There used to be a time when, if you wanted money to create public art, produce your invention, or start a company, you had to appeal to higher authorities. Big banks, wealthy relatives, local governments--they had the green, and we the humble innovators had to prove we were worthy of it.
Thanks to the internet and the rise of collaborative consumption, however, this bureaucratic bottle neck need no longer stifle our entrepreneurial spirit. Ever heard of a little startup by the name of Kickstarter? This online crowdfunding forum created a place for individuals to showcase their ideas, and appeal to the masses for financial backing. Turns out, there are millions of people willing to chip in a few dollars to help bring fantastic concepts to market. Now Kickstarter is the world's largest funding platform for creative projects, raising a total of $327 million dollars and counting.
With this kind of success, it's only natural that different iterations of Kickstarter would emerge. There have been many imitators, some successful, some not. What's setting the latest crop of crowdfunding platforms apart from the rest is a passionate focus on local projects. Instead of looking for backers in all four corners of the world, these hyper-local fundraising outlets are helping to connect local entrepreneurs with their neighbors in an attempt to energize local economies, and create lasting relationships between innovators and their supporters.
Unlike Kickstarter, which launches hundreds of campaigns a day, Lucky Ant features only one project per week. Also unlike other crowdfunding platforms, the projects chosen are all already established businesses. Members list their neighborhood when signing up, and every week Lucky Ant lets them know about a local business that needs to be funded. The great part is, you get rewards and perks from the business in which you invested, creating a lovely little reciprocal loop designed to keep you coming back for more. Founded last year, Lucky Ant is currently operating in Downtown New York City with plans to expand to more cities this year.
Founded in the sunny little town of Fort Collins, Colo., this crowdfunding platform is focused on finding and spotlighting projects in the community that might otherwise be swept under the carpet. Among other things, CommunityFunded supporters recently prevented a two-screen, downtown movie theater from closing, and helped a local designer realize her dream of having a storefront to showcase her clothes. If you don't see a project that piques your interest, there's also an open fund that helps CF provide a boost to campaigns that need it.
SmallKnot is a crowdfunding platform designed exclusively for small, independently-owned businesses. No franchises. No big box stores. Smallknot aims to help local businesses connect with fans and gain new customer by offering products or services in return for providing financial support. For instance, making a small investment in the Saucey Sauce Co. (actual name) will earn you a 3 pack of their newly bottled Vietnamese dipping sauces, but a big investment earns you a private dinner for four. "If you desire a neighborhood full of diverse and independent businesses," write the SK founders, "you have the power to step up and ensure your neighborhood stays that way."
Do you know of a hyper-local crowdfunding platform that belongs on this list? Share it in a comment!
Image by Jorge Barrios, in the public domain.