Getting crowded

C&I Issue 3, 2013

Perhaps you have an idea for a novel technology that you want to develop, perhaps you are the head of a young science and technology company that needs investment, or alternatively an academic scientist who needs assistance trawling through reams of data. In all three cases, you can now turn to the crowd for help.

The crowd refers to the vast population of internet users. In crowdfunding, these users are encouraged to provide investment for a project or small company, with a large number of people each investing a relatively small amount. In crowdsourcing, these users, who may or may not have useful expertise, are encouraged to take part in some scientific research. Websites are now springing up all over the place to match up entrepreneurs, companies and scientists with willing investors and participants.

So far, crowdfunding has mainly been used to fund computer games, films and individual products via websites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Now, however, it is beginning to extend into funding young companies, including science and technology companies, with investors taking a small equity stake in the company.

One of the pioneers in equity crowdfunding is a French website called WiSEED, which recently brought together around 200 small-scale investors to provide initial funding for French biopharmaceutical company ANTABIO. It is now looking to do the same thing for UK bioscience companies that took part in a workshop on crowdfunding for bioscience companies in Edinburgh in January 2013.

According to a survey recently conducted by YouGov for the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA), nearly nine out of 10 UK adults, who expressed a preference, agreed that the general public should be given the opportunity to invest modest sums of money into funds for innovative companies.

This finding supports the BIA’s proposal to set up Citizens’ Innovation Funds (CIFs), in which individuals could invest up to £15,000/year in a fund that would mainly focus on innovative companies conducting R&D.

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