Hi! We are the founders and researchers trying to fund projects on Georgia Tech Starter, the world's first non-profit crowdfunding site for science, with peer review. We are trying to closely connect people to science and scientists. Ask us anything!

Here's a link to a video describing the site

We will have a number of researchers and scientists who are looking to fund their research on the site:

*Improving Air Pollution Forecasting - /u/Lasers1nSpace
*Antibiotics from Algae - /u/Decapod73
*Coral Reefs and Antarctic Storms - /u/davegartonatgt
*Honey Bees Get Wired - /u/gtbees
*Robosaur! - /u/markkingsbury

And, we will have a number of founders who worked on the development and policies of the site:

/u/Mercer_Allison, /u/heywarda, /u/tgoodyear, /u/mrichards9, /u/e_m_smith

Edit: links, words, timezones, updates

Update1 (4:44pm EDT): We are so in awe of the response today. We hit the 3rd spot on the AMA page! Thank you Reddit!

Update2 (5:27pm EDT): We are still taking questions, if you still have them!

Update3 (6:52 pm EDT): Some hard questions. Also, g'day, Australia!

Update4 (7:24pm EDT): Very timely /r/science article on how air pollution is correlated with cancer, eh, Improving Air Pollution Forecasting?

Update5 (9:56 pm EDT): Answered ALL THE QUESTIONS!

Comments: 135 • Responses: 56  • Date: 

Roogoyle15 karma

Very cool idea! Two questions:

Kickstarter and IndieGoGo has started getting a bad reputation among musicians as a place to go 'beg' for money. Do you see the same opinions being directed at your site or at it's participants?

Also, are you marketing to the general public or keeping it tight in the science community, ie. Universities, publications, etc

Mercer_Allison15 karma

First question: Not yet, but I suppose it's a risk. However, the site is not just a site to fund science, but also a way to connect the public to science and scientists, allowing the community to watch the scientific process unfold, and see that it can pay dividends in the future.

Second: We think that a greater engagement between scientists and the broader community is necessary; that is part of our mission.

ResearchRambo8 karma

What makes you guys different than Kickstarter, MicroRyza and the others?

mrichards99 karma

Other crowdfunding sites charge you 5% or more for their profit, with little value added. While Kickstarter might be a more popular site than GTS, projects just as easily get lost on that site as they do elsewhere on the web. People are interested in cool projects, regardless of the site, and may feel more comfortable donating to you directly, after you have passed a peer review of your project.

This rigorous review process—including scientific peer review—ensures projects can be successfully executed before they hit the site. Our researchers already have impeccable standards, but it is through the peer review process that we confirm that the project creators have the skills needed to conduct the research, that the proposed budget is appropriate to support the project, and that the funds will be spent the right way. No other crowdfunding platform offers this kind of assurance to donors.

We are not for profit, so all pledges are tax deductible.

We allow our researchers to offer intangible rewards (rewards with no actual monetary value). This can come in the form of naming parts of the project after supporters, or downloadable data sets, or inviting supporters to the lab to work with the robots. A project that is currently in the draft stages is planning on offering digital photos of bioluminescent bacteria arranged into pictures, logos, or words on petri dishes. Pretty cool!

Edit: words

e_m_smith4 karma

We have awesome Buzzfeed articles clearly articulating all of our advantages in .gif form.


gargeug8 karma

As a fellow GT grad, I'm curious as to GT's involvement. Is it financial and/or purely to act as technical liaisons. Regardless, I'm glad to see GT experimenting with these ideas, like they are with Coursera and the Online CS Masters.

As for getting your research funded, how does one go about getting listed on the site?

mrichards911 karma

A GT grad? I knew I like the look of you, gargeug!

GT is involved at every level. They are running the site and the center that maintains the site. As a result, the site is fully integrated into the accounting structure at Georgia Tech. This required a tremendous effort on the part of our accountants. When a project reaches its funding goal, the bank charges everyone’s cards, and transfers the money to a Georgia Tech subaccount that is earmarked for the project creator. The account number is set up through our office of sponsored programs, and the funds are tracked in much the same way as a traditional grant. The project creator also has to produce a final report summarizing the results of the research for auditing purposes.

mrichards95 karma

As far as getting listed on the site, once you have an idea, log on to the Georgia Tech Starter website using your GT username and password. You will submit a summary and your project goals via a web-form on the site. It then goes through an automated, streamlined proposal routing and approval process. Subject matter experts are then selected to begin peer review. Once approved, then your project is posted on the website for up to 60 days.

gargeug4 karma

Thanks for the info. And say hi to George Burdell for me.

mrichards96 karma

Haha, will do! ;)

scijourno7 karma

I am a science journalist with a PR and copywriting background. Can I help GT Starter scientists craft compelling pitches/messages for the site? I am in love with concept, think GT Starter is great, and I want to help.

e_m_smith3 karma

Great! If you could contact us via our website: "https://starter.gatech.edu/#contactUs", or send us a DM on Twitter: @gatechstarter, we would love to work something out.

