Crowd Funding: The flock instead of public health insurance

20. June 2012
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Crowdfunding is a new form of financing, whereby money is acquired for projects via the Internet. Meanwhile, researchers are also discovering the "crowd" as a revenue source. And in the U.S., patients are even financing medical interventions in this way.

Take all that money where? Whoever is in the fortunate position of being able to ask this question finds on the Internet plenty of opportunities to spend it. We aren’t only talking about the same old dumb consumption in ever similar online shops. Whoever wants to do good online with his or her euros can take a look at so-called crowdfunding platforms. Individuals or companies present specific projects or investments there for which money is needed. They estimate their financing needs and ask for donations. Those who wish can get involved online with one click. With the help of a barometer, how much of the requested sum has already been received is at all times visible.

Cancer patients are asking for donations

The mother country of crowdfunding is the U.S., where now even President Barack Obama has signed a crowd funding law. It provides in particular a legal framework for small and medium-sized companies that want to raise money by crowdfunding. But crowd funding is no longer limited to the venture capital environment. At least in North America, ever more individuals use crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter.com, RocketHub.com or Indiegogo.com to also raise money for medical interventions. On the German crowdfunding platforms such as Startnext.de, Seedmatch.de or Inkubato.com, such requests have not yet been spotted.

For the 21-year Joshua for example, who was diagnosed with T-cell leukemia, about 10,000 U.S. dollars have been raised via crowdfunding. Not quite so much, but a still significant 8555 U.S. dollars, has been received by the rock band Putrid Pile. The partner of the band leader is apparently suffering from cervical cancer. The campaign placed on Indiegogo.com was titled Fuck Cancer!. As a reward: autographed CDs, naturally.

8000 dollars for a planned child

Cancer is, of course, in any context a classic fundraising theme. But it’s definitely not just about cancer on these platforms. One now-completed campaign, which was clearly overfunded by the Internet community with $US 8050 instead of the hoped-for $US 5000, had the title Help the Haley’s Have a Baby. An infertile couple turned here to the Web public in order to pay for IVF. What makes this campaign different was not only the theme and the resounding success, but also the fact that the investors were informed in detail about the progress of the company. At the time of the last update, mother Jessica had just become pregnant.

In another, just placed crowdfunding project, Deborah Lestenkof asks the capital city of Alaska, Anchorage, for their support for her impending kidney transplant. It’s not about the organ per se, but rather about the matter that she has to travel for the transplantation, for which she is currently listed, several times, and over a long time to the transplant center in Seattle. She estimates $US 5000 for this. Within two days the first $US 600 had been gathered, the fundraising will still run for a good two months.

It is obvious that the truth of such stories is difficult to prove. Several U.S. states have now warned about the immense potential for misuse of crowdfunding. In the medical environment there is said to have been one woman who invented a breast cancer history, the money raised was in reality however spent on a breast augmentation. This detour seems nonethelss not really necessary because with Myfreeimplants.com there is a longstanding website specialised in silicon and so on, where women can openly seek free breast implants. The site is a mix of crowdfunding platform and social network. Whoever makes the effort to pick out a breast augmentation candidate gets access to photos, may chat with her and so on.

Researchers also want to tap into the new source

It can also be more serious than all that. What’s interesting from a medical-scientific perspective is the question of how far crowdfunding can be used to fund research projects. With Petridish.org, there is now a very specialised platform in this area. In addition the platform RocketHub dedicates itself to research and has launched SciFund Challenge, on which numerous laboratories and research groups from around the world now compete for investors.

But the truth is: The vast majority of projects seeking crowd funding do not assemble the targeted sum. Emotionally charged themes with very specific issues seem to be going quite well: construction of a sensor to study the formation of clouds in tropical rain forests has reached its funding goal. Also, the sexual behavior of a rare salamander species has found enough interested parties. Many other projects on the other hand go away empty-handed. One has to be able to sell onself, which on a crowdfunding site is clearly more important than it is, for instance, with the German Research Foundation.

Daniel Mietchen from the University of Jena is a German scientist who is trying to collect money in the current round of RocketHub SciFund Challenge. His project is the three-dimensional representation of fossils using MRI. He also participated during the first round last fall. He will clearly be $US 1000 short from reaching his financial target.

The money for Mietchen is nevertheless not the only reason to present onself on the crowdfunding platform: “I was hoping for a few hundred people with expertise to first think about the idea. In round one it worked out very well, the statistics for round two are still not out yet. For me it’s primarily about communicating the project idea and possibly finding cooperation partners”. Regardless, irrespective of the funding a manufacturer of MRI scanners responded and agreed to carry out some of the targeted 9-tesla measurements free of charge. “The fossils are already on the way there”, the scientist said to DocCheck.

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