Science funding through crowdsourcing

March 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

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Did your or your adviser’s grant get rejected from a federal agency despite scoring well because of tight purse strings? Well, maybe it’s time to turn to your neighbors, family members, friends and interested strangers for some cold, hard cash.

The idea isn’t bizarre. Kickstarter made its name a few years ago for setting up a mechanism so people with ideas for creative projects could request funds from anybody by describing their ideas and proposing a budget. Folks checked out the projects and, if one caught their fancy, pledged some of their own money, anywhere from a few dollars and up, to help the project come to life.

Now that idea has crossed over from the arts to science. The two examples I’ve come across that emulate the Kickstarter model are the SciFund Challenge and PetriDish.

The SciFund Challenge, established by two ecologists,  Jai Ranganathan and Jarrett Byrnes, has been around since last summer. The PetriDish was founded by Matt Salzberg, who previously worked at Bessemer Venture PartnersIt appeared on the scene earlier this year.

Last year, SciFund Challenge scientists raised $76,230 for their research. From the first round of funding, SciFund Challenge’s Ranganathan and Byrnes compiled some stats on how the SciFund Challenge has fared so far in terms of raising money for projects. One interesting tidbit: The median contribution from a person was $25, but most of the money for a project came from a few large contributions.

In both cases, I didn’t seem to find any fundamental molecular biology or biochemisty projects. There are quite a few ecology and marine biology types of projects. It will be interesting to see how these kinds of projects fare in the crowdsourcing world. Is there anyone out there willing to give it a shot?

As with getting money from anywhere, you have to make a compelling argument as to why you deserve the funding. Remember, you are not selling your idea to fellow scientists familiar with the jargon and context for the research. You have to able to sell your pitch to intelligent people who don’t have the same scientific know-how as you do about your area of work but are interested in what your science has to offer. It’s an important skill to have!

The SciFund Challenge is calling for projects for its second round of crowdsourcing. The deadline for proposals is March 31. PetriDish appears to solicit project ideas at all times.

Enjoy!

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