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Crowdfunding: An Exciting New Way to Fund a Project

Posted: July 10, 2015

Crowdfunding captures the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit-that anything is possible. The size and scope of the projects on crowdfunding sites are awe inspiring. In 2012, the JOBS –Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the Obama Administration. This Act eliminated certain restrictions on how new startup businesses could be funded. Since 2012, crowdfunding has become a term that many people are familiar with, but may not have direct experience with.

By Juliette Enfield, Extension Educator, Warren Co

Have you ever considered crowdfunding for your business?

Perhaps you are uncomfortable with the high interest rates that may be incurred with a loan, or maybe your credit isn’t the best and you are unable to access a loan in the first place. Crowdfunding can work in a few different ways. Investors can support a new business by buying a share in the business (equity crowdfunding), making donations (donation crowdfunding), or lending money (debt crowdfunding). According to Forbes.com, there are over 500 crowdfunding platforms online, so even if you understand the basic fundamentals of how crowdfunding works, you will need to do some research to find a site that will work well for you. Some sites have stronger reputations than others, and some have easier access to customer service. Also, many crowdfunding sites specialize in a certain type of project or industry. For example, Quirky specializes in funding inventions of new everyday tools, Crowdrise specializes in charitable projects, and GiveForward specializes in funding medical expenses for people with illness. Another difference among crowdfunding sites is how and when payments are received for a project. For example, Kickstarter only accepts payments from investors if the project has been funded, and Indiegogo accepts payments from investors regardless of whether or not a certain goal has been reached. Crowdfunding sites charge a fee ranging from 7-12% of the total project cost, so this may also influence your decision of which platform to use.

Crowdfunding for Farm and Food Businesses

Birchrun Hills Farm, a dairy farm and cheese business in Chester County, PA successfully funded a project to build a new cheese cave on Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a popular donation based crowdfunding website. Kickstarter projects include film, music, art, design, technology, and food. I spoke with Sue Miller, Birchrun Hills Farm business owner, about her experience with Kickstarter. She chose Kickstarter because of the recognition of the site, she liked the all or nothing philosophy of the site, and the fees were reasonable. She also knew of other farm businesses that had success with the site, including North Mountain Pastures in Newport, PA, a meat CSA farm with a charcuterie business. Sue ran a 30 day campaign in December 2014. For different donation levels, She offered a variety of different prizes ranging from a hat with the farm logo on it to private cheese and beverage pairing parties. The most popular prize she offered was the chance to name a newborn calf on the farm. Sue estimated that less than 5% of the people that were reached about the campaign actually donated. Therefore, the campaign period is an intense marketing time, and having a marketing strategy and a budget in place is essential. Sue said she was delighted to see how the community supported her project, and now that the campaign is over and she is building her new cheese cave, crowdfunding has helped her expand her business network in the region and across the nation. For those thinking about embarking on a crowdfunding endeavor, Sue recommend that they work for a year or so prior to the campaign period to expand their social media network, since this is the primary way crowdfunding campaigns are advertised. She also said that next time she might consider hiring someone to run the campaign for her, so that she would not have to run the farm and the campaign at the same time. You can still view Sue’s campaign on Kickstarter.

Another crowdfunding site that agricultural businesses should know about is Kiva Zip. Kiva Zip is a debt based crowdfunding site that offers 0% interest loans to funded projects. Kiva was first created to help finance microloans to farmers and small businesses in developing countries, but it has recently grown in popularity in the US with small and beginning farmers. Kiva loans are especially well adapted to new farm and food businesses because the loans are small, from $5,000 to $10,000, and are therefore less risky. Once the money is lent, the business has 3 years to repay the loan. The Kiva fundraising process has three tiers. First, the agricultural businesses must be endorsed by a Trustee, a business or an individual (non-family member) that will vouch for the character of a borrower. Then, once the Trustee is in place, a network of friends and family (ranging from 10-30 contacts) must be the primary lenders to the project. This occurs during the first 15 days that the campaign is launched. Kiva projects are live for 45 days. Emily Keebler, Kiva City Pittsburgh Lead, says that this first 15 days of fundraising is the most intense fundraising period. And finally, after this primary network has lent to the project, the project is opened for anyone to lend. Emily says that many businesses that have a successful lending experience with KivaZip then become trustees themselves for another business, and these small amounts of money continue to support small businesses over and over again. Healcrest Urban Farms, a farm that grows herbs and small fruits in Pittsburgh, PA successfully received a loan on KivaZip to pay for the use of a shared kitchen and purchase of an ice cream cart to start their popsicle business, TeaPops. Good Work Farms, LLC, a vegetable farm in Emmaus, PA received a loan on KivaZip to purchase draft horses for plowing and lowering energy costs on their farm. BEEBOY Honey, a beekeeper in Pittsburgh received a loan to purchase more hives and a truck for honey deliveries. KivaZip may be an option for your food business if you decide that offering rewards for donations may be too much of a challenge and you would rather spend your time and energy repaying a small loan.

Be sure to do your research before choosing your crowdfunding platform. Spend time looking at the projects that are out there. Create a budget, marketing plan, and a clear, concise message about what you are trying to accomplish. Have you had any experience with crowdfunding? Share your comments and suggestions with us!

Sources for this blog:

Caldbeck, Ryan. Crowdfunding Trends: Which Crowdfunding Sites Will Survive. Forbes.com <http://www.forbes.com/sites/ryancaldbeck/2013/06/23/crowdfunding-trends-which-crowdfunding-sites-will-survive> Accessed July 8, 2015.

North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension. Funding Opportunities. <http://communitydevelopment.ces.ncsu.edu/funding-opportunities>  Accessed July 8, 2015.

Pollack, Bridget. The Ins and Outs of Alternative Financing. U.S. Small Business Administration Blog. <https://www.sba.gov/blogs/ins-and-outs-alternative-financing>Accessed July 8, 2015.

Contact Information

Juliette Enfield
  • Extension Educator, Business Management
Email:
Phone: 814-563-9388