Insights

Is crowdfunding an option to finance your research?

BY      |     July 1, 2020

Funding, funding, funding… An everlasting headache for scientists. Researchers are now spending a considerable amount of their time writing grant proposals and trying to get money for their research. Really, the daily job of lab leaders is now more resembling that of entrepreneurs and managers rather than researchers. As Dr. Lucie Delemotte stated in her recent interview to the ionchannellibrary: “The job that I have now is very similar to having a startup. I do fundraising, managing a small group of people and getting stuff off the ground.”

Currently, most research funding comes from private companies, government and non-profit organizations. But scientists have other options as well. And one of these options is crowdfunding. Honestly, until my recent interview with Prof. Hugues Abriel, where he shared his experience with crowdfunding science projects, I had been unaware of the existence of such an option for scientists. Obviously, I’d heard about crowdfunding before, but only in the context of entrepreneurial or social projects, not science projects. Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, Patreon – big chances are that you’ve heard at least about one of these popular crowdfunding platforms. And, along with these well-known platforms, a bunch of other more niche crowdfunding sites have emerged to support scientific research.

Now, let me tell you a little bit about crowdfunding scientific research. This type of funding is still at a very early stage, but it is gaining popularity among scientists. In most cases, crowdfunding cannot be regarded as a replacement to traditional funding sources, but only as a complement. Usually, the average amount of resources raised per scientific project through crowdfunding is somewhere in the range of a few thousands of dollars. And so, crowdfunding is often used to fund small-scale or early-stage projects allowing scientists to get preliminary data that they could use in their subsequent grant applications. Crowdfunding could also be useful for early-stage researchers to fund some small equipment/materials or to cover conference travel costs. It’s interesting that statistically, early-stage scientists are more successful than senior scientists in getting funds from the crowd, with women raising more than men. Most probably, this is related to the fact that in order to raise money via crowdfunding platforms, researchers need to actively promote their campaigns in social media to the broad audience by creating engaging content, such as videos, presentations, and blog posts. Apparently, youth is more comfortable with this stuff than seniors.

Crowdfunding also allows raising funds in a much shorter amount of time than traditional approaches, with the typical campaign duration of 30-60 days and project success rates reaching 50% and even more on some platforms. Also, beyond financial benefits, crowdfunding could be regarded as a form of science outreach, allowing engaging the public in research as well as increasing visibility and awareness.

So, as you can see, crowdfunding emerged as an interesting option of raising money for small research projects and it could be particularly useful to early-stage scientists and students. With the increasing interest to this type of funding, a bunch of crowdfunding platforms have been created specifically for funding scientific research. However, most of these platforms, including Petridish, DaVinciCrowd, FutSci, and Science Starter, have failed, suggesting that science crowdfunding is not a straightforward thing to do.

At present, we have just a few platforms devoted specifically to crowdfunding scientific research. A couple of general-purpose crowdfunding platforms could also be used by researchers, with some limitations. Here are some of the most appropriate platforms for crowdfunding scientific research.

Experiment

Experiment is an online platform for discovering, funding, and sharing scientific research. Experiment has helped to raise more than $9 million from nearly 48,000 backers for 941 scientific projects (46.52% success rate, $4,163 on average per project). If a project is fully funded, Experiment charges a 8% platform fee plus payment processing fee.

Crowd.Science

Crowd.Science provides a place where communities can form around research areas and back specific projects that they believe are worthy of support. They charge 5% of the total raised for projects.

Consano

Consano is a non-profit platform that enables people to donate any amount directly to a medical research project that matters to them. The site connects individuals directly to medical researchers from a variety of academic institutions, empowering them to advance progress in health issues that are of personal interest to them. Consano does not take any charge from donations and even covers the payment processing fees.

MedStartr

MedStartr is a medical innovation crowdfunding site. MedStartr enables patients, doctors, institutions, partners, and investors to find and fund the best ideas in healthcare and bring them to life. MedStartr helped to raise more than $2.5 million for hundreds projects.

wemakeit

wemakeit is Switzerland-based international crowdfunding platform for creative projects. wemakeit allows you to introduce your project to a large audience online and to finance it with the help of a big crowd of backers. wemakeit is a general-purpose platform, but for researchers working in Switzerland they have a special program called Science Booster. In the framework of this program, for every Swiss franc backers contribute to your science project, you’ll get another Swiss franc from the Gebert Rüf Stiftung Foundation (up to CHF 5,000 per project). wemakeit reports 61% success rate and has helped to raise more than 49 million euros for nearly 4500 projects. wemakeit charges 6% fee plus transaction fees.

Kickstarter

Kickstarter is an American company maintaining a global crowdfunding platform focused on creativity. This is one of the oldest and well-known crowdfunding platforms that has received more than $5 billion in pledges from more than 18 million backers to successfully fund about 184000 projects. Although it’s a general-purpose platform, a bunch of research-related projects have been successfully funded on Kickstarter. Kickstarter charges 5% fee plus payment processing fees.


Before choosing the right platform for your project, it is advised to look for similar projects on different platforms and check if they did well or not. By analyzing previous projects, you can maximize your chances. But, just putting your project on the platform doesn’t imply that you’ll get funded. It’s crucial to know your target audience and to promote your project on social media, blogs and forums. It’s essential to make sure people get to know you. It’s necessary to have great visual materials and to engage with your backers frequently. Crowdfunding is not a free tool for funding – it requires a great deal of planning, time, efforts and maybe even some financial resources to craft a successful campaign. And once you get your funding, you’ll need to keep the promise you gave to the people in your project.


OK, as I’m writing this article for the ionchannellibrary, I have to say a couple of words about crowdfunding ion channel research. And actually, there isn’t much to say. What I found in the internet is just two ion channel-related projects on the experiment.com:

  1. How Do Ion Channels Really Work, Fundamentals of Biological Electrical Activity, the Bits of the Brain? – 2017 – Raised $5,351.
  2. Using aphids to discover a gene for a salt-induced electrical signal. – 2015 – Raised $2,100.

However, when it comes to crowdfunding, you should not limit yourself to your area of expertise or to the projects in your lab. Senior scientists could use crowdfunding to help young scientists from developing countries to visit workshops, purchase scientific equipment, or to cover the costs of their stay in the foreign lab. A great example of this is Prof. Hugues Abriel, who organized three successful crowdfunding campaigns on the Swiss platform wemakeit with the goal to help young doctors from Kinshasa, Congo, to advance their projects and to build a long-term collaboration. A truly inspiring initiative, showing how crowdfunding could be used to help others and change the world for the better.

Take care!


Further readings:


Photo by Josh Sorenson from Pexels.


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