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Need To Fund Your Health Idea? How About Crowdfunding?

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From the Feeding Middlesex County’s CaringCrowd project “Feed Hungry Children This Summer,” Claremont kids in front of a MCFOODS food drive van. (Credit: MCFOODS)

Got an idea that you think will change the face of health or public health? Don’t know where to go to get funding to launch the idea? Worried that you won’t be able to convince one person or one organization to give you enough money?&nbsp;How about trying to convince a dozen, a hundred or a thousand people instead?

Besides making it easier for people to convince each other to eat Tide Pods&nbsp;or show people that you can cement your head in a microwave, the Internet has also made it easier to crowdfund.&nbsp;Crowdfunding is raising capital from a large collective of individuals with each person contributing a fraction of the total sum. Before today’s Internet arrived, such crowdfunding was limited by how many friends you had, how many billboards or advertisements you could post, or how far your covered wagon could travel. However, the Internet has greatly expanded the reach of any one individual and made advertising your idea and reaching a large pool of people that much easier. Nowadays, there are websites such as Kickstarter that help facilitate crowdfunding. And a couple years ago, CaringCrowd, a public health-specific crowdfunding platform supported by Johnson &amp; Johnson, emerged. More on this later.

Crowdfunding may be a particularly attractive option for health and healthcare ideas. Unfortunately even an idea that&nbsp;may eventually help many people often won’t attract money.&nbsp;It may not be like a Snuggie (which is essentially a bathrobe worn backwards) that could be manufactured quickly and quickly make profits. Instead, many health ideas require research, development, and ramp up time. And of course, this day and age, benefiting people doesn’t always generate obvious profits in the short term.

Crowdfunding can help overcome the short supply of potential funders. Foundations, social venture funds, and some government agencies may be willing to kick in the dough. But competition for such&nbsp;funds is keen. Moreover, especially if you are not in the right social circles, getting the attention of some of these sources can be like trying to catch the eye of the Prom Queen or King when you are a nerd. Plus, the current administration’s proposed budgets have included cuts to USAID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health, and&nbsp;other&nbsp;relevant government agencies.

Sabine Rozestraten

From the African Mothers Health Initiative’s (AMHI) CaringCrowd project “Get Nurses to Sick Malawian Moms and Babies in Rural Areas,” Nurse Verina holding one of AMHI’s tiny beneficiaries during a home visit in Malawi. (Credit: Sabine Rozestraten)

Depending on your idea, the private route may not offer much promise either. Many investors such as venture capitalists want exit strategies that will give them a more immediate higher rate of return, for example, one that a smartphone app that can paint ears on your friend currently may appear more likely to offer (with emphases on the words more immediate and appear). Health and healthcare investments don’t always seem to measure up to other options in the short-term (with the emphasis on the word&nbsp;seem). They often require a longer time horizon and produce returns that are not just monetary. Moreover, investors may want equity and control, which you may not be willing to cede.

Crowdfunding has the added advantages of test running your idea and advertising it across a broad audience. If your crowdfunding foray only gets a few cents along with some gasping emojis, then maybe, just maybe, your idea can’t hold water. It also could be that you just aren’t explaining your idea well enough. At a recent pitch competition I attended, a team seemingly said the words protein receptors about a hundred times, which was probably 90 more times than they should have. Not exactly the stuff that gets a broader audience excited. Conversely, if your idea goes viral then your subsequent marketing budget may not need to be quite as high as planned.

Of course, crowdfunding is not all roses or beer and Skittles. Here are some potential drawbacks:

  • Broadcasting your idea also means that someone else can try to replicate it. Replicate is a nice word for steal.
  • Instead of being beholden to a few investors or funders you are beholden to dozens, hundred, or even thousands.&nbsp;Many of them will want updates,&nbsp;make suggestions, and demand results, and they may be on Twitter.
  • Many investors may lack knowledge or experience. Again health and health care are not like Snuggies. Not everyone will understand or appreciate a good health idea if they don’t have the proper background. There are still people out there who think that the Earth is flat or that measles is not a dangerous disease.
  • Reaching people can still take time, money, and effort. Unless you are Katy Perry and have over 108 million Twitter followers, successfully reaching enough people can be challenging, among all the cat videos, Facebook arguments, and people putting objects in their mouths and noses.

There are a growing number of platforms out there (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe being three more well-known ones) that people are using to crowdfund. Before you use a platform, know what fees they may charge and how much control they may have over your venture. Also, beware of any platforms that may be unreliable or&nbsp;even disreputable. You don’t want crowdfunding to become crowdshaming.

The other issue is that general crowdfunding platforms may not attract enough people interested in health or healthcare ventures. Once again, explaining that you are selling a Snuggie can be a lot easier than describing a parasite than burrows into people’s feet and then sucks people’s blood from their insides (OK, maybe that’s not as hard to describe as other health ventures).

