Progress 06/01/14 to 01/31/15
Target Audience: We reached three target audiences with our Phase I project: 1. Economic Development Organizations and professionals employed by them 2. Small businesses, entrepreneurs and non profit organizations 3. Contributors to fundraising projects Changes/Problems: The most significant change we made to our plan concerned our method for selecting participating communities. Our proposed plan was to identify the characteristics of successful crowdfunding users and select a community that most closely matched those characteristics. Instead, we created a "Request for Proposal" (RFP) application process, announced and publicized through the Wyoming Economic Development Association email list and the Main Street Program member list. This RFP process allowed us to define the project and our expectations for how the pilot study would be launched in the community. More importantly, it allowed interested stakeholders (community leaders, businesses, nonprofits) to respond with a very specific set of resources, activities and support that they would commit to this pilot study. We felt this was a strong indication of the community's ability to take ownership of the platform, since it would be branded with their name (e.g., The Local Crowd Powell). We plan to use this process in Phase II. We also changed the length of the pilot study from 8 weeks to 12 weeks in each pilot community. We increased the number of pilot communities from one community to two communities. What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided? Education for the entrepreneurs and project creators was provided via several methods including: an orientation meeting in each community; two pre-launch webinars for Project Creators; a pre-launch workshop on local investing, crowdfunding success strategies and social media; a 10 minute video with economist and local investment advocate Michael Shuman; weekly conference calls with project teams; one-on-one telephone mentoring with Project Creators; and an eight-webinar series on crowdfunding basics and best practices. The educational events were recorded and are available on The Local Crowd website at www.thelocalcrowd.biz. A list of our educational program lineup is included below. October 8- The Power of Local Investing, Amy Cortese, Author October 15th Best Practices for Building up Your Social Networks, Aliza Sherman, Social Media Maven October 22nd Introduction to Crowdfunding & Tips for Success, Ryan Stover, Community Funded Cofounder November 5th The Power of Local Investing 2, Amy Cortese, Author November 12th Social Media in 30 minutes a Day with Aliza Sherman, Author and Media Expert November 19th Lessons Learned- How I Got the CROWD in my Crowdfunding Campaign (Panel) December 3rd The 50 Shades of Crowdfunding, Ruth E Hedges, Crowdfunding Industry Pioneer December 10th The Nuts and Bolts of Building A Successful Project, Nancy Hayes, Co-found of Moola-Hoop How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest? Diane Wolverton and Kim Vincent had the opportunity to present a session at the 2015 Main Street Conference in Atlanta, GA. Here is a description of the presentation: Bringing Crowdfunding to the Local Level: A New Tool that Can Revolutionize the way Main Street Businesses & Nonprofits Raise Funds Two Wyoming communities recently tested the feasibility of using localized crowdfunding as a tool to support entrepreneurs and local organizations in their fundraising efforts. The feasibility test was sponsored by the USDA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program through a grant to The Local Crowd, LLC . Wyoming's demonstration communities were Evanston-- hosted by the Main Street Program, and Powell-- hosted by an economic development organization. Each community received a locally-branded crowdfunding platform, educational programs for entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations, and a framework for implementation. Our session will include a presentation by the founders of The Local Crowd, LLC on the findings of this study--the number of projects funded, dollar amounts, challenges faced, lessons learned and recommendations for communities interested in bringing crowdfunding to the local level. In addition, two representatives from Evanston's Main Street program will provide insights into the process and potential for local crowdfunding. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals?
What was accomplished under these goals?
