Crowdfund This!

I recently received an e-mail from a colleague on a science and technology librarianship list serv that I subscribe to asking an interesting question, “has anyone done any research on or has had success with landing funding for library tech projects via crowd funding or know of scholars who used crowd funding to raise funds for research.”  This struck me as a question that deserved a little more research and discussion as enthusiasm for crowd funding projects has seen a marked increase over the last year.  As federal funding is becoming increasingly harder to come by, and is often reserved for those with both large scale projects as well as already established careers, it makes sense that researchers would be perusing alternate funding avenues. 

Two of the most popular and well known crowd funding sites are Kickstarter and Indiegogo, though these are geared more towards projects in the arts they also have proven successful in funding some small scientific research projects as well such as this one.  A recent campaign on Indiegogo raised 1.3 million dollars to purchase Nikola Tesla‘s laboratory in New York and convert it into a science center/museum.  The success of these crowd funding initiatives has led to the development of several sites devoted solely to crowd sourcing funding for scientific research, including:

Iamscientist which is “designed to appeal to university professors and researchers who can invest a few hundred dollars into engineering, life science, and biotech”, and offers the opportunity to fund projects such as Diamondback Terrapin research and “Robotic hand Rehabilitation for Stroke Victims”.     This is a very new site and as of yet only has about 10 projects launched so far.  It is hard to see how this site will distinguish itself from some of the more established sites.  Read more at

Petridish offers an opportunity to, “fund science and explore the world with renowned researchers.” Projects range from tracking the diversity of biofoulers in Florida to a study on bird cooperation in the rainforests of Ecuador.  Petridish’s founder Matt Salzberg offers this rationale for Petridish’s advantages over other science based crowdfunding sites. “There are a few things that make us different. First, we’ve focused on building a high quality, fun web experience for contributors. Aside from our focus on design, we hand select only the most interesting and impactful projects to feature on our site, including those with great videos, pictures and rewards. Many of the existing sites focus exclusively on the experience for the scientist raising money– we cater to both sides of the marketplace.  Second, we only do “all or nothing” funding. We do this because it protects the scientist from having to do a project without sufficient funding and it protects contributors who wouldn’t want to donate to a project that doesn’t have enough funding to go through. It also encourages people to really pull together to promote a project, since a project won’t happen without enlisting the support of others as well.”  They also offer some helpful tips for would be fund raisers.

Sciflies is a site sponsored by the University of South Florida and coincidentally the most funded project happens to belong to a friend of mine who studies Red Grouper behavior in Florida.  Unlike the previous two sites, Sciflies is not for profit and takes no commission on funded projects.   They also offer some well-thought out commentary on crowd funding scientific research.

  • Micro-donations will make hundreds of research projects possible, projects that otherwise would have to wait for funding or not be funded at all.
  • Research projects that are limited in scope and time and for which small dollars are required, will be made possible through SciFlies funding
  • Researchers will gain more visibility, connect with a wider audience of donors and enhance public knowledge of their work
  • Funds from SciFlies donors can speed the process of investigation and lead to faster scientific breakthroughs
  • The general public has an easy and cost-effective way to advance scientific research that personally appeals to them. People can be more engaged with ground-breaking research, by learning about and funding a scientist and his/her work.
  • 100% of each donation goes to the research institution.

-The Open Source Science Project, is “a powerful platform for academic researchers seeking to develop, finance, and conduct basic research projects”, and functions as a dual fundraising and networking platform for researchers.  However, this platform is currently only available to select partner institutions and seems to have stalled in terms of growth.

SciFund Challenge is sponsored by RocketHub, another crowd funding platform, and I have to say one of my favorite approaches to crowd funding science.  This year will mark the 3rd annual Sci Fund Challenge and there is a lot of energy and enthusiasm behind this project.  Last year’s challenge raised $100,000 and saw a significant increase in momentum from the year before as seen below.

Round Days Projects Projects funded Percent funded Total raised
1 45 49 10 20.4% $76,230
2 31 75 33 44.0% $100,345


This is an interesting presentation by SciFund’s co-founders Jai Ranganathan and  Jarrett Byrnes on the future of crowd funding for academic research.

So is this the future of science?  Hard to say.  Borya Shakhnovich, the founder of Iamscientist, says that,” the major challenge with crowd funding has been to translate esoteric research into a language that the general public can understand. It has been a strain on time and resources.”  There is also the opinion that by allowing the general public to fund scientific research, only the biggest and splashiest campaigns will be funded.  It’s a lot easier to generate public interest in cute and cuddly animals than polymers and sedimentary rocks!  Most of these sites are not subject to peer review as well which is cause for concern and some researchers fear that this can, “make them lose legitimacy in the eyes of their peers.”  In the end though the fact remains that it is very difficult for researchers to fund their projects through traditional means and any avenue that provides an outlet for further study and scientific empowerment should be encouraged, developed, and carefully watched for future implications.

Further Reading:

Drapeau, M. (2012, 14 March).  Should governments crowd source scientific research funding? Huffington Post. Retrieved from:

Ecklund E, James S, & Lincoln A.  (2012).  How Academic Biologists and Physicists View Science Outreach. PLoS ONE, 7(5). Retrieved from:

Giles, J. (2012, 18 January). Finding philanthropy: Like it? Pay for it.  Nature. Retrieved from:

Hickey, H. (2012, 9 August). Crowd funding on campus: UW scientists raise money for reasarch online. UW Today. Retrieved from:

Ranganathan, J. (2012, 23 May). Crowd-funding for research dollars: a cure for science’s ills? Scientific American. Retrieved from:

2 thoughts on “Crowdfund This!

  1. An older form of crowdfund may be EarthWatch This is a 30-40 year old organization bringing those wanting a different type of vacation and researchers needing “hands” together to work on projects worldwide and in many disciplines. The “hands” pay their own way and devote their vacations to working for the researcher. I’ve been on two and loved every minute of my vacations.

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