"The topic is gathering speed"
Markus Weißkopf is the Managing Director of Wissenschaft im Dialog GmbH (Science in Dialogue). The non-profit company has been operating the www.sciencestarter.de website for two years now – a platform for raising funds to realise scientific projects.
How does Sciencestarter work?
Whoever plans a scientific project can present it on our platform. Following the crowd funding principle, everybody who likes the project can make donations. If the required amount is achieved, we pay out the money; otherwise we pay it back to the potential contributors.
And what benefit do the contributors have?
Apart from knowing they have done something good? They receive an intangible thank you gesture from the recipient of their donation. This can be a spaghetti lunch in the laboratory or a regular report with photos about the project's progress.
What was the most original thank you so far?
One of the first implemented projects was about using horse manure in biogas plants; every contributor received one kilogramme of organic manure as a thank you.
And what if the project results in a successful business idea? Would a share in profits be an option?
This is not ruled out as such. But it would raise questions regarding taxation, so platforms for commercial start-ups are a better place for such a venture.
So Sciencestarter or, rather, Wissenschaft im Dialog does not profit at all?
No. When somebody supports a project on Sciencestarter, they have the option of making a donation also to our enterprise. This is how we finance the technical operation of the platform.
Do you sometimes reject project ideas?
This is rarely the case. But we do sometimes give advice on how to present a project in a more comprehensible and attractive manner. For instance, photos and a small video showing the project's initiator are very helpful.
Before money can be raised for a project, it is listed in the "Starting phase" section. What is this about?
This is our little obstacle: every project idea needs 100 fans to support it. Most select a period of two weeks to achieve this level of support. Then the project is active and can raise funds.
What conditions do such fans need to meet?
They need to register; there are no further obligations.
Do I have to make a donation when I am a "fan"?
No, after all, there is a difference between liking a project and being so convinced about it to make a donation.
How much time remains for collecting donations for an activated project?
We usually recommend two to three months. This is also dependent on which months one lands in. Summer months tend to be less favourable as they are quieter.
Who are typical contributors?
There are various groups. In addition to friends, colleagues and professors of the project initiators, who will contribute 10, 20 or even 50 Euro, there are private supporters who maintain a sort of patronage and contribute three-digit sums. Even some businesses have said: this is an interesting project in our field and even though we do not directly benefit from it we will support it.
Does the fear of theft of ideas make some people refrain from participation?
This is something we discussed in the beginning. By now, we know that it does not present an obstacle. After all, whoever launches a project has already an advance in knowledge and one does not publish on the internet all details or the complete experimental set up.
The number of currently running projects is rather small...
True, but this is the summer lull with little happening at the universities. Autumn is better for project starters. So far, we have been able to fund 26 projects with an average of 7,000 Euro – a result we are rather satisfied with. Of course, we would love to see this number increase, but we simply do not have the marketing budget of a platform such as "Experiment" in the USA. The topic is gathering speed in Germany, so I am very optimistic.