Crowdfunding Platforms: an Opportunity for Teacherpreneurs?

Crowdfunding Platforms: an Opportunity for Teacherpreneurs?

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

CT scans of shark intestines find Nikola Tesla’s one-way valve

Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla

Credit: Gerald Schömbs / Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • For the first time, scientists developed 3D scans of shark intestines to learn how they digest what they eat.
  • The scans reveal an intestinal structure that looks awfully familiar — it looks like a Tesla valve.
  • The structure may allow sharks to better survive long breaks between feasts.
Keep reading Show less

Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.


"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.


There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
  • This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
  • Although the groups it depicts have familiar names, their shapes are not.
  • The map makes for strange bedfellows: Brazil next to South Africa and Belgium neighboring the U.S.
Keep reading Show less