Canadians looking to back their business ventures, charitable campaigns or creative projects can now get a boost from a popular website, as Indiegogo is introducing international features to make it easier for people outside the U.S. to launch their own fundraising efforts, it was announced today.
The rollout of changes starting this month that will also be available in France, the U.K. and Germany includes new French- and German-language versions of the website, as well as the option to make transactions in Canadian dollars, euros and British pound sterling, Indiegogo said Wednesday.
Previously, the website was only available in English and donations could only be made in U.S. dollars, although users from any country could create or contribute to fundraising campaigns.
Indiegogo chief operating officer Danae Ringelmann, who co-founded the San Francisco-based company in 2008, says the new features are part of its commitment to building a fundraising platform that is inclusive and open to everyone around the world.
"Since the beginning, our focus has been truly empowering everybody," Ringelmann said in an interview with CBC News, "and Canada has been a really strong market for us since Day 1."
In addition to new languages and currencies, Indiegogo will also offer localized versions of its homepage starting in early 2013. This means that anyone logging in from Canada, France, the U.K. or Germany will be greeted with a webpage highlighting local campaigns.
Ringelmann said the new capabilities will "make the experience for Canadian funders and Canadian campaign owners that much more relevant and friction-less."
Crowdfunding heats up in Canada
Over the last few years, fundraising online — referred to as crowdfunding — has become a popular way to finance projects or charitable initiatives.
According to Indiegogo's press release, Canada is its second largest market after the U.S., in terms of campaign launches and contributions.
There are also several homegrown crowdfunding websites, such as SoKap, Springboard and Ideacious. An August study from the Canada Media Fund reported a total of 17 in Canada, but the numbers are constantly in flux as the industry continues to grow.
The core idea behind these campaigns is to generate funds by appealing to a large number of people online. Those who deem the project or cause worthy make a donation, typically a small amount, but every dollar adds up – sometimes to a huge sum.
In July, Toronto resident Max Sidorov created a fundraising drive on Indiegogo to support elderly bus monitor Karen Klein in upstate New York who made the news after a video showed her being harassed by students.
By the time the drive closed (each campaign on Indiegogo has a pre-determined end date), donors had contributed over $700, 000, with the goal of the money going to Klein for a vacation.
Ringelmann says the event showed the "power of the web" to "bring out the best in people" and to rally them from around the globe.
"Our reaction to that was, 'This is why we built an open platform and why we don’t decide who gets to raise money and who doesn’t,'" Ringelmann said. Unlike some other crowdfunding sites, Indiegogo doesn't set guidelines on what kinds of campaigns can be put up.
"If we had had some kind of filter process to determine if [Max] should have the right to do that or not, he would not have been able to get that campaign up so quickly, in a timely manner to reach out to the people across the world who were also sympathetic with what was happening," she said.
Critics have pointed out that such an open system could pave the way for fraudulent campaigns, but Ringelmann says that Indiegogo has a system to seek out irregular behavior among campaign pages. She also says the very essence of crowdfunding is a natural deterrent because "you would have to fool a lot of people."
New way of doing business
Although crowdfunding originated with charities, some are using it as a way to finance business ventures.
One crowdfunded project is the Muse Headband, a gadget that measures the wearer’s brainwaves, which can then be used to control a smartphone or tablet.
When the Toronto startup behind the device decided that it wanted to make the headband available for consumers, a costly endeavour, the idea was brought to Indiegogo.
Less than six weeks later, InteraXon had raised more than $240,000 from almost 1,400 donors. Those who contributed over a certain amount will be among the first to receive a headband once it rolls off the assembly line. (Many crowdfunding campaigns offer some kind of incentive to donors.)
InteraXon’s co-founder Trevor Coleman said the crowdfunding platform has been a valuable tool that goes beyond money.
"It’s a way to put your product to market and test that what you've got is something people want to buy and is worth building," Coleman said.
"It also gives you an amazing opportunity to connect with a huge group of people who are just as passionate about your project as you are."
The business potential of the crowdsourcing phenomenon has already led to a change in U.S. regulations.
The Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which was signed into law on April 5, will allow companies to solicit money through crowdfunding platforms and in return offer an equity stake in the business.
This is still illegal in Canada, but advocates are already making appeals to Canadian authorities to loosen regulations.
Ringelmann, who helped inform the development of the JOBS Act by contributing case studies, supports a move toward equity-based crowdfunding (though says Indiegogo has no immediate plans to implement in).
"Crowdfunding should be open and should be an unfettered process where … the people who are successful are the ones who work the hardest and have an audience that cares."