Innovocracy provides crowd funding for academic research. In this interview, co-founder Mikael Totterman explains the concept and describes the first project: a promising toilet-training method for autistic children.
What is Innovocracy?
Innovocracy was created to bridge the gap between powerful ideas and beneficial applications of those ideas. We offer a funding source that connects people who want to support innovation in academic research and those innovators found on campuses around the world.
How did you get the idea?
I have always been fascinated by how technologies are often first developed in academic institutions and then make their way to transform our daily lives. This is the path that many ground breaking technologies from the Internet to life saving medications have traveled. It is possibility one of the greatest assets that any developed country can hope to harness.
Until I started working with many great academic institutions, I didn’t realize that there were so many innovations that never achieve their potential to change our lives. This is mostly because they languish unattended due to lack of funding needed to transition them to actual prototypes and products. One of the most common challenges faced by academic innovators is that typical funding sources do not support the development of prototyping and product creation.
As we know from countless examples, great innovations such as the computer mouse and graphical user interface would never have blossomed if practical approaches to prototyping had not been pursued. This is also true for medical devices and alternative energy applications. Over the years, I have worked with great researchers on individual projects in arthritis, cancer, and cardiac conditions to help these technologies become products and services. The work has been rewarding, but there has always been frustration that so many other life changing innovations could be coming out of academic institutions if only there were more avenues to help academics fund prototypes. Most of the time, all it would take is a fairly modest amount of money to help create that functional prototype to get the process moving.
These experiences led to the creation of Innovocracy. Our collective aspiration is to become the go-to-platform for academic-based innovators who are out to change the world and people’s lives for the better.
Crowdfunding for startup companies is getting a lot of attention. Is Innovocracy employing a similar concept?
This is an exciting time for empowering individuals to contribute to great projects and companies. Specifically, we seek to become the trusted source for allowing individuals to help fund important academic innovations. With Innovocracy, an Innovator can post the details of their proposed project and request funding, usually between $3,000 and $15,000 (though we do not cap the amount of the requests), to get their project from idea to reality.
Individuals and organizations that want to support those projects can become supporters by pledging any amount towards that goal. If the goal is reached, Innovocracy funds the project and charges the Supporters for their contribution. If it does not, no funds are collected or distributed. Where we differ from crowdfunding for start-ups is that we are exclusively focused on donations rather than the sale of equity.
Who are your partners?
As we move towards our official launch in Q3 2012 there are opportunities for institutions of higher learning to join us as Launch Partners. Launch Partners get an early start in the Innovocracy Network by enabling their researchers and students to fund projects through the system. Our current Launch Partners include Cornell, University of Rochester, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Clarkson.
What is an example of a project (or projects) being funded?
We are currently seeking support for a project in the Autism area. Many children with autism are not toilet-trained by their school-age years or beyond. A number of factors can make toilet training difficult for children with autism, including communication deficits, sensory and motor differences, general deficits in skill-building, and anxiety. University of Rochester researchers Daniel W. Mruzek (a psychologist and autism expert) and Stephen McAleavey (a biomedical engineer) have developed an innovative toilet-training procedure using an electronic moisture pager and corresponding curriculum. The objective of the project is to further refine the prototype product and further field test it among children with autism.
Prospective Supporters can view information about the project here.
What are some of the possibilities you envision over the next few years?
We hope Innovocracy becomes the platform of choice for individual support for academic innovation. In the future this may also span into opportunities for public and private organizations to co-sponsor projects to help increase their profile.
Are donations tax deductible?
The donations are currently not tax deductible but we hope to enable this in select situations in the future.
How will you measure your success?
Our current focus in on ensuring that our Launch Partners and initial Sponsors have a good experience on the site. Over time, our success will be measured by the number of participating institutions and Sponsors as well as the progress that we have on further enabling innovation.
How can someone get involved?
If you are an individual, please check out our current Autism project to see if it may be of interest. We will also be accepting a few more Launch Partners onto the platform to provide additional sponsor options.