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How to Use Crowdfunding to Create Positive Change

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Want to help the world? Here’s how to finance your great idea.

By Matt Ward Posted Jun 2, 2015

Topher White, Rainforest Connection
Creating meaningful change in the world is hard. Whether it’s going green, getting a hybrid or launching the next socially responsible startup, it seems as if doing the right thing to create positive change in the world is often an expensive proposition.

Young people today are rightfully concerned about the future, but new ideas and the energy and optimism of youth are not enough to affect the changes we need in the face of a warming climate, pollution, and unsustainable practices in food, heath, energy and other sectors of the economy. We need creative solutions more than ever, but it takes money to help new ideas get started.

Hi, my name’s Matt Ward and I’m one of those young people who want to contribute to positive change. I’m the host of Art of the Kickstart, a podcast and blog on all things crowdfunding. And after over 100 crowdfunder and creator interviews, I’ve seen some of the most incredible and inspiring startups – people pushing to change the world. Solutions can be fast-tracked via crowdfunding, and individuals have never been more empowered to share and advance their ideas.

The Crowdfunding Creation Engine to a Better World

“Crowdfunding” is the process of creation, specifically product creation, where an individual uses the power of the internet to pitch a product or prototype to the world. Viewers can assess the idea on its merits, contact the source for more information, and share the ideas with others on their social networks. This ‘viral’ method of spreading information can bring a worthy idea before a wide audience of potential supporters. Backers respond with their wallets – helping make the dream a reality. It’s a very simple concept, but the potential is huge. Crowdfunding’s creating a movement, something once unimaginable in the pre-internet minds of man, and helping foster an unparalleled age of entrepreneurship and invention.

The ideal business is marriage of money and mission. It’s a startup whose primary aims revolve not around dollars and cents but doing good and bettering the world – but at the same time making money. Both business and betterment are intertwined. A new business concept, ‘social entrepreneurship’, is emerging in businesses today which are exploring new models for providing goods and services which benefit social, economic and environmental concerns as well as the bottom line.

Here are four great examples of new businesses helped by crowdfunding.

Four Founders Kickstarting Cool Eco Businesses:

EcoQube

Farming has become an industrial, large-scale venture – it’s been outside the hands of individuals for quite sometime. And as always, there are pros and cons to this. While specialization has created mass markets and increased efficiencies of farming and food production, it’s also led to numerous problems perpetuating the food we eat. From GMOs and spoilage to pesticides and problematically lower nutrient density foods, consolidation can’t be considered without including these costs.

Also, with modern agribusinesses stocking our grocery shelves, consumers know next to nothing about where their food comes from or the standards used in growing them. It’s no wonder individuals are more and more turning to home gardens and healthier options for their fruits and veggies. But what about urbanites, without access to space for gardening?

EcoQube, the brainchild of Kevin Liang, has been created with just such a consumer in mind. With the future of big-agriculture uncertain, and with transportation costs, fuel consumption and spoilage, modern farming is ripe for an overhaul.

Aquaponics may be a solution to our growing challenges. This system of farming, utilized by EcoQube, consists of creating an ecosystem which models Mother Nature. Fish waste is converted via filter to fertilize the plants, growing your veggies while at the same time filtering the water which allows fish to thrive – it’s the circle of life and it’s approximately 10x as efficient as soil-based farming. This method lends itself to urban growing systems.

Aquaponics uses a mere 1-10% of the clean water required for conventional farming. Perhaps that’s why EcoQube’s raised over $440k over the course of two crowdfunding campaigns!

HookPod

Another great example of merging profit and purpose to create a successful hybrid startup is HookPod.

Created with industrial fisheries in mind, HookPod is designed to protect the birds of the sea – albatross in particular. Every year longline fishing boats set about three billion hooks, killing an estimated 300,000 seabirds a year. As if that were not bad enough, about 100,000 of these accidental fatalities are to an endangered species of albatross.

HookPod set out to remedy this ecological issue and help industrial fisheries in the process. After years of research, their hook and bait system, something industrial fisheries must have, has been designed and tested to be seabird safe – more fish for fishermen, less collateral damage to ocean life.

Additionally, HookPod solves the traditionally pollutive problem of discarding used chemical lightsticks in the ocean with a reusable, electric baited hook.

HookPod successfully raised over £113,000 to make a difference in the world and solve a problem practically no one but industrial fisheries knew existed – it’s an innovative example of crowdfunding creative solutions for the real world.

OpenFarm

The trend in farming is shifting towards localized and independent operations. As individuals become more health and eco-conscious this movement will only pick up steam.

That’s the motivating force behind Rory Aronson’s ‘Wikipedia of farming’, also known as OpenFarm. OpenFarm, a small startup with a lofty mission, raised nearly $25,000 on Kickstarter to get started. They’re creating an open platform to empower urban farmers everywhere – a new knowledge sharing system to fight the faults of modern agriculture and bring about a green revolution to getting your greens.

Knowledge is power and crowdfunding has created a crowd-sourced success to bring better farming to the masses.

Rainforest Connection

Of all the eco-focused startups I’ve interviewed and worked with, Rainforest Connection is by far my favorite. Founded by Topher White, a grad student gone on a life-changing mission trip, RFCX is the epitome of a hybrid business.

Formed out of desire to protect the rainforests of the world, Topher and team took a different approach to stopping illegal deforestation – the leading cause of climate change. Working with a team of hardware technologists, RFCX used a system of recycled smartphones to create a sound based sensor network. In essence Rainforest Connection takes smartphones out of landfills and uses the internal mics to monitor for loggers cutting down trees, helping identify and report illegal logging activities, which is helping protect rainforests around the world.

Stopping deforestation required cash however, cash to setup the sensors and empower local law enforcement. They launched a Kickstarter campaign looking to validate the concept and protect a small portion of Central America – and ended up raising over $167,000!

The coolest part, their rewards. Most crowdfunding campaigns are essentially selling physical products to cover the costs of startup. RFCX however took a different approach – there’s no product here. Instead Topher decided to open the sights and sounds of the rainforest to the world. They created a simple app to allow eco-focused individuals around the world to listen in on the life and livelihood of forests. This is a virtually free, incredibly scalable “product”, something the startup can sell to fuel growth and protection of larger tracts of land and simultaneously makes “customers” feel more in tune with the mission of fighting climate change and protecting our planet.

Final Thoughts and What it All Means for You

Crowdfunding’s kind of cool. It’s created a system for normal folks like you and me to make a real difference. And in this article we’ve covered just a sampling of the startup successes which social entrepreneurs and hybrid businesses are unleashing – consumer focused, B2B, internet startup , eco-agency…but there’s more potential, as anything with merit is possible.

So what are you working on, what are you waiting for? Do you have big dreams and aspirations of fighting climate change, feeding the hungry, protecting endangered species, conserving water, reducing pollution….

Whatever it is that drives you, there’s a hybrid business waiting to be built, a sustainable, self-funded catalyst for change. The only question now is are you up to it?

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Matt Ward hosts Art of the Kickstart, a podcast and blog on all things crowdfunding. He does this while traveling the world and trying to make it better place, coaching crowdfunding campaigns to help others find a route to success.
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