Thank you so much for the love and support!

scijourno1 karma

Sent a DM on Twitter (contact box at website kept disappearing on my phone). Looking forward to helping any way I can.

e_m_smith2 karma

No worries, thanks for contacting us! We will be in touch :)

Mercer_Allison2 karma

Hi Scijourno, could you let us know what phone you are using? We want to chase this bug and fix it!

scijourno1 karma

I have a Windows Phone. Do you need more specifics that that, because I can provide them.

And honestly, I might have been fat fingering. FYI.

Mercer_Allison1 karma

lol ok. Thanks!

deadlygorilla7 karma

How did you come up with the idea for this?

Mercer_Allison7 karma

I was looking to fund some of my own research on for-profit crowdfunding sites. I was aware that cuts to science funding were a problem, and that new scientists were at a disadvantage to more established programs. Also, 43% of projects are successfully funded on Kickstarter, and that beats the success rate of traditional funding sources. However, at the time, the available sites didn't have a model that we thought necessary for effective and sustainable science funding.

gtbees7 karma

I'm Jennifer Leavey, an immunologist turned educator turned crazy bee lady. I teach biology at Georgia Tech and also head up the Georgia Tech Urban Honey Bee project, a service learning research program that is part of the College of Sciences. We created our "honey bees get wired" GTS campaign in hopes of raising funds to connect our hives to lots of gadgets that will make monitoring the bees and collecting data easier.

lalaninatl5 karma

do you produce honey?

gtbees3 karma

Since this was our first season, we left most of the honey for the bees to eat over the winter. We did remove a little (about 4 lbs), most of which we are using for research, although we did taste it!

Mercer_Allison2 karma

Was it awesome-tasting? How does it compare to the local tupelo honey I buy at the store?

gtbees3 karma

I think it tasted awesome, but tupelo is awesome, too. The bees are on the roof just above Starbucks and I swear I tasted a little caramel macchiato up in there.

Mercer_Allison2 karma

Holy moly, I think that alone is worth donating the cost of my next cup of coffee to this project!

Edit: words

Mercer_Allison2 karma

Hello! When was the last hive visit? How are the bees doing?

gtbees6 karma

Also, the students who will be working on the "honey bees get wired" project will be at the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire at Georgia Tech next Saturday the 26th. They'll have some of our equipment on display. We may even bring live bees (!)

Mercer_Allison3 karma

Won't the bees sting the fair-goers?

Decapod733 karma

I'm not part of the bees project, and these aren't bees, but this is me: http://i.imgur.com/mNGjcwa.jpg

Bees and their kin really don't sting unless you give them good reason to :-)

Mercer_Allison2 karma

I think there's an insanity wolf joke in there somewhere...

gtbees3 karma

We have built a really cool observation hive that has plexiglass sides so you can see them, but they can't get out.

Mercer_Allison1 karma

Good to know! XD

elmyrah7 karma

This sounds really terrific, thanks for putting the word out.

I've actually spent a lot of time trying to figure out ways of donating directly to projects in certain fields of research - typically pharmaceutical and relevant biotech, but there's no shortage of compelling and necessary research - I've just never known how to correctly go about it. Basically the options seem to be a) donate to some larger topical non-profit, where 80% of it probably goes to overhead and 'advocacy', or b) give directly to one of the few, probably-scammy projects that has a full page for donations on their geocities-looking website.

So basically this seems great.


1) do the projects have to get their funding exclusively through GTS, or are they allowed to get supplemental grants, and stuff?

2) are you trying to keep the number of entries small, or are you excepting any project that makes it through the peer review stage?

3) this may reveal my utter lack of understanding of academic research in practice, but does the funding cover wages, or is that provided by the university/ whatever university the researches work at?

Mercer_Allison6 karma

We anticipated that people like you existed, elmyrah; we are so glad to see that you do!

1) We have a couple of projects that are going up that do fund-matching for science outreach. For every dollar they raise on the site, GT will match it. We ensure as part of the review process that project creator are not double-dipping, so to speak, but as long as that is clear, supplemental grants are not an issue.

2) Your question addresses both the beauty and the challenge of peer review. We have a number of projects in the queue, but we're serious about our peer review process. It's not a joke - it's very real. Our researchers already have impeccable standards, but it is through the peer review process that we confirm that the project creators have the skills needed to conduct the research, that the proposed budget is appropriate to support the project, and that the funds will be spent the right way. No other crowdfunding platform offers this kind of assurance to donors. Also, getting the word out the faculty, staff, and students takes time.

