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IBM discovers its inner Kickstarter via enterprise crowdfunding

Bob Brown | Sept. 2, 2013
IBM researcher buzzes through company's innovation experiments at Crowdfunding East event.

Those taking part in the crowdfunding programs liked that they were able to hit up peers for funding rather than having to navigate the usual expense controls, and that they were able to propose and fund projects designed to improve corporate culture and staff morale. Muller is hopeful that the projects backed through enterprise crowdfunding will result in further innovation at the company, such as ideas sparked by use of the 3D printer now that employees have their hands on it.

One audience member asked Muller about whether such internal crowdfunding might be a sort of replacement for programs within companies like Google and at research labs that formerly allowed researchers to spend up to 20% of their time on whatever they wanted programs that have largely been casualties of tough economic times. Muller said enterprise crowdfunding won't entirely replace programs like Think Friday within IBM, but does look like a way to do some of that (A Harvard Business Review blogger recently called on companies to use a Kickstarter model to spark innovation, by the way.)

Muller says he hasn't heard much about other organizations conducting internal crowdfunding though. "We think we're the first," he said.

Earlier at the Crowdfunding East event, attendees were schooled on the latest trends and numbers regarding crowdfunding by Daryl Montgomery, who is wrapping up a book about donation, reward, debt and equity-based varieties of this investment and innovation model. Montgomery said crowdfunding has existed in one form or another for some 2,500 years, and like others speaking at the event said that while crowdfunding is very hot thanks in large part to social media and sophisticated online sites, it also faces regulatory challenges and concerns about controversial (backing Wikileaks) and fraudulent activities.

"The only limitations to crowdfunding," he said, "are government regulations and human imagination."

While Kickstarter and Indiegogo are the best known crowdfunding platforms, many niche platforms exist as well, including those for book authors, charities and hardware makers. Outfits like Launcht make tools that others can use to build their own crowdfunding platforms.

Industry tracker Massolution says more than 800 crowdfunding platforms exist and that participants raised some $2.7 billion through them last year, with that number expected to rise to $5.1 billion this year. While the numbers are eye-popping, those at Crowdfunding East were quick to caution about the overhyping of the market, noting that one in five Kickstarter projects get no funding at all and that plenty of people are really only still learning what crowdfunding even is.

Among those taking part on a panel of successful crowdfunders: Mark Bollman at Ball and Buck, whose company sells men's items, including shirts and wallets; Ronjini Mukhopadhyay, whose PR firm orchestrates crowdfunding campaigns for tech companies like SticknFind; Patty Lennon, who raised funds for a mom-centric conference; and Bruno Sinopoli, whose team at Carnegie Mellon University blew past its $27,000 fundraising goal on Kickstarter to raise $641,000 for UDOO, a Linux-based single-board computer. 


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