University Crowdfunding: New capital requires new talent

Crowdfunding is seeping into mainstream conversation on university campuses around the world. This emerging funding vehicle, which targets smaller investments from a large number of people, has demonstrated historic success when directed at things like art studios and trendy gadgets; however, now it is being weighed for inclusion as a legitimate source of capital for university technologies and start-ups.

University leaders and faculty are gravitating towards crowdfunding as a potential solution to the dearth of early stage capital. Most of the discussion to-date surrounds:

  • Timeline and ultimate, signed-versions of federal or state policy packages, including the JOBS Act and associated crowdfunding-for-equity provisions
  • Utility of this funding vehicle for developmentally-rigorous university research, technology, and start-ups
  • Appropriate positioning of crowdfunding tools—university-managed or externally-leveraged platforms
  • Managing risk, public perception, and inventor interests

While each of these points is vital to the larger discussion, none target the “people-factor” behind this funding tool, and how universities will need to staff up to succeed as its use becomes reality. As purveyors of future university innovation talent and related trends, this is a question that we care about.

To begin to imagine these possibilities, we recently attended a University Crowdfunding web-event, put on by innovosource. This event featured insights from two university platforms, innovocracy (external platform), and Superior Ideas (Michigan Tech University). And while much of the discussion was centered on the main points above, each of these experts stressed the importance of the skill sets required to actually create the momentum behind the tool.

Our top three identified skills required to launch a successful university crowd funding effort are:

Storyteller: It pretty easy to tap into someone’s inner child and tempt them to support a re-launch of the Bernstein Bears, but try getting someone to doll out cash for a new diagnostic test or cell line. This requires someone to manage (and potentially pen) “stories” that tie the effort to the bigger picture and create an emotional response.  Telling these stories will take a unique person with a blend of technology, business, and literary flare.

Know social media: #Twitterandstatusupdatesrule resonates here. In all seriousness, crowdfunding will only work if it can tap into the masses and leverage the network effect. Personal networks, traditional emailing, and strong web presence are important, but crowdfunding is a social game.

Generational: One of the biggest advantages in launching anything is to put someone in the driver’s seat that can truly understand its users. We predict that the early adopters/early majority of users will be students and associate faculty.  The person responsible for shaping the program should understand these groups, their preferred communication methods, and build a system that creates true capability.

In sum, we aren’t sure where the iterations of crowdfunding in the university environment will take us, but we do know that is will require new skill sets and ways of doing business.

Have you evaluated crowdfunding for use in your university? What challenges do you see taking form? How are you aligning your staffing plans with for this new tool?

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0 thoughts on “University Crowdfunding: New capital requires new talent”

  1. When the government comes out with its regulations this year, I think crowd funding could provide a boom to universities and businesses that are starting out of universities, which often includes technology businesses or new technology products and devices. Crowd funding is going to provide an opportunity for people to invest in these kinds of business. So rather than having to go out to the venture capitalists, startups may be able to get the users of their product and people who think it’s something new and innovative to invest in that product. Crowd funding really gives startups a better mechanism to get out there and find people who might be users of their products to invest in your business.

    Michael A. Smith
    Carlile Patchen & Murphy LLP


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