3) What the funding covers is project-specific. Some of the current projects cover student wages, some of them cover equipment. For most of the academic faculty, wages are covered by the University, but some of the research faculty would need their time covered by the project. We encourage everyone who applies to be as open and up front about where the money is going as possible.

Edit: words

elmyrah2 karma

PS - people love t shirts. If you have a sponsorship option that gives out a cheap project t shirt for like, 70$, people will be all over that. I just noticed that most projects don't seem to have a donation incentive between 25 and 100 dollars, and often what's available seems to be regionally specific. If you want this to be successful on a larger-scale, t-shirts are the way to go!

Mercer_Allison3 karma

We will definitely look into this. We agree that t-shirts are awesome.

We do offer rewards, though, but they are intangible rewards. So, a project creator can offer to name part of the project after you, like a new protein, or that day’s dataset. Also, they can make digital data or pictures available to you to download, like spelling your name out in bioluminescent proteins!

jasonzutty6 karma

As a grad student, how can I use this to my advantage!?

Mercer_Allison5 karma

Well, you can use TechStarter to fund your thesis research, to engage with the broader community that may be interested in your findings, and to differentiate yourself from your peers when you are looking for jobs.

MilesKeenlyside5 karma

How long has Georgia Tech Starter been active, and have you gotten any local media attention?

tgoodyear5 karma

Thank you for your question! We have been online publicly since the beginning of September.

Locally, the Dalton Daily Citizen published an article. Georgia Tech has put out a couple press releases, and several media organizations have covered the site including BizJournals, LabManager, NorthJersey, and FastCompany.

gtbees6 karma

and the AJC!

tgoodyear3 karma

Thanks for pointing that out! The AJC published an article Sept 8.

Mercer_Allison5 karma

We launched Sept 3rd, and we've seen some interest, including some science bloggers, and some business publications. The AJC did a piece on Robosaur and Honey bees. And, we were mentioned at the world economic forum

Edits: links

MilesKeenlyside3 karma

Thanks, I'm a local freelancer and I love science and technology stuff

Mercer_Allison3 karma

Well, we will take all the help and support we can get. Glad you're reading Shipman's blog, too. He's a real class act.

scijourno3 karma

Have you gotten much coverage, local or otherwise? The Matt Shipman/SciLogs alerted me of this AMA.

Mercer_Allison2 karma

This one slipped through the cracks!

We have seen some coverage, but our project creators could certainly use more!

burpsngiggles5 karma

Are yall willing to collaborate on the peer review process with other universities?

Mercer_Allison6 karma

Yes, we are, burpsngiggles. So far, we have not encountered any conflicts of interest, but as the site grows, it's probably inevitable. We've already been approached by other universities interested in this particular funding model.

davegartonatgt4 karma

I'm Dave Garton, a GTS member engaged in coral reef research in the Central Pacific. In addition to teaching Biology courses at Tech every spring semester I lead GT students on a 12-week study abroad experience visiting New Zealand, Australia and Fiji (www.pacific.gatech.edu). For many it is their first introduction to the beauty of coral reefs!

Mercer_Allison1 karma

Yes, we all want to go diving with you!

EvilTech51504 karma

Would you rather have 100 duck sized killer robots, or 1 horse sized killer robot?

Mercer_Allison3 karma

I'm gonna go with the 100 duck-sized killer robots, because hey, more robots!

Edit: embarrassing typo

e_m_smith2 karma

100 duck sized killer robots. Always.

sharkattack324 karma

what are the requirements for the project entries?

e_m_smith2 karma

In order to post a project, you currently have to be a part of the Georgia Tech community (student, staff or faculty). From there you can visit our website Https://starter.gatech.edu and log-in using your GaTech credentials. Once you are logged in, there will be a step-by-step wizard to help you through the application process.

In short, we require a budget, proposal, and if you are a student, a faculty mentor. Also, the project has to be peer-reviewed and put through our legal department before we post it on the site.

mrichards92 karma

Projects must conform to the basic rules of GaTechStarter. Projects must have clear, defined goals. Projects cannot have anything to do with alcohol, drugs, firearms, or weapons. Projects that involve testing on vertebrate animals are also prohibited.

sixFEEZY4 karma

I do realize that this is pretty new, but what kind of reactions have you seen to this so far. Have there been any major successes or failures in getting projects started?

e_m_smith5 karma

The site is still pretty new, we've only been online for just under 2 months, but so far we have one project that has already received 33% of it's goal amount (over a thousand dollars so far!). We are invested in the success of the projects on the site! Sometimes this means pulling down a project so that the project creators can rethink the proposal and have a greater chance of success. We did have one project that we are reevaluating, and we are now helping the researcher reshape the scope of his proposal.

qwertywork4 karma


Mercer_Allison3 karma

Question 1: There are few other sites that are currently crowdfunding science, including Fundageek, petridish, and microryza.

