Top Bay Area Kickstarter Campaigns: Inkblot Tests for Local Culture

Entrepreneurs probably scan the top Kickstarter campaigns to gauge how much their own tech projects might raise on the selective crowdfunding site. But an anthropologist might look at the top fundraisers in each region to get a bead on the local culture.

Guess which metropolitan area’s top Kickstarter projects were all about high-fidelity digital music, sleep enhancement, gourmet cooking, 3-D printing, and aerial photography?

In the Bay Area, the highest-ranked Kickstarter campaigners in 2014 used technology to enhance the fine arts and the art of fine living, an anthropologist might say. Not a bad description of the unique cultural blend of San Francisco and Silicon Valley—as well as its eagerness to support innovation. The region’s top seven tech contenders each raised more than a million dollars to advance their missions, and the last three in the top 10 came pretty close to that amount.

The region claimed six of the top 10 slots in a nationwide list of Kickstarter’s most successful tech fundraising projects in 2014.

Here are the Bay Area’s top 10 tech campaigns:

1) The runaway leader with $6.2 million raised in April from 18,220 backers was San Francisco-based PonoMusic, folk-rock icon Neil Young’s crusade to deliver higher quality music recordings on a portable digital player, the Pono. Big contributors were promised their own deluxe Ponos engraved with the signatures of top performers of their choice, including Young, Norah Jones, Foo Fighters, Herbie Hancock, Patti Smith, Beck, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Pono’s original goal was $800,000. This project was the #2 campaign nationwide.

The Pono has been making news recently as reviews started appearing for the player, now being sold online and in stores for about $400. Some tech writers said they strained to tell the difference in sound quality between MP3 devices or smartphones and the Pono, which was designed to deliver the nuances of sound captured through high-resolution studio recordings. But reviewers gave Pono credit for keeping the price low compared to other players aimed at improving on commonly used digital devices running compressed music files.

2) With an original goal of $100,000, San Francisco company Hello raised $2.4 million from 19,349 backers in August for its Sense device, a little bedside table globe connected to a mobile phone app. The device tracks factors that might interrupt sleep, such as room temperature and noises like snoring or rambunctious house cats. The app correlates those factors with the user’s sleep patterns, which are detected by a little button-like device clipped on the bed pillow. Relying on those patterns, Sense also sounds the morning alarm at the moment in the sleep cycle when the user is already starting to wake up. This project was #4 nationwide.

3) Where else would a company figure out how to duplicate a high-end French cooking technique with a smartphone? San Francisco company Anova reaped $1.8 million from 10,508 backers in June for a mobile enhancement of its sous vide cooking device. Phone apps guide the cylindrical device, which fits inside a pot of water, to heat and circulate the water to reach the ideal cooking temperature for food sealed inside a zippered plastic bag. The bag preserves the moisture content of the food as it heats in the water. This campaign grabbed the #5 ranking nationwide.

4) The Flux 3D Printer, with a goal of $100,000, raised more than $1.6 million from 2,707 backers in December. The Flux all-in-one 3D printer from San Francisco-based Flux Technology includes a built-in 3D scanner and the choice of interchangeable modules equipped for printing or laser engraving. Nationwide rank: #6.

5) AirDog, a flying drone for use with GoPro cameras, soared past its $200,000 goal to raise more than $1.3 million from 1,357 backers in July. Palo Alto, CA-based Helico Aerospace Industries created the folding four-rotor drone for filmmakers and active sports participants who want to record motion from the air. The AirDog is controlled by both a smartphone and by a wearable tracking device that signals the drone which person the camera should follow. (AirDog ranked #9 nationally.)

6) Another photography drone, HEXO+, with a $50,000 goal, raised $1.3 million from 2,336 backers in July for Palo Alto, CA-based Squadrone System. The company’s six-rotor drone, like AirDog’s, is designed to make aerial video shooting easier for filmmakers and athletes who want to record their daring climbs or other feats. And like AirDog, the HEXO+ drone can be used with GoPro cameras. It is programmed with a smartphone to follow a target. (Ranked #10 nationwide.)

7) The iStick, an Apple device-compatible USB Flash drive, beat a goal of $100,000 to raise more than $1.1 million from 7,495 backers in June. The drive, made by San Francisco-based Sanho, can transfer data to iPhones and iPads because it features the Apple connection used for those devices. It’s touted as an alternative to cloud-based data storage and transfer, which might expose data to hackers, and as a way to store and stream videos to Apple devices without the need for wireless or Internet connections.

8) Ring, which converts hand gestures into digital actions, surpassed a $250,000 goal and raised more than $880,000 from 5,161 supporters in April for Logbar of San Carlos, CA. Wearing the Ring on a finger, users can send texts by drawing letters in the air, or control home appliances and make payments.

9) San Francisco-based Arist, which claims your smartphone can make better coffee than a barista, buzzed past its $120,000 goal to raise $845,139 from 2,519 presumed caffeine addicts in November. Press the icon on the Arist app for espresso, latte, mocha, or your other favorite cup, and the Arist coffeemaker grinds and brews according to recipes keyed to the type of bean you chose, the company says.

10) NudeAudio Super-M, a pocket-sized wireless Bluetooth speaker, blew past its $75,000 goal to raise more than $839,000 from 7,794 contributors in August for its maker Peter Riering-Czekalla. The waterproof speaker was designed to improve acoustic performance while keep the unit small and the price low.

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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