How Enterprising Grad Students Kickstart Their Research

Online fundraising websites like Kickstarter are revolutionizing the way startups get funded. But inventors and entrepreneurs aren't the only ones who can benefit from this new trend in crowdsourcing. Scholars can also benefit from the curiosity and financial support of Internet users.

By Sarah Wright

kickstarter funding grant writing

What Is Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is a website that allows users to solicit donations for projects that need funding. Whether that project is an invention or a board game, Kickstarter can help connect people with much-needed funding. And since that funding is coming from individuals on the Internet rather than large companies or other organizations, some users are finding that the money they receive comes with fewer caveats than it might otherwise.

Some people seeking funds offer rewards to donors. Certain levels of financial commitment may earn thank-you gifts like t-shirts or early versions of the products being funded. This can make it feel more like investing than donating, helping make the benefits of funding a good idea more tangible. One of the best things about Kickstarter, though, is that the donations are nonbinding unless the funding goal is met. That ensures that investors don't waste money on a project that will never get off the ground, and nobody is forced to complete a project with inadequate funding.

Academic Uses

A wide variety of people use the funding website. Filmmakers, artists, inventors, community groups, charities and small business owners can make use of its community outreach abilities. But one area that offers encouraging potential is in academic use.

Academic researchers are starting to use Kickstarter to get funding for their work. According to The New York Times, researchers studying quails were able to raise several thousand dollars for their work. Rather than relying on grant writing procedures, these researchers were able to reach out to a community interested in quail preservation - including hunters.

Why Kickstarter?

For academics used to relying on grant-giving institutions and their own universities for funding, the idea of turning to the Internet may seem a little strange. Some may even oppose the idea of turning to the private sector on principle. But unfortunately, budget cuts at both private and public colleges and universities are putting research funding in jeopardy. Kickstarter gives academics a way to side-step the process of begging for funding from dwindling reserves.

Another possibly revolutionary application for Kickstarter in the academic sector is to secure funding for politically unpopular projects. With federal budget cuts for many areas of academic science, Kickstarter can be a way for researchers to not only secure funding, but demonstrate a public interest in their work. Reaching out for funding in this way can help academics have more control over their work, and can also help spread the word about academic projects as they're developed.

The do-it-yourself funding approach offered by websites like Kickstarter may save academic researchers from the headache of results-based funding.

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