Innovation on Kickstarter: The 10 Top-Funded Tech Ideas of 2014

A lot of ink has been spilled about the Coolest Cooler, a re-imagined picnic cooler equipped with a built-in blender, waterproof Bluetooth speaker, and UBS charger (among other things). To fund the project, inventor Ryan Grepper of Portland, OR, raised a record $13.3 million from 62,642 backers last summer on Kickstarter.

Coolest Cooler

Coolest Cooler

The $13.3 million Grepper raised eclipsed the previous Kickstarter record for top-funded projects—the Pebble smartwatch raised almost $10.3 million in 2012. It was big news—the amount was equivalent to a sizable venture round. With backers placing more than 61,000 orders for the cooler itself, Grepper also proved that a market exists for his product—which is not something every venture-backed startup can do.

Beyond the big funding headlines, though, something interesting is happening here. As Kickstarter continues to grow (see stats below), the crowdfunding platform is providing some fresh insights on how innovation is unfolding in certain areas of technology throughout the U.S.

To highlight how this trend is playing out, Xconomy sussed out the top-funded Kickstarter projects of 2014 throughout the U.S. (our list is below). While many of the top-funding projects come out of the Bay Area, it’s interesting to see how innovation is happening in Boston, San Diego, Boulder, CO, and other regional tech clusters. So we are breaking out separate stories in coming days that highlight some of the top funded projects in the 10 tech hubs that make up the Xconomy network.

What we’ve found is a diverse mix of products and technologies that reflect the range of Yankee ingenuity: In New York City, PowerUp Toys created a module that turns a homemade paper airplane into a smartphone-controlled flying machine; in Seattle, Moment has created a pair of accessory lenses that can be mounted atop an iPhone camera; and in Ann Arbor, MI, Avegant has been creating a headset that includes a high-definition display screen with premium audio.

John Dimatos

John Dimatos

John Dimatos, who oversees technology and design projects for Kickstarter, says, “We actually get to see the product iteration and innovation taking place” in consecutive fundraising campaigns for products like 3D printers, Bluetooth-enabled speakers, and drones.

“If you lay one next to another,” Dimatos said, “you can see how they made improvements. That innovation cycle is extremely rapid.”

Asked if he’s noticed any geographic patterns to the technology and design projects on Kickstarter, Dimatos said they primarily arise from the big U.S. cities like San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. After a pause, he added, “A lot of interesting things are always coming out of Salt Lake City and Provo. There’s a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in Utah.” (A list of the top-funded Kickstarter projects in Salt Lake City is here.)

To keep things simple, Xconomy looked at the top-funded projects only on Kickstarter, which has higher Web traffic rankings on Alexa and Google Trends than Indiegogo, its San Francisco-based rival. Indiegogo does not disclose its user data (which makes comparisons highly speculative), and Kickstarter has been more transparent about its operations. The Brooklyn, NY-based company, which now has 103 employees, began publishing its fundraising statistics in 2012, and says more than $1.5 billion has been pledged for more than 78,000 projects in the six years since Kickstarter was founded.  (Kickstarter data for 2014 is here.)

kickstarter-logo-k-colorIn response to a request from Xconomy, Kickstarter spokesman David Gallagher provided more specific information on Kickstarter’s crowdfunding trends over the past three years: Online backers pledged a total of $529 million for 22,252 successfully funded projects in 2014. That’s about 10 percent more than the $480 million that was raised for 19,911 funded projects in 2013, which was a big jump from the $320 million that went into 18,109 projects in 2012.

Technology projects, however, make up a relatively small percentage of the crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter—and both Dimatos and Gallagher said the company prefers it that way.

Kickstarter was conceived in 2009 as a crowdfunding platform specifically to raise funds for creative projects, particularly in the arts, music, and culture. Today the company remains focused on … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • Bryan

    I think you meant ‘high-fidelity’ rather and ‘high-resolution’ music file for the Pono, unless you’re talking about the album art.

    • BVBigelow

      Bryan you’re right! I think “resolution” in this case refers to the claims that the Pono player is designed to play back digital music files that use up to 20 times more data than MP3 files. They say their digital audio files are not compressed like the MP3 format, and Pono frequently describes their audio quality as a better or higher digital resolution. I adopted their language without thinking about it as deeply as you have!

  • Kevin Shiflett

    Hey everyone. My Kickstarter is now at 30% towards its goal, but I need your help to reach 100! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gotobrowser/goto-browser-the-modern-way-to-browse-the-world-wi?ref=nav_search

  • YeahRight

    The article got it right. The most important thing is that startups can test if there is an actual market for the product. If you can’t sell it to the crowd, it’s very likely that you can’t sell it, period.