Innovation on Kickstarter: The 10 Top-Funded Tech Ideas of 2014

A lot of ink has been spilled about the Coolest Cooler, a re-imagined picnic cooler equipped with a built-in blender, waterproof Bluetooth speaker, and UBS charger (among other things). To fund the project, inventor Ryan Grepper of Portland, OR, raised a record $13.3 million from 62,642 backers last summer on Kickstarter.

Coolest Cooler

Coolest Cooler

The $13.3 million Grepper raised eclipsed the previous Kickstarter record for top-funded projects—the Pebble smartwatch raised almost $10.3 million in 2012. It was big news—the amount was equivalent to a sizable venture round. With backers placing more than 61,000 orders for the cooler itself, Grepper also proved that a market exists for his product—which is not something every venture-backed startup can do.

Beyond the big funding headlines, though, something interesting is happening here. As Kickstarter continues to grow (see stats below), the crowdfunding platform is providing some fresh insights on how innovation is unfolding in certain areas of technology throughout the U.S.

To highlight how this trend is playing out, Xconomy sussed out the top-funded Kickstarter projects of 2014 throughout the U.S. (our list is below). While many of the top-funding projects come out of the Bay Area, it’s interesting to see how innovation is happening in Boston, San Diego, Boulder, CO, and other regional tech clusters. So we are breaking out separate stories in coming days that highlight some of the top funded projects in the 10 tech hubs that make up the Xconomy network.

What we’ve found is a diverse mix of products and technologies that reflect the range of Yankee ingenuity: In New York City, PowerUp Toys created a module that turns a homemade paper airplane into a smartphone-controlled flying machine; in Seattle, Moment has created a pair of accessory lenses that can be mounted atop an iPhone camera; and in Ann Arbor, MI, Avegant has been creating a headset that includes a high-definition display screen with premium audio.

John Dimatos

John Dimatos

John Dimatos, who oversees technology and design projects for Kickstarter, says, “We actually get to see the product iteration and innovation taking place” in consecutive fundraising campaigns for products like 3D printers, Bluetooth-enabled speakers, and drones.

“If you lay one next to another,” Dimatos said, “you can see how they made improvements. That innovation cycle is extremely rapid.”

Asked if he’s noticed any geographic patterns to the technology and design projects on Kickstarter, Dimatos said they primarily arise from the big U.S. cities like San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. After a pause, he added, “A lot of interesting things are always coming out of Salt Lake City and Provo. There’s a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in Utah.” (A list of the top-funded Kickstarter projects in Salt Lake City is here.)

To keep things simple, Xconomy looked at the top-funded projects only on Kickstarter, which has higher Web traffic rankings on Alexa and Google Trends than Indiegogo, its San Francisco-based rival. Indiegogo does not disclose its user data (which makes comparisons highly speculative), and Kickstarter has been more transparent about its operations. The Brooklyn, NY-based company, which now has 103 employees, began publishing its fundraising statistics in 2012, and says more than $1.5 billion has been pledged for more than 78,000 projects in the six years since Kickstarter was founded.  (Kickstarter data for 2014 is here.)

kickstarter-logo-k-colorIn response to a request from Xconomy, Kickstarter spokesman David Gallagher provided more specific information on Kickstarter’s crowdfunding trends over the past three years: Online backers pledged a total of $529 million for 22,252 successfully funded projects in 2014. That’s about 10 percent more than the $480 million that was raised for 19,911 funded projects in 2013, which was a big jump from the $320 million that went into 18,109 projects in 2012.

Technology projects, however, make up a relatively small percentage of the crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter—and both Dimatos and Gallagher said the company prefers it that way.

Kickstarter was conceived in 2009 as a crowdfunding platform specifically to raise funds for creative projects, particularly in the arts, music, and culture. Today the company remains focused on creative projects, and many of the most-successful crowdfunding campaigns have involved board games like the Bones figurines that Reaper Miniatures created for its Dark Heaven line, card games like Exploding Kittens, public-minded programs like Reading Rainbow, and films like the Veronica Mars movie project.

Nevertheless, Gallagher and Dimatos said that Kickstarter experienced its own version of a “Netscape moment” in 2010, when a crowdfunding campaign for the Glif, a gadget that enabled people to attach their iPhone to a standard camera tripod, raised over $50,000 in its first two days of fundraising. The project set out to raise $10,000, and ultimately raised $137,417.

Two years later, the crowdfunding campaign for the Pebble smartwatch proved to be an even bigger moment. After setting a fundraising goal of $100,000 on Kickstarter, Palo Alto, CA-based Pebble Technology raised nearly $10.3 million. The Pebble also raised expectations about the kind of impact a crowdfunding campaign could have on innovation.