Phase I research proved the feasibility of the TLC incubator by successfully piloting it in two Wyoming communities. The research plan included four objectives. All objectives were successfully completed and the feasibility established -- the TLC model proved to be a viable economic development tool for rural communities by bringing the power of crowdfunding to their doorstep. The activities and results for each of the four Objectives are detailed below. Technical Objective 1 had two tasks and one milestone associated with it. Task 1 was to identify the psychographics and demographics of successful crowdfunders and compare the data with that of Wyoming communities. Task 2 was to select one Wyoming community for the pilot study. We updated our original plan to identify the characteristics of successful crowdfunding users and select a community that most closely matched those characteristics. Instead, we created a "Request for Proposal" (RFP) application process, announced and publicized through the Wyoming Economic Development Association email list and the Main Street Program member list. Sixteen communities expressed interest. After reviewing proposals, we decided to choose two rural communities. We chose Powell (population 6,476), located in the Northwest corner of the state, and Evanston (population 12,295), located in the Southwest corner. The differences in demographic makeup, geographic location, community size, psychographics and sponsoring organization provided excellent data for contrast and comparison. We received demographic and psychographic data from the Small Business Development Center's Market Research Center for each of these communities, and used it with data collected during the pilot period to complete a summary of characteristics of communities likely to be successful hosts of the model (Completion of Milestone 1). We found that the most important characteristic is a community that demonstrates a commitment to grow the economy by supporting the startup and expansion of local small businesses. Technical Objective 2 had three tasks and one milestone associated with it. The tasks were to determine technical specifications for the software, develop a process for screening applicants, and develop an instructional design for the TLC educational component. We worked with our subcontract partner, Community Funded, Inc. (CF) to develop the technical specifications of the software. We launched the site on September 25, 2014 with a grand opening workshop and party in Powell, Wyoming. There were some initial integration issues between the Community Funded software and TheLocalCrowd.biz website, but they were resolved quickly. We received feedback from program users and made changes in the software to improve it. During the Phase I project, we collected data on the minor bugs that arose after the initial launch, as well as ideas for design improvements. We developed a specification document based on this feedback for use in Phase II and described in the Work Plan, Task 1 (Completion of Milestone 2). Education for the entrepreneurs and project creators was provided via several methods, including the following: an orientation meeting in each community; two pre-launch webinars for Project Creators; a pre-launch workshop on local investing, crowdfunding success strategies and social media; a 10-minute video with economist and local investment advocate Michael Shuman; weekly conference calls with project teams; one-on-one telephone mentoring with Project Creators; and an eight-webinar series on crowdfunding basics and best practices. The educational events were recorded and will be used to create educational material for our Phase II work. Technical Objective 3 included two tasks and one milestone. The first task was to prepare, launch and implement the pilot program in a Wyoming community. We engaged two communities, launching The Local Crowd in Powell on September 25, 2014 and in Evanston on October 6, 2014 (Completion of Milestone 3). Our work plan called for a minimum of ten Project Creators (funding candidates) to be reviewed and three to be launched. We reviewed 11 Project Creators and launched four. Launched projects were Serendipity Books and Coffee Shop, Ana's on Main Street, Moonflower Yoga, and Positive Progressions. Reviewed projects were: Powell Golf Club, Plaza Diane, Wyold West Brewing Co., Square State Film, Powell Valley Recycling, Habitat for Humanity and an Evanston High School Student Group. The Powell launch included the unveiling of one live project and introduction of two projects that intend to launch in the future. The first project to launch was "Play Therapy for Children" created by Positive Progressions, a local mental health center. They set out to raise $2,000 for video equipment to support their Play Therapy program. The project was live for 30 days and attracted 36 donors and $1,093. The community of Powell celebrated the Launch with a beer and pizza party featuring Positive Progressions as well as two other organizations that planned to launch campaigns later--Wyold West Brewing Co. and Plaza Diane. We launched The Local Crowd in Evanston on October 6 at a launch party hosted by the Evanston Main Street program. Three Main Street business posted projects including Serendipity Books and Coffee Shop, Ana's on Main Street, and Moonflower Yoga. Two of the three Evanston projects met their funding goals. The total raised in Evanston was $11,024 in 30 days, with 188 individuals contributing to the campaigns. Technical Objective 4 included one milestone and two tasks. The tasks were to collect and analyze socio-economic data on the impact of the pilot program, and prepare a final report. We submitted the Interim Report and are on track to submit our final technical report before the April 30, 2015 deadline. In the week prior to the launch of each portal, we invited community members to participate in an online survey that looked at their awareness of crowdfunding, their attitudes about crowdfunding, aptitude in use of crowdfunding, and their appetite to participate in crowdfunding as a Project Creator or contributor. 