Wisconsin Far From the Crowd in Top-Funded Kickstarter Tech Projects

Wisconsin inventors, like many of their brethren around the country, have turned to crowdfunding site Kickstarter in recent years to help make their ideas a reality.

Mixed among Wisconsin Kickstarter projects raising money for small-town theater renovations, board game creations, and indie films and music albums, are inventions ranging from advanced insulation materials for outdoor gear, to a credit card-sized digital device for testing the condition of engine oil.

But just as Badger State startups rarely attract large sums of venture capital, the amounts raised by Wisconsin technology projects on Kickstarter pale in comparison with similar campaigns in bigger tech hotbeds on the coasts.

Among Wisconsin’s tech startups, the highest-grossing crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter was a solar-powered device charger that snagged $193,230 from 1,755 people in 2013. The second-highest was Fasetto, a cloud-based software program for instantly sharing files, which raised $152,795 from 194 backers that same year.

Consumer tech products continued to get funded in Wisconsin last year—nine of the state’s top 18 tech campaigns on Kickstarter occurred in 2014. But backers poured far less money into those projects than the previous year. None of last year’s Wisconsin tech campaigns surpassed $100,000, and most garnered less than $35,000.

David Dupee wonders if this decline is “evidence of a general Kickstarter fatigue setting in.” Dupee is the founder and CEO of Milwaukee-based CraftFund, a crowdfunding website primarily for craft breweries and restaurants. CraftFund allows the general public to buy stakes in companies raising money on its platform, as long as both the company and its investors are located in states that permit equity crowdfunding, such as Wisconsin.

Dupee points to examples like Oculus VR, the virtual reality device company that was chastised by early supporters who collectively donated $2.4 million to it on Kickstarter in 2012, only to see Oculus “sell out” to social media giant Facebook for $2 billion two years later. Kickstarter backers might’ve sung a different tune, Dupee thinks, had they gotten a piece of Oculus’ payday, instead of a poster, t-shirt, or pair of virtual reality goggles.

“We obviously believe this points to the opportunity for equity crowdfunding once it gets its sea legs,” he says in an e-mail message. “While we’re focused more on food and beverage, I think the consumer demand for ownership is across the board.”

That remains to be seen, and the young industry is still grappling with a patchwork quilt of state laws as the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission delays implementation of federal equity crowdfunding rules.

For now, let’s take a look at Wisconsin’s top three technology projects funded on Kickstarter in 2014:

—Fix It Sticks: Brian Davis, a cycling enthusiast in Appleton, WI, was frustrated because common tools for bicycle maintenance are either compact, but lack leverage, or are adequately strong, but too bulky. He designed a set of modular, customizable tools that are both compact and can get the job done, he says. He raised $45,201 from 963 backers in 2013 to fund the prototype. Last year, he raised nearly double that amount in a separate campaign: $81,864 from 1,522 backers, which went toward two new variations of the original concept.

—Zallus Reflow Oven Controller: Milwaukee inventor Nathan Zimmerman created a kit that
can convert an ordinary toaster oven into a reflow oven for soldering printed circuit board components. The technology allows for controlling the oven via a touchscreen or USB-connected device. Zimmerman raised $31,980 from 344 backers last year.

—Raspiado: Chris Kaschner, of Madison, WI, raised $27,708 from 583 people last year to move forward with Raspiado, a device that powers Raspberry Pi computers and provides several USB ports. Raspberry Pi is an inexpensive, credit card-sized computer that plugs into a monitor or TV, a keyboard, and a mouse. The computers were invented in 2006 at the University of Cambridge in the UK by a group of people concerned that young people lacked access to technology necessary to foster an interest in hardware and software development.

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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