“Before Pebble, people didn’t know they wanted a smartwatch,” said Dimatos. “After Pebble, people wanted to know, ‘Where is my jet-pack future?’”
It’s hard to predict just what the next jet-pack might be, but some technology trends stand out, including video games, 3D printers, drones, innovations in food and drink products, and Oculus-like virtual reality interfaces for entertainment. Here’s our nationwide list of the top-funded projects of 2014 on Kickstarter:

1) Coolest Cooler, with a goal of $50,000, raised $13.28 million from 62,642 backers in August. Invented by Ryan Grepper of Portland, OR, the 60-quart cooler includes a blender, a waterproof Bluetooth speaker, USB charger, cutting board and other features for a portable party.

Pono player

Pono player

2) PonoMusic player, with a goal of $800,000, raised $6.2 million from 18,220 backers in April. Based in San Francisco and driven by frontman Neil Young, PonoMusic set out to create a system for audiophiles that would play at the same quality level as the original recording. The Pono Player, with a triangular shape like a Toblerone chocolate bar, is a portable music player designed to play high-resolution music files that use up to 20 times more data than MP3 files.

3) The Micro 3D Printer, with a goal of $50,000, raised $3.4 million from 11,855 backers in May. Bethesda, MD-based M3D set out to create an affordable and consumer-friendly 3D printer that can be used by both beginners and experts right out of the box.

4) Sense, with a goal of $100,000, raised $2.4 million from 19,349 backers in August. San Francisco-based Hello created Sense to help users track their sleep behavior. The device sits on a nightstand and connects wirelessly to a small sensor that clips to your pillow to monitor sleep. Mobile applications pull it all together.

5) The Anova Precision Cooker, with a goal of $100,000, raised $1.8 million from 10,508 backers in June. We’ve noticed several of these sous-vide cookers in recent years, which says something about the influence that someone like Nathan Myhrvold can have as a populizer of our tech culture. The latest innovation is sous-vide cookers, from San Francisco-based Anova Culinary, connects to a smartphone, enabling users to cook food in airtight bags for long periods in a low-temperature water bath with a touch of a button.

6) Flux 3D Printer, with a goal of $100,000, raised more than $1.6 million from 2,707 backers in December. The 3D printer from San Francisco-based Flux Technology uses a built-in 3D scanner to support an array of interchangeable modules for laser engraving and other options.

uKeg Growler

uKeg Growler

7) The uKeg growler, launched with a goal of $75,000, raised more than $1.5 million from 10,293 backers in December. Portland, OR-based GrowlerWerks created a vacuum-insulated and pressurized stainless steel growler (a 64-oz beer jug). Designed with brass carbonation cap, pressure gauge, and tap that hint of steampunk fashion, the uKeg keeps craft beer fresh and carbonated.

8) Glyph (not to be confused with the Glif), with a goal of $250,000, raised $1.5 million from 3,331 backers in February. Avegant, which was founded in Ann Arbor, MI, (and moved to Redwood City, CA) describes the headgear as a mobile personal theater with built-in premium audio. The company says its flip-down display screen and noise-cancelling audio is a revolution in personal display technology.

9) AirDog, with a $200,000 goal, raised almost $1.4 million from 1,357 backers in July. The foldable four-rotor drone was designed by Palo Alto, CA-based Helico Aerospace Industries for filmmakers and action sports enthusiasts who use GoPro cameras. The AirDog automatically follows above an automatic tracking device that can be worn by an actor or action sports enthusiast.

10) HEXO+, with a $50,000 goal, raised $1.3 million from 2,336 backers in July. The six-rotor drone, is designed for use by filmmakers and action sports enthusiasts by Palo Alto, CA-based Squadrone System. The drone can be programmed for autonomous flight by using a smartphone to follow a target.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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4 responses to “Innovation on Kickstarter: The 10 Top-Funded Tech Ideas of 2014”

  1. Bryan says:

    I think you meant ‘high-fidelity’ rather and ‘high-resolution’ music file for the Pono, unless you’re talking about the album art.

    • Bruce V. BigelowBVBigelow says:

      Bryan you’re right! I think “resolution” in this case refers to the claims that the Pono player is designed to play back digital music files that use up to 20 times more data than MP3 files. They say their digital audio files are not compressed like the MP3 format, and Pono frequently describes their audio quality as a better or higher digital resolution. I adopted their language without thinking about it as deeply as you have!

  2. Kevin Shiflett says:

    Hey everyone. My Kickstarter is now at 30% towards its goal, but I need your help to reach 100! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gotobrowser/goto-browser-the-modern-way-to-browse-the-world-wi?ref=nav_search

  3. YeahRight says:

    The article got it right. The most important thing is that startups can test if there is an actual market for the product. If you can’t sell it to the crowd, it’s very likely that you can’t sell it, period.