Thursday, November 15, 2012

St. Louis for the crowd funding [Don't say no one ever gave you a chance]

Earlier this year my friend Sabrina, Doer at Brown Paper Tickets, contacted me because her friend, Nathaniel, was traveling the country studying new forms of giving and was going to be near St. Louis.

"Is there anything exciting in grass roots funding going on in St. Louis?" she asked.

Little did I know just how ahead of the curve her question was. Since the end of July (when she and Nathan came through and I gathered a small group of community doers for a discussion), three separate crowd funding initiatives have launched and one has re-launched. All very distinct and different in their structure and purpose.

*clears throat* Is this mic on? St. Louis: you have no excuse to not get a bunch of stuff done.

St. Louis is one of the most charitable cities in the country. The past few years has seen a notable focus, from multiple directions, on making the region more supportive of entrepreneurs and innovation. So it's not really a surprise that there's an abundance of creative grass roots funding initiatives popping up. It was only a matter of time.

The most traditionally grass roots, and oldest (and by "old" I mean approaching 3 years) initiative is Sloup. In person (at local establishments), monthly events where people pay $10 to have soup (provided by local chefs) and listen to pre-submitted proposals. Attendees vote on the proposal that excites them the most, and the take from the door is handed over to the winning project on the spot. Projects tend to be artistic or communications-based and awards tend to be in the hundreds of dollars, depending on attendance.

In the space of "community meets technology," OverFundit is the most innovative. While it runs on a digital platform, the platform is designed as a tool for Doers - people in real communities with real networks who have a track record of accomplishments and impact in their community - and Catalysts - people who support those Doers and bring along their networks to do so as well.

OverFundit will launch in Frenso and St. Louis.

InveSTL is innovative from a community development angle and because it intersects crowd funding and institutional giving. Focused on granting to community development or community focused organizations, they raise money in small (though they will take large) donations. Anyone giving $100 or more in a giving cycle becomes eligible to vote on the grant recipients. So, if you know your neighborhood association is applying for a grant to fix some potholes, you can rally your neighbors to put into the fund and you all get a say - but so do all the other neighborhoods. The money goes into a fund that lives at the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation.  So while a good deal of the small donations are raised at happy hours (throughout the region, in order to help everyone branch out and get to know other neighborhoods), the Community Foundation gives institutional street cred for traditional philanthropists, corporations or foundations to feel comfortable taking part.

InveSTL from Jarred Gastreich on Vimeo.

The most traditional and splashiest effort is the recently launched Rally Saint Louis. Both crowd sourcing and crowd funding, Rally is a digital platform that invites St. Louisans to submit their ideas for making St. Louis more awesome. Ideas are voted on publicly and the top five go to their board (see column on the right) for a resource and funding plan. Then back out to the public for crowd funding. Ideas that are funded go into implementation. Funded, organized, supported and run by the same institutions that were called out in the article that inspired it a year ago, it's struck a nice balance between bottom-up thinking and institutional buy in. Gotta build a bridge, y'all.

If anyone knows of a local crowd funding effort I've missed, please let me know. But with these four efforts alone, St. Louis should once and for all rid itself of the Eeyore-like attitude that nothing gets done.

Because, really - with options like these, we have no one but ourselves to blame.

Now get out there and DO!


Danielle said...

The whole Rally thing is really interesting to me -

On one hand, I support it wholeheartedly. I support anything that is working towards making STL a better place and/or helping others see STL how I see it - a great, vibrant city.

But on the other hand, like you mention, there are already SO many orgs set up to complete this mission. To improve the city itself, to improve it's image. In addition to these crowd-funding programs there are initiatives like GOOD for cities and Arch Grants. Events like PK Night. And I know there are tons of others that I don't know about. And I also find it odd that I look at the lineup of people involved with Rally and don't see many familiar names from those other orgs/events.

