The pros and cons of crowdfunding

Antonio Cordero hoped that crowdfunding would help him when he wanted to focus on his secondary research project on the box turtle. No money ever showed up, but he did gain lessons in both marketing and how to disseminate his research.

Antonio Cordero.

Crowdfunding, is a way of using the internet to finance anything from the production of single products to academic research. Sometimes, donors only give money for the sake of the project; sometimes a donation is linked to a reward.

A crowdfunding campaign often uses a platform which takes a certain percentage of the money collected. This is a set-up familiar to Antonio Cordero at the Department of Biology in Lund. In his case, it was a platform specialising in research, Experiment.com, that contacted him after reading one of his articles. He describes the set-up as a bit of a competition for money.

He and nine other people each had to pitch for their own project. Each of them got to set their own target for the amount of money they wanted to raise through crowdfunding. After 30 days, the amount collected was calculated. Those who had met their targets received their money. The others did not.

Antonio Cordero chose his secondary project on the box turtle genus (Terrapene) and the underlying mechanisms of how the turtles close their shells so that the animal is completely enclosed and protected.

“My goal was USD 1500, but I only made it to USD 275, so I got nothing. The money I collected went back to the six donors. Perhaps I should have set the bar lower, I believe only three or four of the ten of us who took part actually achieved their targets”, he says.

Antonio Cordero sees both advantages and disadvantages to the kind of set-up he took part in. The downside was that it inevitably became a competition for money. The organisers at Experiment.com had chosen reptiles as a theme, so the ten projects which took part all dealt with reptiles in some way. This meant that they were also similar.

“I believe that those who potentially wanted and were able to contribute money had too many choices on the same theme. I was forced to work very hard for my project to stand out among the others”, says Antonio Cordero.

On the positive side was all the help he got from the organiser to reach out through social media about his research.

“I realised that I had to improve the way I reached out through social media to an audience who were not experts on the subject. It was good practice for me to write in a popular science form. What I learned about marketing my research was useful when I later applied for and obtained an EU grant.”

Today, he doesn’t fret about not having achieved his target. And he could very well consider using crowdfunding again.

“Yes, absolutely. I believe that a bold, innovative project of potential interest to a broad audience has the best chance of succeeding with crowdfunding. A project that aims to achieve a specific product or method is suitable for this form of funding”, says Antonio Cordero.

Text: Jan Olsson

Footnote: Crowd.Science and Experiment.com are two platforms for crowdfunding which both focus on research.