196 responses have been collected. At the conclusion of the project, in January 2015, we sent a post-project survey to 141 people who had participated in the pilot study as Project Creators, funders, or team members. We received a 28% response (40 responses) to this survey. University of Wyoming Ag Economist Dr. Roger Coupal provided oversight for the development of both survey instruments and analysis of the data. The metric for success that we established in our Phase I proposal was to achieve 80% satisfaction with at least 90% of the crowdfunding components (educational, system use & software, communication, web interface, etc.) by all participants. Our post-project survey results show that we exceeded our Phase I metric by receiving an average satisfaction rating in each category higher than 80%, in some cases significantly more than 80%. We tabulated responses to questions in each component category and averaged them. We were pleased with the survey results. The Education Component showed that participants did, indeed, improve their knowledge about crowdfunding and their confidence in their ability to use crowdfunding in the future (92%). People were generally satisfied with the appearance of our website (97%), with our communications (83%), and our customer service (87%). Ninety-one percent of respondents said they would likely refer The Local Crowd to other communities and organizations. Attitudes were positive about the concept of crowdfunding, with an average of 94% of participants agreeing they would use crowdfunding to contribute or raise funds in the future.
Progress 06/01/14 to 01/31/15
Target Audience: Our target audience for this reporting period included Economic and Community Developent Organizations, non profit organizations, entrepreneurs and small businesses, and educational institutions in rural Wyoming. Changes/Problems: The most significant change we made to our plan concerned our method for selecting participating communities. Our proposed plan was to identify the characteristics of successful crowdfunding users and select a community that most closely matched those characteristics; however, we took into consideration the feedback of one of the reviewers and revised this plan. The reviewer commented, "While I understand the importance of testing this pilot phase in a community that 'matches' the characteristics of crowdfunding users and investors, I do have some concerns about extrapolating what is learned in such a pilot to rural places more broadly. If crowdfunding is, as the research team argues, an urban-biased phenomenon right now, using those characteristics may well skew the selection of a pilot community toward a larger, less isolated rural community. If that is the case, what does that mean for broader applicability?" This reviewer feedback prompted a very important change in one component of our rural community selection process. We did not try to define the characteristics of a successful community in advance and use that for selecting the pilot community, rather we created an "Request for Proposal" (RFP) application process. The RFP was announced and issued to Wyoming communities that were interested in developing and beta testing this platform in their community. This RFP process allowed us to define the project and our expectations for how the pilot study would be launched in the community. More importantly it allowed interested stakeholders (community leaders, business owners, non-profit organizations) to respond with a very specific set of resources, activities and support that they would commit to this pilot study. We felt this was a strong indication of the community's ability to take ownership of the platform, since it would be branded with their name, i.e. The Local Crowd Powell. We also changed the length of the study from 8 weeks to 12 weeks. We changed the number of communities tested from one community to two communities. What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided? Our original work plan called for education offered to participating communities in the following three topic areas: Investor/lender education to enhance capacity to make wise investments Entrepreneurial (project creator) education to help them to be successful at the crowdfunding process Social media education to help entrepreneurs effectively use social networks We omitted the investor/lender component during this Phase because the laws have not yet been released and debt/equity crowdfunding models are not allowable for unaccredited investors. We have, however, provided education in the more general aspects of local investing through a workshop presented by author and local investment expert, Michael Shuman, and webinars by Amy Cortese, who is also an author and authority on local investing. Education for the entrepreneurs and project creators has been provided via several methods: An orientation meeting in each community Two pre-launch webinars for project creators The pre-launch workshop in Powell, Wyoming included several hours of instructional video of Michael Shuman that will be used to compile more training materials for the website. A filmed interview with Michael Shuman with the production of a 