Geeked Out: Mercyhurst Intelligence Professor wants to help pre-entrepreneurs with Quickstarter
This crowdfunding program could be the answer Erie needs to foster new businesses.
By this point in time, I'm sure many of you are aware of the massive crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. It has democratized project funding and has changed the game for many entrepreneurs with little to no startup capital looking to fund their first big project. Kris Wheaton, an intelligence professor at Mercyhurst University, wants to leverage crowdfunding platforms, like Kickstarter, to help usher in more pre-entrepreneurs into our area and help them get their first project off the ground.
The program is called Quickstarter. The goal is to help address many of the larger issues that plague our region: Stunted growth of new businesses, lack of entrepreneurship, and brain drain.
There are many organizations already looking to aid in this effort, but Quickstarter is different.
While most nonprofits in the region are eager and ready to help small-business owners take the next step in growing their businesses, there is a lack of what Kris calls "pre-entrepreneurs."
"The difference between what I am trying to do and what they do is captured in the differences between a person who wants to run a business and the person who just wants to get a project done," Kris explains.
That is, Quickstarter is geared to those individuals who have little or no experience and want to learn the ropes while delivering on their project.
Kris thinks that this will synchronize nicely with institutions already in the area that operate as business incubators/accelerators. A successful Quickstarter could then feed into these larger nonprofit operations and help grow our economy in areas that will offer a wider variety of work other than more traditional areas, like manufacturing or insurance. In some ways, this program could groom the next generation of businessmen and women who will help drive our economy in the coming years – all through crowdfunding platforms, which in Kris' experience, draw in money from outside the region.
The prospect of having funds enter our region through crowdfunding for projects is good news considering the current business climate Erie faces with the looming exit of major employers, like GE. Kris adds that when money comes in through crowdfunding, it is easier to keep the money inside our city's economy. In his own experience with his two successful Kickstarter campaigns, he partnered with other local businesses, such as Silkscreen Unlimited and Printing Concepts, to keep his costs low while delivering high-quality products to the backers who pledged from around the world.
This is something he wants to foster even further, as Quickstarter begins in earnest with its goal of facilitating between 10 and 25 projects in its first year – all while utilizing local businesses to help these pre-entrepreneurs work on projects that are sourcing funding from outside our community.
A benefit to going down the path of crowdfunding is that it often moves faster than traditional business startups do. "A new company has to craft a marketing message and develop a business plan," Kris says. "With crowdfunding, you have to do the same thing, but the reaction is far more immediate and far more market driven."
And ultimately, he adds, that by the end of a campaign, a prospective business owner will know if he or she has a viable product.
And it's no secret that Erie – a city home to four colleges – is rife with young and industrious individuals with ideas of their own. Hell, any night at the Plymouth Tavern you will hear at least five people tell you something Erie desperately needs. Quickstarter can be their path to actually committing to some of the talk that spills so easily out of their mouths and is left all too often lying on the bar.
Currently, Kris is running the first Kickstarter that is being conducted under the Quickstarter program. Perhaps you are familiar with Erie's own pop-up Thai restaurant, Like My Thai, run by Michael and Elisabeth Augustine. Right now, they are running a Kickstarter to change from a pop-up to a brick-and mortar-restaurant within our city. They have already hit their funding goal and are trending to surpass it by 500 percent before the deadline for contributions hits.
So how about it: Anyone got any bright ideas and want to try and get it crowdfunded? Quickstarter may just be what we need to turn ideas into new businesses.
John Lindvay can be contacted at jLindvay@ErieReader.com, and you can follow him on Twitter at @FightStrife.