Georgia Tech Starter
Georgia Tech Starter – The Latest Way to Fund Tech Research
Fact: Securing funding for research is a highly competitive process.
Fact: Federal funding for research is dwindling.
Fact: Georgia Tech Starter is the newest solution to this double dilemma.
Georgia Tech Starter, a crowdfunding website dedicated to posting scientific projects created by Tech researchers looking for funding support, has published a wide range of projects, from the air – like the one focused on improving air pollution forecasting – to the sea – like the one committed to accelerating the discovery of antibiotics from algae.
Doctoral student Troy Alexander is the co-creator of the latter project in which he is studying marine organisms from Fiji to determine how they use chemistry to defend themselves. His goal is to uncover how such chemicals can be used in human medicine to fight infectious diseases.
“Through the combination of biomedical screening and advanced techniques, we will enable the rapid identification of already-known molecules and prioritize exploration of never-before-seen molecular structures that exhibit strong potency toward microbial and human cancer cell lines,” Alexander said.
To help support his research efforts, Alexander has posted a funding goal of $9,450 on Georgia Tech Starter.
Taking Science Beyond the Scientists
Georgia Tech Starter is a perfect venue, Alexander said, because, “With Georgia Tech Starter, research in the pursuit of human medicine is more accessible to a general audience.”
In fact, for Alexander’s project, those contributing generous donations will be treated to a live online Q-and-A session with the researchers. Additionally, depending on the amount donated, contributors will have the opportunity to offer their Atlanta-area school of choice a chemistry magic show and Q-and-A with a scientist.
According to Allison Mercer, an applied physicist at the Georgia Tech Research Institute and co-founder of this new way to fund scientific research, Georgia Tech Starter provides a channel for researchers to bring the world closer to the scientific community.
“There is incredible potential for contributors to engage with scientists in a way that hasn’t been done before: A project that is successfully funded converts into a blog through which only project supporters can monitor the progress of the project, ask the scientists questions, and witness world-class research at Tech as it unfolds,” said Mercer.
Contributors can also look forward to other possible intangible benefits such as having a bacterial strain named after them, receiving a digital print of the day's data, or having their names integrated into the project software.
Mark Kingsbury, a doctoral candidate in physics and researcher in Georgia Tech’s Complex Rheology and Biomechanics (CRAB) Lab, says the fact that Georgia Tech Starter facilitates a direct link from researchers to contributors means that an opportunity has been created for people to “become a part of science and become more science-literate, which can only lead to good things.” With his project, Robosaur Walks, contributing at the highest funding level gets donors into the lab to actually help with some research. The Robosaur Walks research is intended to help improve how robots move in different terrain so solutions can be developed to help them navigate complex terrain in search and rescue missions, for instance.
Another robot-focused project featured on the Georgia Tech Starter site has the goal of creating a biological robot, or Biobot, that can be manipulated to perform specific tasks in the human body such as clotting surface wounds and detecting cancer cells. Casey Hines, a biomedical engineering major, and her team have published the Biobot project on Georgia Tech Starter to raise funds, in part, for their participation in next year’s iGem World Championship Jamboree, an annual synthetic biology competition held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Why Georgia Tech Starter Is Different
Unlike for-profit crowdfunding platforms, all funds donated through Georgia Tech Starter are tax deductible for the contributors, and none of the funds are directed toward any hosting or miscellaneous fees.
“Georgia Tech is a nonprofit and doesn’t make a single penny off of the donations made through Georgia Tech Starter,” said Mercer.
But there is also another major differentiator that sets Georgia Tech Starter apart from its competitors in a key way, a differentiator meant to provide significant assurance for contributors: Each project is thoroughly reviewed by a faculty committee. This is a quality control measure designed to ensure that the project is achievable, the requested funding amount is enough to complete the project, and the researchers on the project have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to get the research done right.
“The peer review process really does guard against scams, overly idealistic goals, and projects that cannot make good on their promises,” said Alexander.
All or Nothing
What Georgia Tech Starter does have in common with other crowdfunding sites is that it operates with an all-or-nothing funding strategy. Only if the project goal amount is reached within a 90-day window are donors’ credit cards charged. This helps ensure that the researchers will only receive the donations if enough total funds have been pledged to achieve the stated project goals.
On that note, Alexander shared words of wisdom for those interested in posting their projects on the site: Carefully consider the amount of funding being requested.
“The amount we seek to raise through Georgia Tech Starter is supposed to be large enough to make an impact on our research, but it’s not supposed to be so large that it seems insurmountable to potential donors,” he said.
Researchers should also strive to make their work broadly appealing.
“We help our researchers clearly explain their scientific aims in a way that makes sense to the broader community. We do everything we can to support the project creators so they can be successful,” said Mercer. “As scientists, we need to do a better job of communicating the usefulness of our research and explaining to the public the difference it is making in all our lives. We want to help cultivate a society where people are closely connected to science and scientists.”
Students interested in taking advantage of Tech’s crowdfunding site can visit https://starter.gatech.edu to submit their contact information. Contributors can click on their project of interest and follow the instructions for making a pledge. For more information about Georgia Tech Starter, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s get STARTED!
Writer: Brigitte Espinet