on Mar 3 2015
The only current alternative to directly supporting science is giving through large foundations like the Komen Foundation. Like many large publicly funded institutions scientific donations flow through a giant black hole and 95% of donors never see the results that their donations helped produce. It is an impersonal and detached process with little satisfaction for the public.
There is a huge need for direct access to projects and research. Experiment is the platform for the public to donate and then engage with the projects they’re funding, which has never been done before.
People don’t give to science research in exchange for tangible trinkets (t-shirts, mugs, keychains – a la Kickstarter). Physical rewards only work in a pre-purchase or prototype crowdfunding model where the goods have value. Many of our competitors (Petridish, Scifund, 16 others) are struggling because they tried to replicate the Kickstarter model. We built Experiment based on the belief that people fundamentally want to support science for the impact.
We know this because we ask every single one of our donors “what do you want” after they give, and they all give the same answer of “I want to see progress, and I want to know my money made an impact”. That is why we are building ways to help researchers communicate with their backers better than ever before.
We also know that it’s important to work directly with universities and foundations to set up the right process for the funds, because those relationships turn into a lot of high quality research projects.
Science funding for research today is broken. Traditional funding agencies like the NIH, NSF, and other large grantwriting institutions are unable to support 80% of the research proposals they receive. The number of high-impact, early-stage ideas that go unfunded is tremendous.
There is also nowhere on the web where non-scientist can closely follow science as it evolves. While popular interest in breakthrough events like the Mars rover and the Higgs Boson are showing that people want to be closer to the scientific process, consumption of scientific exploration is limited to news headlines or National Geographic magazine.
We know how the scientific process works, and we know that there are magical stories in the process that can instantly engage people. We are building the community that brings scientists and the public closer together in an experience that they both love.
We generate revenue through a 5% transaction fee on fully funded projects. To date we’ve raised over $1.1M for projects.
The NIH budget is $30 billion and they reject 80% of their applicants - that’s $120 billion in rejected applications. Assuming half of those 42,000 rejected applications are fundable and can produce preliminary data with $25,000, that is a $525M revenue/$26M profit opportunity for only health-related projects (which represent 1/10th of total research in the U.S.)
We can be a billion dollar company.
At this point, the competitor we take seriously is Indiegogo. They recently decided to step into science crowdfunding, but they are also tackling many other crowdfunding areas. They have significantly more resources, and a lot of users, but building a community around the research is really important. We don’t think Indiegogo has succeeded like Kickstarter or Kiva in this regard. Our goal is to showcase the stories behind these projects one by one and create the community that scientists and donors want.
We have two primary acquisition channels, one is direct contact with universities and professors, the other is organic word-of-mouth growth. 12% of the professors and researchers that we contact eventually launch a campaign on Experiment. We also approach researchers from the top down by forming relationships with universities and deans directly. Several deans of research have approved the use of Experiment by their faculty and students, which instantly results in dozens of new projects. The final way we acquire projects is from word-of-mouth within university departments and among the greater public. Funding the future of scientific advancement is exciting for many of our users and they spread the word faster and further than we ever could.
525 researchers have launched projects so far on Experiment, and we still have dozens of other potential acquisition channels.
The best way for us to bring on users is to acquire more projects. Every new researcher solicits their own community for funding, which results in ~100 new users and 10,000 - 30,000 new pageviews per campaign. Ten new projects may equal 1,000 new backers. And 8% of our backers become repeat backers. So the more projects we gather, the more users we retain until growth becomes entirely organic.
Not moving fast enough. Worst of all is potentially missing out on a research project that could have a massive impact.
Learning to communicate effectively with large bureaucratic institutions like universities has been the most difficult.
This question comes from the fact that in the last year, NIH rejected 82% of the proposals they received, which means they rejected over 49,000 grant proposals. This graph shows how this number of overall rejections is only going up.
This message here, however, isn’t that funding model is inefficient, because there are many checks and balances in the current funding model that serve a defined purpose to ensure quality of research. The peer review process and rigorous application cycle of an NIH R01 is incredibly important for filtering promising proposals that are ready for the next phase.
Rather, the real problem here is a reflection of the ever-increasing competition for an ever-decreasing pool of available funds. A recent NSF survey shows the increasing number of graduate level scientists who are entering the research system, while funding agency acceptance rates remain at near record lows. While we are able to identify the top 10 researchers in a field to fund at any given time, the funds available can now only support the top 8, and the pool of exceptional candidates has grown to 20. This is a story that we’ve also heard repeated from non-profit foundations and grant-writing institutions.
It has become easy for us to acquire new projects, but the hardest part is ensuring those projects succeed by educating researchers on how to market their projects effectively. Scientists are excellent at researching and pushing humanity forward, but have less experience selling their ideas and marketing them to the larger public. New researchers have access to an online community where they can learn best practices from researchers who have run campaigns in the past which in some cases has led to deeper collaboration. We are also building an online education guide to make it even easier for researchers to learn how to market their campaigns.
Magic School Bus + Bill Nye the Science Guy + NOVA special + National Geographic = Experiment
The bigger opportunity is not just fixing a broken system, but changing the definition of viable research from the current institutional approach to one where anyone with the right question, background, and audience can raise funds to do their research. Our quantum leap will be when we broaden the definition of where science is done beyond universities and institutions. Experiment will be the funding portal for institutional projects, but also a platform enabling everyone to pose scientific questions and raise money to find the answers.
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