Crowdfunding science: the SciFund Challenge

By Siouxsie Wiles

In late 2011, two ecologists from the US National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in California embarked on an exciting experiment: to see if the crowdfunding model [1] successfully used by ‘Creatives’ [2] could be applied to funding science. And enthuse the general public about science in the process.

Dr. Jai Ranganathan and Dr. Jarrett Byrnes set up the SciFund Challenge, tasking a group of scientists to use the power of their various networks (including their family, friends and colleagues) to raise money for their research. Almost 50 projects were offered up, covering topics as diverse as parasitic plants, flying foxes, Amazonian crabs, domesticating algae, duck erections, Roman slaves, zombie fish and undersea kelp forests. Using the popular crowdfunding site RocketHub [3] as a platform, the scientists raised over US$76,000.

Two scientists who ran really successful campaigns were Kelly Weinersmith and Kristina Killgrove. Kelly raised US$5,000 for her studies of the parasite Euhaplorchis californiensis which makes zombies out of California killifish, while Kristina raised over US$10,000 for her project looking at the DNA of Roman skeletons to learn more about immigrants in the Empire.

Perhaps as a mark of the success of the SciFund Challenge, a similar site has recently launched called Petridish [4], which currently has 18 projects on offer. Meanwhile Round 2 of the SciFund Challenge starts on the 1st May. This time more than 140 scientists from all over the world will be taking part. Here are some teasers to get you interested [5]!

1. Rather than relying on one wealthy benefactor for full funding, crowdfunding seeks small contributions from lots of people to get projects off the ground.

2. Defined by RocketHub as “entrepreneurs, actors, artists, composers, dancers, designers, directors, filmmakers, inventors, musicians, painters, philanthropists, poets, politicians, programmers, singers, songwriters, teachers, writers, and more”.

3. RocketHub works on an ‘keep it all’ system: the Creative gets to keep all the money they raise, even if they don’t hit their target, minus a 4% RocketHub fee and a 4% credit card transaction fee.

4. Petridish, which charges a 5% fee, works on an “all or nothing” system, where projects will only be funded if they reach their financial goal before a set deadline.

5. Conflict of interest declaration… one of those is for my project!

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