Colorful lab coats, cardboard desks and an eco-friendly treehouse tell the story of Yale’s successful venture into crowdfunding.
Since fall 2014, the University has created a Kickstarter page that displays entrepreneurial projects led by Yale students, ranging from mobile applications to clothing design. Having helped the first 10 of these projects reach and exceed their targeted funding levels, Yale is currently exploring other avenues for supporting crowdfunding efforts in the community. Associate professor of Medicine Lynn Fiellin, who launched the page in 2014, has been collaborating with the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute and the Provost’s Office to further solidify Yale’s presence on Kickstarter and, more recently, to expand the school’s crowdfunding platforms.
“The [Kickstarter] page is a small part of a much bigger initiative: to bring crowdfunding to Yale,” she said. “The idea is to explore and establish novel and engaging methods of raising funds here.”
The page currently features several YEI startup companies, including Chairigami, a furniture company that designs cardboard standing desks; LabCandy, a venture offering girl-friendly lab gear and storybooks; and Tuckerman & Co., a designer of organic dress shirts. All three projects raised more than 150 percent of their target figure, pulling in anywhere from $30,000 to more than $50,000.
Given the success of this initial collaboration, Fiellin has led conversations with other crowdfunding sites — such as Experiment and Benefunder — to establish more Yale platforms. And since green-lighting the collaboration into existence, the Provost’s Office has continued to play an active role in advancing it beyond Kickstarter, according to Deputy Provost for Science and Technology Steve Girvin.
“We are currently looking into different sites that are more geared towards research projects,” he said. “Crowdfunding seems to be good for small projects that don’t require large amounts of funding.”
The initiative signals a shift from traditional, low-tech fundraising strategies that the Office of Development uses. The office does not collaborate with outside services, instead relying on the strong personal connection alumni share with the University for its fundraising campaigns, Associate Vice President for Development Eugenie Gentry said. While the Yale Kickstarter page does not specifically target Yale alumni for fundraising, it may give them insight into entrepreneurship projects at the University, Fiellin said.
“Hopefully [the page] raises their awareness of all the amazing creative work coming out of Yale and might make them more interested in contributing to a Kickstarter project or to Yale in general,” she said, adding that alumni may also use the page for their own projects.
Entrepreneurs behind the products on the page praised the collaboration for its impact. LabCandy founder Olivia Pavco-Giaccia ’16 said the page symbolizes Yale’s commitment to entrepreneurship, adding that she appreciates the backing of the school. Greg Bryda GRD ’16, whose art history application, Wolff, is currently featured on the page, noted the benefits of having a community at Yale that has shown excitement for these products.
“The University community is set up for entrepreneurship opportunities and is useful for reaching the Kickstarter goal,” Bryda said.
Kickstarter has successfully funded more than 78,000 projects and has received more than $1.5 billion in pledges, according to its website.