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Crowdfunding U: Universities Experiment with Crowdfunding

May 29, 2013

The University of Virginia has announced a six–month pilot initiative to fund early stage research via an exclusive crowdfunding portal. In partnership with USEED Inc, a crowdfunding startup focused on philanthropic fundraising for higher education, the U.Va. Innovation administered portal will allow alumni, donors and others to make targeted, tax-deductible donations in support of specific research and development projects. During the pilot initiative, the site (https://uva.useed.net/) will feature up to 10 translational research projects across a spectrum of research topics that include making life-saving water purification tools more widely available in rural areas of South Africa and a new forensic dye that will help medical professionals visualize sexual assault injuries more effectively on women of all skin tones. According to university officials, this is the first university-crowdfunding startup partnership that has led to the launch of a university–administered portal to support faculty-led research.

Before the launch of Virginia's USEED, the University of Utah's Technology Commercialization Office announced a crowdfunding partnership with RocketHub, a leading crowdfunding portal. Together, the University of Utah and Rockethub launched University Tech Vault, a nonexclusive portal that allows faculty or students from any universities across the country to post a crowdfunding campaign. Since its launch in January of 2013, the site has successfully funded all five projects posted by potential entrepreneurs from the University of Utah. Each of the projects were either donation-based or rewards-based campaigns.

Although the University of Virginia model is one of the first to support faculty-led projects, several universities have partnered to establish crowdfunding portals to fund student-led projects. USEED has existing partnerships with Arizona State University, Cornell University and the University of Delaware. These portals are open to students to launch crowdfunding campaigns to support activities ranging from research to other special projects. The campaign must be sponsored by a university department or other element of the university to be posted on the site. Other universities that maintain partnerships with crowdfunding startups to support student-led projects include the University of Vermont and Colby College in Maine.

One university decided to forgo the partnership route taken by the University of Virginia and established their own independent portal. In October of 2012, Michigan Technological University launched their own crowdfunding portal. Inspired by a faculty member's successful crowdfunding campaign on an existing site, the university set out to establish their own site independent of a partnership with an existing platform. The site, Superior Ideas, has successfully funded three projects since October. Due to the university's nonprofit status, all contributions made to Superior Ideas campaigns are tax-deductible and campaign managers also may offer rewards including university merchandize to contributors.

higher ed, crowdfunding