People often think of crowdfunding as a tool for startups and individuals looking to fund their personal projects. Period. But what we have found here at Launcht is that crowdfunding is not simply a way of raising money; it is a way of engaging a community. Often our clients who look at crowdfunding holistically–as a method of reaching out to those around them–are the most successful. A great example of this is the use of crowdfunding and crowdvoting in higher education. Universities and colleges use crowdfunding and voting systems to empower their students, connect with their alumni on a new level, use their faculty expertise in a unique way, and reach out to the town or community around them. Crowdfunding can break down the appearance of colleges as an ivory tower and remind the world of the relevance of a college education in the 21st century.
The University of Vermont recently partnered with the Vermont Tech Council, the UVM Foundation, the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, and us here at Launcht to create UVM Start. By reaching out to a number of different institutions, UVM Start allowed the university to look outside its walls and gain valuable insights from community members in Vermont as well as its alums. According to Andrew Stickney of the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, “The goal of UVM Start is to help entrepreneurial students and startups on campus get connected to mentors, advisers and resources such that they have a support system. This type of support will give each of them the best chance at success for their individual startups.” He also says, “We designed the program to fit a student’s natural college schedule,” so that they can run their projects while also fulfilling their requirements, paralleling their education with real world experiences. It allows students to become innovators, working independently but still able to reach out to the alumni base to ask for help, which creates a much larger system of alumni engagement and a culture of giving back to the university.
Other colleges and universities we have partnered with have had similarly successful experiences. Middlebury College paired with TerraCycle to help students create their own recycling initiatives and, through crowdvoting, reach out to their peers to spread the word and leverage their campaigns. In three days, five teams of three people managed to get 1,373 people to the site they created. That meant that in three days 56% of the 2,450 person student body engaged in the project, learning about TerraCycle, new recycling initiatives on campus, and what their peers were doing to make the campus a better place.
Utah Valley University also used crowdvoting to create community, though they used it to reach out to emerging businesses in the state. Their aim was to encourage creativity and ingenuity for the state’s new media and technology companies. They offered cash prizes to those companies that garnered the most votes over the course of the 30 day competition. The result? 16,982 unique views to their site, and the top five companies, all of whom received over 950 votes, walked away with $5000 to encourage innovation. The voting platform allowed Utah Valley University to reach out to the state at large, encourage innovation, and bring traffic to their site.
Southern Illinois University recently decided to partner with Launcht to create a crowdvoting campaign–the Saluki Idea Competition–ramping up to their annual Technology and Innovation Expo. They used crowdvoting to “boost SIU Carbondale student and community involvement with innovative thinking and business development to address local and global challenges,” by offering students and community members a chance to compete for money to fund their projects, which had to fit into the theme “Sustaining our Community.” They required teams to have at least one student currently in attendance at SIU, but beyond that allowed students to partner with alumni, faculty, staff, and community members to create their projects. SIU used a two-step process, first applying crowdvoting to choose the top five projects and then having those five present to a panel of judges at the Expo to determine a winner, a runner-up, and three honorable mentions. They had fourteen projects competing in the Saluki Idea Competition and their most successful Expo to date.
Working with these universities and colleges and seeing their success has made us realize that crowdfunding and crowdvoting are invaluable resources to colleges and universities today. The great thing about these platforms is their flexibility and scalability. Colleges and universities can create programs that fit their specific needs, whether they are looking to reach out to their alumni or engage their students in entrepreneurship projects. We hope to see more colleges around the country utilize crowdfunding and voting in any number of new and interesting ways to give their students relevant, exciting experiences and engage the communities around them to guarantee future success and to foster an understanding of the world that students are preparing to enter.