Social networking helping to raise funds

July 9, 2012

Now, an online community is turning all kinds of ideas into reality with the help of complete strangers and some serious money.

Chicagoan Julian Bell is recording his debut album this summer but he needed some help to pay for the project. Rather than more traditional funding options, he turned to the internet.

"It is a little crazy to think that someone who you've never met before and may never meet is offering you to give you some kind of money," Bell said.

"It's an active thing you have to do, get people to donate and participate in it, so that's a good way to get your name out there, you're always asking people, could you please spread the word."

Bell is using a fundraising social network called Kickstarter, a website where people log on and donate money to help fund new ideas.

If the project reaches the fundraising goal the creator gets the money and creates the project, otherwise the donations are returned to the investors.

Northwestern University professor Liz Gerber studies this new type of social networking called crowdfunding. She's even using it to help fund some of her research. She says it's a digital version of passing the hat.

"When people put their money where their mouth is, it's a different indicator of validation then just cool idea man," Gerber said.

"It's been happening actually for years," Gerber said. "The difference here is now we have the internet which facilitates a whole new kind of communication and social media which allows us to constantly be in contact with folks to give them updates about our project and tell them what is going on."

Projects on crowdfunding sites can also raise huge amounts of money. The project to fund this "smart watch" that connects with your smartphone raised more than $10 million.

Illinois Institute of Technology masters students Derek Tarnow and Zahra Tashakorinia were tired that their iPhone earbuds kept getting tangled, so as part of a class project they designed a magnetic organizer, the tidytilt.

They needed $10,000 to fund their first batch at the factory, so they turned to crowdfunding and their project took off.

"It went over $100,000 and that's when we realized it wasn't a school project anymore," said Tarnow, TT Design Labs. "It was really the start of a business." 16:43

Experts say the community self-policing aspect of the social networking sites has kept bogus projects to only a few isolated instances.

"There is a lot of trust that is required and we know that in any online community there needs to be trust, if there is not trust in anything the site falls apart," Gerber said.

Professor Gerber says the biggest concern for people posting projects on crowd funding sites is the potential that someone might steal their idea -- leading some people to file provisional patents before posting anything online.



Northwestern Crowdfunding Research:

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