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Building a vision: Funding projects with help from friends

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Throughout the country, creative-minded people are coming up with new ideas for innovative businesses, unique artistic exhibitions and personal projects.

The problem is finding the money to make those ideas a reality.

But the advent of a community-minded model of funding is allowing more and more people to find that success.

From innovative boutiques to art installations  and musicians’ latest records, crowdfunding has become a way for people to achieve lofty goals with the help of the online community. Individuals can pledge money and serve as low-level investors in their efforts.

The trend has helped bring ideas to life, including a wristwatch computer, Oscar-nominated documentaries and a film by noted author Bret Easton Ellis.

“It allows people with great ideas to make them into reality without going into debt. It allows them to connect with fans on the front end of a project, allowing fans to really be a part of the process and feel that they contributed something special,” said Greenwood resident Brian Blume, whose album “Let It Snow” was financed with Kickstarter.

Blume had been considering recording a Christmas album for the past year. He had performed a series of solo marimba concerts in 2011 and liked the arrangements so much he decided to put out an album.

But arranging a recording studio session can cost thousands of dollars. Blume realized he needed help.

“I knew there was some interest by friends and fans in a Christmas album already, I thought it was worth a shot,” he said. “I liked the idea of taking a risk and seeing if I really had the support that I optimistically hoped I had.”

A handful of crowdfunding websites have emerged, with the most popular, Kickstarter, having raised $350 million for more than 30,000 projects.

Kickstarter was launched in 2009 as a way to help back unique endeavors.

Entrepreneurs looking for help funding a project design their own site on Kickstarter’s Web page. Using video, music and photographs, they show potential investors what they’d be contributing their money to.

“The most important part of getting people to back your project is the story behind it. People connect to stories,” Blume said. “Through a simple homemade video, I told the story of how my album idea was born and how I was making it a reality, but only with the help of my supporters.”

Crowdfunding does not allow people to invest for a piece of ownership in the project. Project creators keep 100 percent of the financial return from their work.

People also can offer incentives to those who might want to back their project. For a donation of $100, for example, they might get a copy of the finished CD or name a character after a backer.

Blume had levels of support ranging from $3 to $1,000. He pushed rewards such as homemade cookies, Christmas ornaments and allowing backers to record on the album with him.

Indianapolis resident Ashley Martz had started a line of handmade children’s clothing and wanted to purchase a location to have her own shop.

She began a Kickstarter campaign to raise $6,000 to do so.

For pledging $8 or more, people would receive two pins featuring Martz’s embroidered designs. Pledges of $50 or more received an appliqued onesie. If someone donated $1,000, she would give a face-to-face knitting lesson.

“It was difficult getting people to invest. Most of it came through Facebook and social media directing people to the site,” Martz said. “In the end, friends wound up contributing the most to it.”

Project creators set their own funding goals and a time limit for which money can be collected. Secure sites allow investors to donate using credit cards.

When the funding deadline is reached, all of the cards are charged and the money is collected. If the project does not reach its goal, none of the money will be charged, according to Kickstarter rules.

The model has appealed to more than 2.5 million contributors. Of the projects that have been started, 46 percent have been funded, according to Kickstarter.

Martz was able to purchase a small storefront in the Mass Ave district of downtown Indianapolis. Nurture, her shop, offers organic and eco-friendly gifts, clothing and accessories. Martz also sells her own line Elms & Cedars.

“Crowdfunding was a good way of doing it, because I only needed a relatively small amount of funding,” she said.

For Blume, the process took less than one month to achieve. After launching his project Aug. 24, he had successfully reached his $1,850 goal on Sept. 21.

By getting people involved from the very beginning, he believes it will spell greater success for the sales of “Let It Snow” when it comes out Nov. 19.

“Even if I funded my album myself, I don’t think I would have gotten near the support with my finished product that I did by doing my Kickstarter campaign,” he said. “Fans like feeling like they’re part of something, and crowdfunding helps do that in a big way.”

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