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Kickstarter: Thank crowdfunding for kooky gadgets

Thomas Edison once said, “To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”

If the inventor were alive today, he might tweak that last word to “support.” As it turns out, inventing has shifted dramatically in the years since the first light bulb. What was once a solitary pursuit in relative darkness is now very much a crowd sport in the democratic glow of the web.

At least, it is over at, a site where everyday people pitch “projects” to potential “backers” from all over the world. Kickstarter, which calls itself a “new form of commerce and patronage,” operates with an all-or-nothing funding platform.

The creator, who can pitch a project for free, sets a “funding goal.” If the goal is reached — and only if it’s reached — the project goes forward and is deemed a success. Anyone with a major credit or debit card, meanwhile, can be a backer.

Kickstarter released data this week that reveals just how big the concept of “crowdfunding” has grown in the nearly four years since the company launched. The numbers are staggering: In 2012, more than 2.2 million people pledged more than $319 million to successfully fund 18,109 projects.

These projects included Pebble, a digital wristwatch that syncs with incoming data from a smartphone. The inventors of Pebble — which holds the record as the most successful Kickstarter project with more than 68,000 backers and $10 million in funds — held a press conference at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday to announce the gadget would start shipping this month.

But Kickstarter is not just about newfangled technology.

According to company figures, music was the most funded category last year, with 5,067 projects receiving money. This includes singer Amanda Palmer, who debuted in the Billboard Top Ten in September after 24,883 people backed her album.

Kickstarter films have been nominated for Oscars, including Incident in New Baghdad. At Sundance, remarkably, 10 per cent of the films were funded by Kickstarter backers, according to company data.

Publisher’s Weekly says Kickstarter is now the No. 2 publisher of graphic novels. In 2012, there was even a Kickstarter-funded opera, Oceanic Verses, which premiered at the Kennedy Center in New York.

A few more numbers: The Kickstarter phenomenon spread to 177 countries last year, where on average backers were pledging money at a rate of $606.76 per minute. The money pledged to the “games” category alone (both video and board) exceeded $83 million.

In terms of success — as a percentage of pitched products that meet funding goals — dance (74.4 per cent) and theatre (66.8 per cent) led the field while the least successful were fashion (26.2 per cent) and publishing (26.6 per cent).

While most Kickstarter headlines focus on the financial, the site also created a number of cultural oddities last year. Chattanooga, Tennessee, became the first U.S. city to get its own font after backers raised enough capital.

Thanks to Kickstarter, the world now has open source Geiger counters and a banana piano. There is a civilian space suit and a museum devoted entirely to pizza.

Some of this might baffle Edison. But, undoubtedly, he’d be inspired by the imagination and the support.

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