Research - 07.02.2018 - 00:00 

New, fast and simple? – Crowdfunding for research projects

Crowdfunding has become a popular option for raising financial resources for the realisation of an idea. This can be money for a project, a product or a start-up. However, research projects can also be funded through crowdfunding. Dana Sindermann reports on this new option for research funding.

7 February 2018. Research costs money, which when research takes place in a university environment is classically provided by the university itself or a research-funding foundation. But what if these sources are not available or are inadequate? The option of financing one’s own research or parts of it through crowdfunding is becoming increasingly popular. Numerous platforms have begun to specialise in this niche; the US-American provider and the Swiss platform Science Booster being cases in point. On these platforms, applicants can present the research project they are planning and indicate the sum that should be raised. Yet before they are allowed to solicit donations with their idea, they have to overcome some obstacles. The project is subjected to a kind of peer-review process in advance. Experts examine the research question and design and suggest changes. Furthermore, references such as letters of recommendation are required. And candidates must indicate how they would like to proceed if the target sum has been raised.

Research projects must appeal to a large target group

Anne Rickelt, research assistant at the University of St.Gallen, is planning to finance part of her doctoral thesis through crowdfunding. The doctoral student is conducting research into emotions among managers. The cornerstones of her thesis will be constituted by data which she will only be able to collect by means of an expensive experiment, the completion of which will cost up to CHF 20,000. "Some of the support is also being provided by our institute. But when you need more money after all, you try to find other ways, too. And this is how I arrived at crowdfunding." The doctoral student has already passed the peer review process and also produced a video clip about her research project. "I’m not really the social media type," says Anne Rickelt about herself. But she has been tempted to leave the ivory tower and appeal to a wider target group. "You must make sure that you can describe an academic project in simplified terms. In any case, the contents should be crisp and exciting."

New type of academic communication

Besides a good presentation, the rewards that funders receive in return also play a role. Thus Anne Rickelt promises funders the finished article or a book related to the research topic, depending on the amount. And for CHF 1,000, the doctoral student will invite funders for a visit to the University and her institute. Crowdfunding thus also evolves into a new type of academic communication since it is no longer highly specialised researchers who decide whether a project is going to be run or not but the rank and file. And the idea behind the research must be brought across in a comprehensible and attractive way.

After the start of the campaign, candidates have 30-45 days to raise the target amount. The campaigns are run according to the "everything or nothing" principle: if candidates are successful, the sum will be paid out; if they are unable to raise the target amount, there will be no money and the donations will be returned to the sponsors. A study conducted by HTW Chur came to the conclusion that the success rate of crowdfunding for research projects was about 45 per cent.

Dana Sindermann is a research assistant at the Institute for Business Ethics.

Photo: Fotolia / jcomp

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