10-minute video that is available on our website. The pre-launch workshop in Powell, Wyoming included Aliza Sherman, social media maven and author of 10 books, to provide information about social media tools and building social networks. This workshop was video recorded for future use in our educational materials. A weekly call with the project team members from each community One-on-one telephone mentoring with project creators an eight-webinar series (five completed) on crowdfunding basics, local investing, social media and best practices. The webinars are listed below, with an attached flyer that announces the webinar series. All webinars are being recorded and will be posted on our website for ongoing use. The Local Crowd team also participated in professional development in the area of Crowd Funding by attending the Crowdfunding Bootcamp in Las Vegas Nevada, October 2014; and the Berkelely Symposium on Crowdfunding, September 2014. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest? We created an "Request for Proposal" (RFP) application process to invite communities to participate in the study. The RFP was announced and issued to Wyoming communities through the Wyoming Economic Development Association and the Main Street Program Membership. We asked for proposals from communities that were interested in developing and beta testing this platform in their community. This RFP process allowed us to define the project and our expectations for how the pilot study would be launched in the community. More importantly it allowed interested stakeholders (community leaders, business owners, non-profit organizations) to respond with a very specific set of resources, activities and support that they would commit to this pilot study. We felt this was a strong indication of the community's ability to take ownership of the platform, since it would be branded with their name, i.e. The Local Crowd Powell. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals? Our Work Plan has provided us a road map to follow toward accomplishing all goals. At mid-point in the project we have accomplished everything that we planned to do by this point. We are on track to complete all of the goals set forth in our Phase I proposal. We will continue to follow our work plan to complete these goals.
What was accomplished under these goals?
The overall objective of the Local Crowd's Phase I research was to determine the feasibility of developing a crowdfunding incubator for rural communities. This included identification of 1) the optimal components of a rural crowdfunding incubator, 2) the profile of communities most likely to succeed with this model, 3) technical specifications for a software and educational model. We planned to test the crowdfunding model in a rural Wyoming community, and to assess the potential impact of such a model on economic development in the rural communities. At midpoint in this USDA Phase I, we have met or exceeded expected progress toward our four objectives, and during the pilot studies, the tool has been effectively used by Wyoming businesses to access capital: Objective 1 was to determine the characteristics of a rural community that could successfully support the TLC crowdfunding model and select a pilot site. Our milestone (M1) was to prepare a summary of findings report with profile elements (see page 4 in this report) to be used to select the pilot site. We chose two sites to pilot the crowdfunding model, instead of one, and we developed a novel RFP method to solicit support from communities. Objective 2 was to determine the performance specifications and design concept for a crowdfunding incubator model for rural communities. We developed a set of educational components for entrepreneurs and investors and made several adaptations to our software to ensure that it worked for our rural investors and entrepreneurs. At the midpoint of our project, we have the design and development specifications almost finalized for our TLC software model (Milestone 2, projected to be finished at the end of Month 6). Objective 3 was to implement and complete a pilot study of the TLC crowdfunding incubator to test its feasibility in a target community. For Objective 3, we expanded our original objective to include two different rural communities: Powell, Wyoming (population 6,476) in the Northwest corner of the state, and Evanston, Wyoming, (population 12,295). We have received valuable feedback from both pilot sites to enable us to improve the TLC model. The communities have recognized the value of the model; entrepreneurs have participated and have received support in several different formats from community members. With 10 weeks remaining in the SBIR Phase I, we believe that we have shown that crowdfunding in a rural ecosystem can work effectively; the feedback that we've received will provide a strong foundation for Phase II improvements and enhancements, and develop a platform that can be tested in many more rural communities. We are collecting data in preparation for accomplishment of Objective 4, to demonstrate the feasibility of the TLC incubator model to impact the socio-economic development of rural areas. During the first five months of this project, we have received both qualitative and quantitative data that confirm the potential for the commercialization of a crowdfunding portal designed specifically for rural communities. The Phase II project will provide the opportunity to expand the platform and test the platform in additional rural communities across the U.S. The research to date has provided some invaluable feedback on how to build the business model and delivery channels going forward.