Crowdfunding – the pooling of money to fund projects via the Internet – gives developers another avenue to explore for raising seed capital (especially for ideas that capture the public’s imagination) and could be a good fit for the materials-science community.
Microryza has been offering a crowdfunding platform for research scientists since 2012 and now has more than 50 fully funded projects to its name across all categories. Current listings in engineering and physics have reached targets of several thousand dollars to translate ideas along the innovation chain. Examples here include Organofoam, which aims to improve biodegradable alternatives to polystyrene, and NanJect – a patch for enabling targeted drug delivery using nanoparticles.
Looking at feedback from participants, it’s clear that the process delivers more than just development dollars. Crowdfunding forces start-ups to sharpen their communication skills and get to grips with public engagement. Also, putting yourself in front of a new audience can lead to some very useful conversations.
“Crowdfunding has given us a great opportunity to talk directly to potential clients and because of that we’ve adjusted the direction of our product to fit our customers’ needs,” Matt Boyce, Product Manager at Infinite Corridor Technology, told TMR+. “On top of that, the publicity and the exposure has been great for us, as a start-up, to be introduced to large companies and potential partners.”
Boyce and his team are developing a micro-controller board dubbed Limberboard that can bend and stretch and which functions as a building block for wearable electronics. The project is hosted on Dragon Innovation’s latest platform, which is aimed at hardware. Here the crowdfunding provider has teamed up with partners – GE, Qualcomm, Arrow and Freescale – to provide participants with industry know-how on getting products into the market.
Interest in the approach extends to academic institutions too; for example, Georgia Institute of Technology has decided to test the concept by launching its very own crowdfunding site – the Georgia Tech Starter. The platform, which is currently only open to members of the university, gives scientists and engineers the chance to explore ideas either to strengthen subsequent grant applications or to build the case for a potential start-up.