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Crowdfunding Platforms: an Opportunity for Teacherpreneurs?

April 24, 2012, 8:46 AM

This is follow-up to last week's post on crowdfunding and the opportunities it could provide for the so called teacherpreneurs. Let’s take it as an alternative to the traditional forms of funding open to educators such as see, angel or even VC funding or the various incubators dedicated to education not to forget grants and other state funding.

But after the latest hype around Eric Migicovsky’s Pebble watch, I think it’s about time to have a closer look on what might work and the strategies of how to make crowdfunding work for educators. 

To quickly summarize the Pebble project: Migicovsky originally set himself the goal to raise $100.000 in 38 days on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to produce a watch that basically allows its owner to check his/her smartphone updates without the need to actually look at their phone. Yes, the watch also has some other features and depending on your taste it’s more or less nicely designed, but probably none of us would have thought it would turn into such a frenzy on Kickstarter. 

Never in the history of the platform a project has raised its money that quickly. After only three days people pledged over $3 million and if you take a look at the project now you’ll see that it’s beyond $6 million already - with 24 more days to go! 

Even more surprising to me than the tremendous success of the campaign is that the concept of a smart watch in itself is nothing new. Both Microsoft and Sony experimented with such watches in the past - without success. Why Pebble sruck a chord and why exactly now remains somewhat a secret to me, but let’s focus on what’s in for people with an idea in education. 

Right at the beginning of my article I called them teacherpreneurs. You shouldn’t think of a teacherpreneur as a person who is seeing an opportunity in education as one of the hottest markets these days and who might move on in about two years when he/she sees the next opportunity in another market. That's what we usually call an edupreneur. Instead we use teacherpreneur for people with an educational background, maybe even actively teaching, who think they are at a point when they have identified a problem in the market and think they might have a solution to fix this problem or to serve a need. 

Over at EDUKWEST we have already portrayed three of these projects and we are going to relaunch this series with a broader coverage early May.

What I recognized in both more general campaigns as well as campaigns specifically for educational projects is that Kickstarter seems to work best meaning that one will likely find the most backers when they promise to manufacture a real physical product. I think we have to imagine it similar to people pre-ordering a product. The inventors demo a working prototype and promise when people pledge for the project, it’ll be manufactured and you’ll eventually get one for the money you chipped in.

Same is true for the hugely successful campaigns for developing games we have seen in the past months or weeks like Double Fine reaching its funding goal of $400k in just 8 hours for a classic point and click adventure or the revivals of Shadow Run and Leisure Suit Larry. Of course, an important point here was that these games and their developers were popular in the past and had built a reputation already. 

This will most likely not be true for an educator who want to launch a project although teachers are well-organized in big networks, LinkedIn groups or PLN (personal learning networks). So if they were active members of one of those groups they might well be able to leverage the power of the community. 

I can imagine this form of funding work when we think of an application designed for teachers to communicate with their students or the parents. Even if that’s not a physical product, it’s also not so cost-intensive and I can imagine the different groups involved pledge the money as the need would be there. So far, I have seen people struggle more when promoting what we might call more ‘abstract products’, for instance a project to fund a podcast didn’t meet its goal on Kickstarter a few weeks ago.

Now, Kickstarter is of course far from being the only crowdfunding platform. If one is an educator from outside the US crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo might be more attractive as they accept international campaigns whereas for Kickstarter one needs to have a billing address in the US. IndieGoGo also goes broader in terms of the variety of their campaigns which range from products or gadgets similar to Kickstarter to much more philanthropic projects. Also, if a project doesn’t meet its goal, you can still claim the money it has pledged over the time of the campaign. 

Therefore I can imagine a teacherpreneur’s project fall on fruitful ground over there. If you are interested in learning more about this platform you can watch my interview with Slava Rubin, one of the co-founders of IndieGoGo over on EDUKWEST.

I think teacherpreneurs should definitely consider crowdfunding as an alternative to traditional seed and angel funding or applying for grants which can sometimes take a long time and makes one jump through many loops.

Photo: Young Teacher via Shutterstock


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