Has traditional crowdfunding peaked? Maybe, maybe not. A lot of attention is now on equity crowdfunding, but the older model of consumers backing creative and technical projects is still going strong.
The national stats for Kickstarter suggest the online platform continues to grow, though its growth may be slowing down. As my colleague Bruce Bigelow reports in his national overview, total funding for Kickstarter projects grew from $320 million in 2012 to $480 million in 2013 and $529 million in 2014.
As part of our drilldown into local crowdfunding trends, I looked at the top-funded tech-related projects in the Boston area over the past year. What I found was a bit surprising: The top funding amounts were lower than I expected, and there was less diversity than I thought there’d be in terms of the types of projects funded—especially compared to places like New York and San Francisco. (This fits with the notion that consumer-tech startups aren’t Boston’s strong point, with some exceptions.)
Here’s my “tech-related” Kickstarter criteria: I included hardware and devices, computer interfaces, software, video games, and tech-y toys. No home-brewing beer kits, furniture, media content, board games, or action figures. I also somewhat arbitrarily drew the line at a minimum of $100K in funding.
Like any successful platform, Kickstarter has become very noisy. The pressure to stand out has led some teams and projects—particularly those building hardware—to overpromise and try to deliver on unrealistic timelines. That has even led some project backers to revolt when shipping dates were missed.
For better or worse, venture capitalists and corporate investors also have been using crowdfunding sites to help evaluate companies’ products and market fit. That can sometimes exacerbate the hype cycle, particularly in frothy sectors like wearables and “Internet of Things.”
By and large, however, Kickstarter still provides a unique window into the innovation marketplace for consumer tech. In Boston, there are a few projects worth highlighting right off the bat in 2015:
—3Doodler 2.0 is the next iteration of a 3D printing pen, made by Somerville, MA-based WobbleWorks. The project brought in $1.55 million last month. The pen lets you “draw” 3D objects like jewelry, toys, and models with heated plastic. The new version is sleeker, lighter, and quieter than version 1.0, which debuted in 2013.
—Big Skinny Wallets of Cambridge, MA, makes a specially designed thin wallet with RFID-blocking technology, for those who have privacy and security concerns (don’t we all). The project just ended its campaign on Tuesday and successfully raised $155,000-plus.
— OtherSide Entertainment of Lexington, MA, has a new video-game campaign in progress. The project is called Underworld Ascendant, and it has raised $380,000-plus toward its target of $600K. The campaign has 23 more days to go.
While previous years saw startups like Formlabs and Ministry of Supply get going on Kickstarter, the top Boston-area campaigns from 2014 were dominated by video games and smart-home devices. Here’s the list in full:
1. Blink, a wireless home-monitoring and alert device, raised $1,069,386—the only local tech project to crack a million in 2014. The system (pictured above) uses high-definition video, motion and temperature sensors, and a microphone to help you keep an eye on your home.
2. Amplitude, a music video game from Harmonix, creators of the Rock Band and Dance Central game franchises, raised $844,127. Who said Kickstarter was just for indie developers?
3. TinyTesla, a do-it-yourself electronics kit from oneTesla, raised $336,271. The electrical transformer device can do things like shoot sparks and play music tracks.
4. The Flame in the Flood, a video game from The Molasses Flood, garnered $251,647. A veteran team is developing this river-journey game for PC and Mac.
5. The KOR-FX gaming vest, by Immerz, raised $183,449. The vest uses a “haptic feedback system” involving audio and special transducers to make gamers feel movements, bullets, and explosions while they play.
6. The Book of Unwritten Tales 2, by King Art Games, raised $171,593. This is the second installment of a character-driven adventure video game. (King Art is based in Germany with a subsidiary in Boston.)
7. The Q, a smart-home audio and lighting system from Belleds Technologies, netted $104,117. The system can do things like synchronize lights with music and create light shows.
8. BeON, a home-security lighting system that uses LED bulbs, raised $106,306. The system learns your lighting habits and activates lights even if you’re not home, or if the doorbell rings.
Other notable campaigns from 2014: Water Hero’s device for tracking home water use; Six Foods’ creative use of bugs (cricket chips), and the Radiotopia show collective from Public Radio Exchange (PRX). Meanwhile, in a non-Kickstarter campaign, MIT Media Lab spinout Jibo raised nearly $2.3 million for its “social” home robot on competing platform Indiegogo. The company followed that up with a $25 million venture round last month.