NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Kickstarter, a popular site to help entrepreneurs raise venture capital, recently announced its list of the best projects from the year, highlighting inspiring ideas ranging from technological innovations to art projects.
Perhaps the most impressive project is the one that combined both of these fields. In late 2009, a group of artists and developers from the Graffiti Research Lab, OpenFrameworks and Free Art and Technology began working on an ambitious project called EyeWriter to help Tony Quan, a renowned Los Angeles graffiti artist, continue pursuing his craft after he’d been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a degenerative disorder that eventually paralyzes the body.
EyeWriter works by using a camera to track the movements of the user’s eye as it chooses from a selection of colors and designs. When the eye comes to rest on a particular color for a few seconds, EyeWriter saves that input and eventually uploads an image of the artist’s finished work onto the computer for others to draw. In this way, Quan will be able to “paint,” even without an otherwise functioning body.
EyeWriter was eventually completed in 2010 and earned high praise from publications like Time magazine, which put EyeWriter on its list of the best inventions of the year.
The project may not have come about without the use of Kickstarter, which helped the group get its funding. In total, nearly 400 users on Kickstarter pledged money to the group and helped it raise almost $18,000 to pay for their project—well above the group’s stated goal of $15,000.
Kickstarter essentially functions as a micro venture capital site, similar to online charity fundraisers like Kiva.org, but with the explicit goal of helping inventors, artists and other innovators. Aspiring entrepreneurs can put up a pitch for their project on the site along with a target goal for how much capital they need to raise. Users then have the option to donate anywhere from a few dollars to a few thousand. The entrepreneurs, for their part, can incentivize users to pledge more money by promising early samples of the product or other gifts.
One of the best examples of the symbiotic relationship between users and entrepreneurs on Kickstarter’s list is Ted Rall, a journalist and cartoonist who used Kickstarter to raise money for a long trip to Afghanistan where he would draw what was happening for a book and several publications. Users helped him raise more than $25,000 for his trip, and in return he sent them his drawings about near death experiences and real life on the ground in Afghanistan long before he ever sent those drawings to mainstream publications. This earned it the Kickstarter award for best experience.
There’s also Putty Hill, a documentary about a teen who overdosed in the suburbs, that was years in the making. The director, Matt Porterfield, ran into problems with funding, which were solved by the Kickstarter community that raised $20,000 for the project, more than twice his stated goal. The movie was released last year and earned a four-star review from Roger Ebert, among others, and Kickstarter's award for best narrative film project.
Needless to say, not every project on Kickstarter ends up with this kind of success, but hopefully the ones that have serve as some inspiration for those entrepreneurs struggling to realize their ambitious projects in 2011.
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