We can’t all be biotechnologists pioneering treatment for Alzheimers, or ecologists saving the majestic markhor from extinction, but gosh darnit, we can help push the frontiers of science forward.
Microryza, a crowdfunding platform that lets you follow and fund scientific research, has changed its name to Experiment and opened up its platform to a wider scientific community.
“When you think of science, you think of universities and the government giving grants,” cofounder Cindy Wu said in an interview. “NIH used to fund 30% of projects, and now they are only funding 10-15% of proposals, and the number of proposals has doubled. There are a lot of politics involved, and really the only researchers that get funded already have a track record. There is a huge subset of scientists being neglected.”
Experiment provides an alternative way for people to attract financial support for their scientific projects.
Researchers that pass the vetting process post their project with a funding goal and time frame, an overview of their work and the project’s goals, their background, and a proposed budget. Backers can track the progress as experiments unfold and have the opportunity to interact directly with the researchers.
The site includes categories for education, biology, chemistry, engineering, psychology, physics, computer science, medicine, ecology, economics, and palentology. Project examples include research into how a predator species of crab is affecting clams in the Pacific Northwest, how natural gas fracking contributes to air pollution, and cancer research.
At first Experiment only allowed people with a lab or university connection to put up projects. This approach kept the quality of the projects high and ensured trust from the backers. Now it has opened the platform to independent scientists as well.
“One of our biggest campaigns was from a husband and wife team, Wu said. “The wife graduated from Harvard Law School and found out she had a genetic disease and only 10 years left to live. She quit her job, went to MIT to learn about prion diseases, and they have devoted their entire lives to figuring out how to cure this disease.”
Experiment is also eyeing new areas of scientific research. The startup is beginning to recruit space projects, and after that will look for ocean research efforts. It also launched a community peer review feature so researchers can discuss each other’s work and endorse projects.
Experiment has funded 85 projects to date, which have attracted over $600,000.
Wu said that science has become a world where almost all the funding comes from grants and universities, but it wasn’t always this way. She gave the example of the Medicis funding Galileo as he developed the telescope, or how the March of Dimes was a nationwide fundraising effort to develop the polio vaccine.
The rise of crowdfunding has created new opportunities to change how projects of all kinds get funded, whether it is a creative project on Kickstarter, a medical procedure for someone in need on Watsi, or delving into the eating habits of the Daspletosaurus on Experiment.
“We are bringing science funding back to how it used to be,” Wu said.
Experiment is based in San Francisco. It participated in Y Combinator and is backed by seed funding from Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz.