Most of us have grown accustomed to the notion that a brilliant idea can find early support, eager customers, and start-up funds from online crowdfunding sites. The success stories make it seem easy. But entrepreneurship is still often a gritty process.
Even when supported by crowdfunding—a beautiful, bubbling up of grassroots support around a brilliant idea—new businesses require more to thrive. Brian Meece, CEO of the crowdfunding site RocketHub, explains that those who launch projects on the site share two common needs over and above their initial funding goals: “They always want more awareness and extra funds for their projects.”
Enter Project Startup, a partnership between RocketHub and the cable channel A&E. Project Startup offers the opportunity for seed money and exposure on television, across social media, and through network apps.
For the television network, connecting with entrepreneurs was a natural fit. According to David DeSocio, senior vice president of ad sales, marketing and partnerships at A&E, the network’s shows like Duck Dynasty, Storage Wars and Barter Kings reflect a certain brand of “scrappy entrepreneurialism.”
RocketHub and A&E see a common thread running through it all. “You’ve got a lot of people out there who aren’t interested in spending their days in cubes, entering data, and they’re looking for something new and they have ideas, and they want to get their ideas out there,” explains Libby O’Connell, senior vice president, corporate outreach at A&E. She surmises that tough economic times have gotten many people thinking, “well, if I’m going to be insecure in a corporate setting, why don’t I take a chance and try something new outside of corporate settings. Start my own idea.”
Through Project Startup, a team from A&E culls through RocketHub’s site to select projects to highlight. At the end of their fundraising cycle, some will receive an undisclosed amount of seed money from A&E—several thousand dollars have been distributed to a few companies thus far. The projects also benefit from exposure across A&E’s media platforms. Certain projects will be invited, along with TV celebrities, to participate in town hall workshops across the country offering educational resources as well as advice and support from business leaders.
According to O’Connell, “Behind every great idea is a great story, and A&E is in the business of great storytelling.” It’s those stories that could be a neat fit with the network and advertisers. There is also the potential for advertisers to support individual projects, either financially, through the donation of goods and services (think office supplies or cell phones), or funding to produce their story for on-air and online vignettes.
Crowdfunding veterans may be uneasy about a community-driven process moving, even in part, from the traditional open space of the internet to a more corporate, television environment. But Sean Wise, crowdsourcing expert and professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at Ryerson University, explains that “crowdsourcing and television have a long history.” He points to America’s Funniest Home Videos which crowdsourced content from viewers. American Idols are selected by the crowd. More recently, Big Brother, CNN News and Ellen have all leveraged the power of the crowd.
According to Meece at RocketHub, A&E, itself a major brand, is coming into the community and adding value for those there. Though Project Startup is still quite new, RocketHub projects are already seeing a 20 percent increase in traffic on the site and RocketHub is getting triple the amount of inquiries from project leaders looking to raise funds on the platform. To start, A&E is looking to RocketHub’s expertise for guidance for which companies to get behind.
Andy Krafsur is CEO of the footwear company Spira, one of Project Startup's spotlighted companies. “I’m a 10-year startup,” says Krafsur. “It has been so hard. You know, we have given up everything to make this work.” Spira’s project launched on RocketHub last July as the Project Startup partnership happened to be solidifying. It was a fortuitous time to catch the eye of A&E. In the end, Spira surpassed its fundraising goal, raising $42,000. He has been highlighted on A&E’s website and recently appeared in an on-air spot during a commercial break during Duck Dynasty.
Looking back over the decade of work he put into developing his shoe line—which relies upon a tunable, wave spring technology—the difference for his company is clear. “I mean, I can see the finish line finally," he says. "And it’s all because of this, of these wonderful people who have taken us under their wing and are helping us tell our story.” It’s a story that like for most small companies, went unnoticed and unheard for far too long. “This is like a giant megaphone.”