As the end of the year approaches, it’s worth looking back to consider how the science crowdfunding ecosystem evolved in 2013. This was the year in which science crowdfunding started to catch on among both the mainstream crowdfunding community and among university-based researchers. Three developments in particular stand out:
- Specialty science crowdfunding portals. The number of crowdfunding portals or sub-portals dedicated to scientific research grew rapidly. While some specialty portals petered out (e.g., Petridish or FundAGeek), Microryza hit its stride, rapidly growing the number of campaigns hosted on its website. New science-focused portals like ScienceStarter or Funds4Research have also started popping up in Europe, and Australia’s Pozible recently launched a “Research” category. Finally, medical research-specific portals multiplied in 2013, with Consano, CureCancerStarter, and StartACure all launching this year.
- Universities started to explore the space. Drawn by the rapid growth of the crowdfunding industry, a number of universities have begun to experiment with research crowdfunding as an additional way of financing affiliated researchers. Some, like Arizona State, the University of Virginia, or Canada’s Carleton University have set up their own crowdfunding portals. Others, betting that the increased exposure associated with established third-party portals outweighs the benefits of controlling the fundraising channel itself, have begun to partner with existing crowdfunding portals. A number of Australian universities, for example, have joined forces with Pozible, the country’s leading crowdfunding portal, following a successful pilot with Deakin University, while Microryza recently announced its first university partnership with Tulane University School of Medicine.
- High-profile science crowdfunding campaigns. Science crowdfunding in 2013 was also characterized by rapidly growing public awareness driven in part by a set of high-profile campaigns that raised large amounts of money. Asteroid mining startup Planetary Resources, for example, raised $1.5 million on Kickstarter for the ARKYD space telescope. The Glowing Plant Project, for its part, raised $484,000 and sparked a debate on the regulation of synthetic biology in the process. I’ll cover these and some other high-profile campaigns in another post, but this type of large, and sometimes controversial, science-related crowdfunding campaign likely played a significant role in increasing public awareness about science crowdfunding in 2013.
To sum up, the science crowdfunding ecosystem grew rapidly in both scope and variety in 2013, and these trends are likely to accelerate in the coming year. We should see a lot more universities join the game in 2014, and the launch of more specialty portals using different models of science crowdfunding, since new ventures will be looking to differentiate themselves from existing players. Most of these initiatives will fail, but by the end of 2014, we should start to get a sense of what the most successful models for donation-based research crowdfunding are likely to be. We may also see increased institutional buy-in if, say, research funding bodies allow the use of crowdfunded resources as matching funds in competitions that require matching.
2014 will also likely see substantial growth in investment-based crowdfunding in the research space. Kiva is reportedly planning to launch KivaLabs, a technology-focused crowdlending venture. A wide range of players have also begun to test equity-based crowdfunding as a way of financing early-stage biotech and med-tech startups. The long-term staying power of this form of financing in the healthcare space will likely depend on both the success of these early ventures and the returns (both financial and in terms of the impact of the technologies created) that micro-investors are able to secure.
It should be an exciting year.
Tags: 2013, 2014, research crowdfunding, science crowdfunding, year-end review