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The wisdom of crowds

Creatives and entrepreneurs are tapping into a new way to transform their ideas into reality.

On a Friday evening the founders of 7billionideas, a fledgling social network designed to capture ideas from anyone about anything, put a bid to fund the next stage of the firm's development on crowd funding site Crowdcube.

The following Monday morning, a slightly shocked co-founder David Harkin talked to HSBC about what it feels like to raise £30,000 in a weekend from total strangers they have never met. "It has been amazing," says Harkin.

"We realised we were at an early, immature stage of development and we knew getting funding from conventional sources would be difficult. But we never expected to raise the money in a couple of days."

A different way

Crowd-sourced funding services are turning the traditional model on its head, offering opportunities for lots of people to invest smaller amounts from as little as £10, but averaging at around £2000.

Alex Kammerling is another Crowdcube success story. The former cocktail barman secured part of the funding to develop his new ginseng-based alcoholic spirit Kammerling's. He secured part of the £180,000 investment he needed to grow the business from 85 small investors through Crowdcube, in return for shares in the business.

"It's hard trying to find money for new, different products like this," says Kammerling. "We had got as far as we could with overdrafts, personal and family money and things were getting tight."

Pitching for money online was no pushover, however. "It's a great platform for investors to ask questions. That really made us toughen up our business plan. When you're being asked questions publicly you realise you need good answers."

The funding Kammerling raised has enabled him to pay for sales and marketing materials and resources to take the business to the next level. "Things are going well. We are starting to sell to international hotel chains, sales have doubled and we are ahead of target."

Creative endeavours

Crowdcube follows in the footsteps of other crowdfunding services, such as US-based Kickstarter, a pioneering site set up to help anyone fund creative ideas from music to film projects.

Two notable UK successes that have raised funding from Kickstarter to date include Indie music duo Belle & Sebastian, who have used it to raise funds to develop a musical. Writer and games developer Naomi Alderman, meanwhile, raised funding to develop her running-app-cum-computer-game Zombies, Run! through Kickstarter.

It's not always small sums that are involved either. UK film maker Franny Armstrong put crowd funding on the map with her film The Age of Stupid, raising £450,000 from 223 backers who invested between £500 and £35,000 each.

Crowdfunding through sites such as is also a useful means for artists to raise money for community projects or just to indulge fans by asking them to fund creative ideas without the promise of a financial return.

Creating opportunities

Crowdcube marketing director and co-founder Luke Lang says crowdfunding has opened up new opportunities for would be entrepreneurs, and creatives that never existed before to tap investments in small amounts.

"Myself and my other co-founder have both set up businesses in the past and faced the challenges of raising money first hand. We know how difficult it is going down the traditional routes of finding investment from one or two wealthy individuals. We felt there had to be a better way of doing it," says Lang.

Investors act in concert to carry out surprisingly thorough analysis of pitches they are interested in, which is complemented by filtering and checking carried out by Crowdcube, says Lang.

About 800 businesses have applied since the service launched a year ago. Crowdcube selected 200 of these to go on the site and 17 have been funded securing a total of almost £3m in funding so far.

The crowd-sourced funding model offers a range of advantages, says Lang. "It's cheap for investors and entrepreneurs as there are no up front costs. Fees are only charged on successful deals and it's quicker."

It is a model with great potential, he adds. "It has dramatically exceeded our expectations and we think there's a huge market out there for this. Only 2-3 per cent of UK businesses seek equity funding today, compared to 10-15 per cent in the US. I think we can start to change that."

The wisdom of crowds
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