Thus, enter Derek Fetzer and&nbsp;John Brennick who founded&nbsp;CaringCrowd.&nbsp;CaringCrowd.org charges no fees and currently Johnson &amp; Johnson is matching pledges up to $250 per person, per project, while funds last. Fetzer began his career as an industrial engineer,&nbsp;had years of strategy, consulting, and business analytics experience across different industries, and spent a decade working in the area of infectious diseases.&nbsp;Brennick brought&nbsp;over 25 years of entrepreneurial, non-profit and global healthcare industry experience. Together they pitched the idea to Johnson &amp; Johnson and eventually got the “go” decision in April 2014. The&nbsp;“beta” launch occurred on September 10, 2015, and the public launch on September 19, 2016.

As Fetzer described, “Johnson and Johnson was enthusiastic about the idea. Such a platform has the dual purpose of raising money for important projects and bringing them more into the public eye.”

He also indicated that projects do have to be vetted before they are posted on CaringCrowd. “We have an advisory panel that&nbsp;checks if&nbsp;the proposed projects fall within the realm of public health and meet accepted international medical standards.”

Here is a graphic that shows some of the projects supported to date:

CaringCrowd/Johnson &amp; Johnson

This graphic shows some of the projects supported by CaringCrowd. (Photo: CaringCrowd/Johnson &amp; Johnson)

As of April 1, 2018, there have been:

  • $680,181 pledges raised by individuals
  • $345,459 in pledges matched by Johnson &amp; Johnson
  • 5,186 pledgers on CaringCrowd
  • 123 projects have been funded
  • 63 non-profits have been funded

One example of a funded and completed project was building a Warka Tower to provide clean water for Kpekpeta Village, a small rural village nestled in the forests of Southern Togo. Based on UNICEF data, a quarter of the population&nbsp;in Togolese population lacks a source of drinking water within 30 minutes walking distance. Lack of clean, potable water is a major cause of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid. Here is a picture of the Warka Tower.

Warka Water, Inc.)

This is the Warka Tower that was built in Ethiopia. (Photo: Warka Water, Inc.)

The presence of the tower has had effects well beyond providing drinking water. The collection tower has helped generate energy, grow food, stimulate the local economy, and serve as a gathering place for civic and social events.&nbsp;

Other examples of funded projects&nbsp;include one that provides diapers for babies in Haiti&nbsp;that raised $51,381 from 138 backers as of July 31st, 2017, another that provided clean water and food to El Choco, Columbia, and&nbsp;a third that brought the first ultrasound machine to a community in Congo,

Sometimes convincing dozens, hundreds, or even thousands that your idea is a good one is easier than convincing one person. Politics, bureaucracies, biases, and different constraints and incentives can prevent someone or some organization from “giving people what they want,” in the words of the Kinks.

“>

From the Feeding Middlesex County’s CaringCrowd project “Feed Hungry Children This Summer,” Claremont kids in front of a MCFOODS food drive van. (Credit: MCFOODS)

Got an idea that you think will change the face of health or public health? Don’t know where to go to get funding to launch the idea? Worried that you won’t be able to convince one person or one organization to give you enough money? How about trying to convince a dozen, a hundred or a thousand people instead?

Besides making it easier for people to convince each other to eat Tide Pods or show people that you can cement your head in a microwave, the Internet has also made it easier to crowdfund. Crowdfunding is raising capital from a large collective of individuals with each person contributing a fraction of the total sum. Before today’s Internet arrived, such crowdfunding was limited by how many friends you had, how many billboards or advertisements you could post, or how far your covered wagon could travel. However, the Internet has greatly expanded the reach of any one individual and made advertising your idea and reaching a large pool of people that much easier. Nowadays, there are websites such as Kickstarter that help facilitate crowdfunding. And a couple years ago, CaringCrowd, a public health-specific crowdfunding platform supported by Johnson & Johnson, emerged. More on this later.

Crowdfunding may be a particularly attractive option for health and healthcare ideas. Unfortunately even an idea that may eventually help many people often won’t attract money. It may not be like a Snuggie (which is essentially a bathrobe worn backwards) that could be manufactured quickly and quickly make profits. Instead, many health ideas require research, development, and ramp up time. And of course, this day and age, benefiting people doesn’t always generate obvious profits in the short term.

Crowdfunding can help overcome the short supply of potential funders. Foundations, social venture funds, and some government agencies may be willing to kick in the dough. But competition for such funds is keen. Moreover, especially if you are not in the right social circles, getting the attention of some of these sources can be like trying to catch the eye of the Prom Queen or King when you are a nerd. Plus, the current administration’s proposed budgets have included cuts to USAID, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health, and other relevant government agencies.

