Seattle-based Microryza, a crowdfunding platform for scientific research which launched in April 2012, recently announced the addition of five new projects to ts platform. Since launching its take on Kickstarter for science, the company has raised $20,000 for researchers, having fully funded five projects, with a total of 20 launched on the platform and an average contribution of $66. It seeks to level the playing field when it comes to funding new research, giving college students and professors a way to pursue their areas of interest.
Co-founder Cindy Wu and Denny Luan aspired to bring the worlds of microfinance and science together when they had a research idea, only to be told by their professor that it would be near impossible to get funding for it. “We were part of an undergraduate team called International Genetically Engineered Machine (IGEM). There’s a competition at MIT every year, the biggest synthetic biology competition in the world where we presented our research on a new anthrax therapeutic that we had designed for which we won an award for best health and medicine. When I came back and realized that enzyme could be used as an antibiotic, my professor basically told me there wasn’t money for undergraduates to just start a new project,” Wu said.
When someone submits a new research proposal to Microryza the team looks to see whether it’s a new research question, then they get in touch to confirm the identity of the researcher, and finally assess whether they have the capabilities to carry out the research. Currently, it accepts proposals from college faculty members and students supported by a faculty member in the U.S. Once approved, researchers are responsible for creating a video and content about their research with support from the Microryza team.
Researchers set their own funding goal and timelines and the platform lets anyone with a credit card back the project, however like Kickstarter, they only get charged once the project is fully funded. If it is funded, the company charges a five percent fee (the same as Kickstarter). The five new projects on the platform include a cure for human intestinal hookworms, which affect 400 million children worldwide, and an electric car built by undergrads.
Unlike other crowdfunding platforms which are more focused on backing a project in exchange for rewards, Micoryza has no requirement for researchers to provide rewards, rather backers of the project can expect updates on the progress of the project. “Something we wanted to test when we launched Microryza was would people give to scientists and in return accept that they get information and acknowledgement. So researchers provide updates of rich media photos, videos or published papers on what progress is being made in their research project, so its a different way of looking at philanthropy,” Wu added.
Other scientific research-centric crowdfunding platforms include SciFund Challenge, built by a community of global scientists who recently announced the launch of their third round of projects, and iAMscientist, among others. However, the challenge for Microryza is that because it has such a niche focus, it’s hard to build up the number of projects and brand recognition of a general-purpose platform like Kickstarter.
The company’s big vision for down the road is to one day enable citizen scientists to fund their own projects, however, the company acknowledges that it might take some time to help the scientific community embrace citizen science and have the means to ensure the safety of such projects. Regardless, scientists in need of funding can now look to build relationships with the general public and have new hopes for completing projects that were never given a chance by the traditional bureaucracy of securing funding.