how science is translated to venture, social impact or cool gadgets.”
What would you fund?
Check out dedicated research-crowdfunding sites such as experiment.com and consano.org, or look to the science and technology sections of sites such as rockethub.com, kickstarter.com and indiegogo.com.
If you are a researcher, scifundchallenge.org offers useful information about public engagement and crowdfunding.