Sabine Rozestraten

From the African Mothers Health Initiative’s (AMHI) CaringCrowd project “Get Nurses to Sick Malawian Moms and Babies in Rural Areas,” Nurse Verina holding one of AMHI’s tiny beneficiaries during a home visit in Malawi. (Credit: Sabine Rozestraten)

Depending on your idea, the private route may not offer much promise either. Many investors such as venture capitalists want exit strategies that will give them a more immediate higher rate of return, for example, one that a smartphone app that can paint ears on your friend currently may appear more likely to offer (with emphases on the words more immediate and appear). Health and healthcare investments don’t always seem to measure up to other options in the short-term (with the emphasis on the word seem). They often require a longer time horizon and produce returns that are not just monetary. Moreover, investors may want equity and control, which you may not be willing to cede.

Crowdfunding has the added advantages of test running your idea and advertising it across a broad audience. If your crowdfunding foray only gets a few cents along with some gasping emojis, then maybe, just maybe, your idea can’t hold water. It also could be that you just aren’t explaining your idea well enough. At a recent pitch competition I attended, a team seemingly said the words protein receptors about a hundred times, which was probably 90 more times than they should have. Not exactly the stuff that gets a broader audience excited. Conversely, if your idea goes viral then your subsequent marketing budget may not need to be quite as high as planned.

Of course, crowdfunding is not all roses or beer and Skittles. Here are some potential drawbacks:

  • Broadcasting your idea also means that someone else can try to replicate it. Replicate is a nice word for steal.
  • Instead of being beholden to a few investors or funders you are beholden to dozens, hundred, or even thousands. Many of them will want updates, make suggestions, and demand results, and they may be on Twitter.
  • Many investors may lack knowledge or experience. Again health and health care are not like Snuggies. Not everyone will understand or appreciate a good health idea if they don’t have the proper background. There are still people out there who think that the Earth is flat or that measles is not a dangerous disease.
  • Reaching people can still take time, money, and effort. Unless you are Katy Perry and have over 108 million Twitter followers, successfully reaching enough people can be challenging, among all the cat videos, Facebook arguments, and people putting objects in their mouths and noses.

There are a growing number of platforms out there (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and GoFundMe being three more well-known ones) that people are using to crowdfund. Before you use a platform, know what fees they may charge and how much control they may have over your venture. Also, beware of any platforms that may be unreliable or even disreputable. You don’t want crowdfunding to become crowdshaming.

The other issue is that general crowdfunding platforms may not attract enough people interested in health or healthcare ventures. Once again, explaining that you are selling a Snuggie can be a lot easier than describing a parasite than burrows into people’s feet and then sucks people’s blood from their insides (OK, maybe that’s not as hard to describe as other health ventures).

Thus, enter Derek Fetzer and John Brennick who founded CaringCrowd. CaringCrowd.org charges no fees and currently Johnson & Johnson is matching pledges up to $250 per person, per project, while funds last. Fetzer began his career as an industrial engineer, had years of strategy, consulting, and business analytics experience across different industries, and spent a decade working in the area of infectious diseases. Brennick brought over 25 years of entrepreneurial, non-profit and global healthcare industry experience. Together they pitched the idea to Johnson & Johnson and eventually got the “go” decision in April 2014. The “beta” launch occurred on September 10, 2015, and the public launch on September 19, 2016.

As Fetzer described, “Johnson and Johnson was enthusiastic about the idea. Such a platform has the dual purpose of raising money for important projects and bringing them more into the public eye.”

He also indicated that projects do have to be vetted before they are posted on CaringCrowd. “We have an advisory panel that checks if the proposed projects fall within the realm of public health and meet accepted international medical standards.”

Here is a graphic that shows some of the projects supported to date:

CaringCrowd/Johnson & Johnson

This graphic shows some of the projects supported by CaringCrowd. (Photo: CaringCrowd/Johnson & Johnson)

As of April 1, 2018, there have been:

  • $680,181 pledges raised by individuals
  • $345,459 in pledges matched by Johnson & Johnson
  • 5,186 pledgers on CaringCrowd
  • 123 projects have been funded
  • 63 non-profits have been funded

One example of a funded and completed project was building a Warka Tower to provide clean water for Kpekpeta Village, a small rural village nestled in the forests of Southern Togo. Based on UNICEF data, a quarter of the population in Togolese population lacks a source of drinking water within 30 minutes walking distance. Lack of clean, potable water is a major cause of diseases such as cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid. Here is a picture of the Warka Tower.

Warka Water, Inc.)

This is the Warka Tower that was built in Ethiopia. (Photo: Warka Water, Inc.)

The presence of the tower has had effects well beyond providing drinking water. The collection tower has helped generate energy, grow food, stimulate the local economy, and serve as a gathering place for civic and social events. 

Other examples of funded projects include one that provides diapers for babies in Haiti that raised $51,381 from 138 backers as of July 31st, 2017, another that provided clean water and food to El Choco, Columbia, and a third that brought the first ultrasound machine to a community in Congo,

Sometimes convincing dozens, hundreds, or even thousands that your idea is a good one is easier than convincing one person. Politics, bureaucracies, biases, and different constraints and incentives can prevent someone or some organization from “giving people what they want,” in the words of the Kinks.

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