Like I said, I feel bad even criticizing Rally STL at all because I feel like I'm indirectly criticizing STL itself. I'm just wondering if these motivated people (and sponsors) could have donated their time (and money) to an already existing organization instead of trying to create to call their own.

Michael Tomko said...

To your point, Danielle, St. Louis has a long history of "helping by re-inventing the wheel". This is incredibly evident in the music scene where the common response to "how can i help the local music scene" is for many to go forward with opening their own venue. I can say this, because I'm guilty of it myself.

That said, what many fail to realize is that while more organizations does mean the possibility of more publicity, coverage, exposure, and opportunities, it also means that the overhead of carrying on such enterprises is increased as well. This then begins a topple effect where the organizations/businesses not strong enough to sustain through the lean years begin to fall and when they do, they blame it on lack support and/or interest, rather than the unsustainable model that it was built on.

If these groups of doers, givvers, backers, rallyers, and supporters would consider partnering up with one of the many existing organizations, we could begin to take the "fledgling" descriptor off most of them and would have a pretty solid base to work with.

And, this is not to speak ill of innovation. We as a city need to continue to push the envelope but to quote my favorite analogy, also stop building new Starbucks across the street from existing Starbucks.

Ann Wimsatt said...

Also new to the market is Teespring, founded by former St Louisan Walker Williams, age 24.

Teespring is a zero cost way to crowdfund apparel.

Brian Cross said...

It should be noted that Rally STL isn't actually the "new kid on the block," but rather an outreach from Fund Saint Louis. Fund Saint Louis has been around for almost 2 years (before some of the folks in this article). Ironically enough, it was born out of the very thing you mentioned...lack of publicity. And with new players coming on almost monthly, it was hard to keep above it all. So, we went back to the drawing board and created a new campaign to capture the attention and make sure that they all didn't fail. After all, we believe in the "rising tide rises all boats" mentality that has been working so well in the entrepreneurial community here in Saint Louis.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Hey Nicole, thanks for writing on Rally and these other very solid efforts.

As you know, you and I discussed Rally pretty early on and it's been about a year in the making. A lot of sweat equity.

But a point you make in the end of your post, to a degree, sums up where we are endeavoring to go: "Gotta build a bridge, y'all."

We see all of these great efforts out there. There's a number of them even beyond the crowdfunding and crowdsource space.

What we are trying to do with Rally is create some connectivity, bridge many of these efforts and organizations and efforts together: from Lovin The Lou to the CVC and everything in between.

Oh, and speaking of CVC, they've pledged that if they see some ideas on the Rally platform they dig, they will help fund and execute, and that does not suck.

Thanks again.

Aaron Perlut
Bacon Lovin Dude / Rally St. Louis Co-Founder

Nicole said...

I personally think, when you really look at the details, that there's not a lot of overlap in the efforts (Michael, school me if I'm wrong).

Danielle, you mention GOOD and Arch Grants and PK - while all encourage and deal in ideas, they all have very different criteria, focus and ultimately different levels of support for execution (and some none).

There might be an overlap for attention, but that, I think, is partially in the eye of the observer. If I'm really focused on getting my idea done, executed in the way I think most beneficial to my vision, I'm not distracted or concerned with avenues that don't enable that. And if I can't find support for my idea without compromising my vision, maybe I need to go back to the drawing table on my idea.

Brian, thanks for the info on Fund Saint Louis - I haven't seen that in any of the Rally coverage or on the website - and looking at the Fund Saint Louis site I don't see anything there - that seems to be a pretty interesting part of the Rally story - especially from a grassroots standpoint. Would love to hear more.

And Aaron, congrats on the launch. You have been pounding the pavement on this for quite some time - a year in a few weeks!

Danielle said...

Great points made by all! Like I said, I'm supportive of anything that's mission is to better STL.

I just hope that there can be partnership between organizations moving forward so that the people of St. Louis don't feel bombarded.

Kudos on the hardwork of Aaron and the Rally team, as well as these other orgs!

- Danielle