Question 2: Our website is different in the sense that (1)it has a rigorous review process, including scientific peer review, which ensures that the project can be executed by the project creators for the budget they propose, (2) it is non-profit, so we can offer receipts for tax deductions, (3) we allow rewards, albeit intangible ones. Check out this buzzfeed article for all the reasons why GTS is awesome.

Question 3: First a department chair reviews the project and budget to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest, and that the project creator can execute the project. Then, the project is assessed anonymously by a subject matter expert in the discipline of the project. The reviewer makes assessments of the project based on the proposed work, the budget proposed, and time proposed, as well as a general assessment of merit and broader impacts. Currently, the review process is blind to the public. However, Georgia Tech is willing to put their name on the projects, meaning that they are confident in the rigor of the review process. If opening up the review process is something the public wants, we will weigh that heavily.

Edit: long answers

qwertywork2 karma


Mercer_Allison1 karma

You are welcome, qwertywork.

We encourage our project creators to be transparent about where the money is going on their project pages. And, there are FAQs on each page, so if you have a specific question about the budget, you are welcome--and encouraged--to ask!

I should mention that the project page is reviewed in conjunction with the full budget, so any discrepancies between the two must be resolved before posting to the site.

Edit: details

Lasers1nSpace3 karma

I am Haviland Forrister, a physicist who works on taking atmospheric data on pollution. I created the GTS project "Lasers in Space" to help fund our observations of the planetary boundary layer, which contains most of the pollution that affects our every day lives. Our comparisons of satellite and ground lidar (laser radar) data will be used to help improve a global pollution forecasting model. Sadly, I couldn't actually bring my lasers to this website... (edit: info)

e_m_smith3 karma

That is very disappointing. I was looking forward to lasers online.

Mercer_Allison2 karma

Laser beams! Tell me, how exactly do you use lasers to improve air pollution forecasting?

jamesonbull3 karma

What does the long term relationship between researchers and GTS/GT look like? Do researchers have to share IP rights, revenue, licensing or anything like that? Edit: Typo - Not talking about GTA.

Mercer_Allison1 karma

....Wait a minute...do you mean GTA like Grand Theft Auto? Now I get it!

Mercer_Allison1 karma

Just to be clear, do you mean GTS instead of GTA?

jamesonbull1 karma

Haha. Yes. GTS - not GTA. Typo.

Mercer_Allison2 karma

No worries, jamesonbull. The IP policy is the same for GTS projects as for other grants; IP remains with the project creator and Georgia Tech.

NumberTwoKarate1 karma

Will GT be sponsoring development of GTA?

Mercer_Allison1 karma

GTS will not be sponsoring GTA, alas.

Edit: keep it simple

rrrebo3 karma

How do you decide who gets to do peer review, or is it just open to anyone? How do you keep the nutbars out of the review process?

How much did budget cuts serve to inspire this idea?

Mercer_Allison2 karma

We keep the nutbars out with our tin foil hats!

We ask a subject matter expert in the project's discipline to review the project, so we know them beforehand. They are faculty and research staff here at Georgia Tech. When we encounter a conflict of interest, we will need to bring in outside experts.

The budget cuts were definitely part of the driving force. We believe that science pays dividends by advancing future technology. We want to make sure that continues, by bringing science and society closer together.

GTStD3 karma

Just stumbled across this AMA! Way to go thinking outside the box and trying to find new and exciting ways to get money into the hands of people who can do some good science with it. Seeing GT take a real interest and invest resources in improving the funding streams for research makes me even more proud to have gone from BS to MS to PhD at Tech. Go Jackets and go science! :)

Mercer_Allison1 karma

Congrats on your PhD! And, thanks for the love and support!

Yay, science!

ResearchRambo3 karma

How did you get the different departments of your university to agree to let you launch this project? It seems like that would be pretty tough.

Mercer_Allison5 karma

The idea was disruptive at first, but we are lucky to be in a University that isn't afraid to take a few risks.

I will take this opportunity to brag about and thank: our office of sponsored programs, who were critical in the development of the site; our development office, and the innovative, forward thinkers there; our web development and design team, who designed and built a beautiful, simple, elegant, and intuitive site; our lab director, who championed the idea, and helped provide mentorship and guidance while we set about briefing the campus; our accounting office and legal team, who ensured that we could operate and still be in compliance with federal and state regulations; our president’s cabinet, and the office of the provost, who championed our endeavors as part of the university’s strategic plan; our communication office, for their tireless work spreading the word about GT Starter and the projects; and the countless faculty and staff of Georgia Tech for invaluable mentorship, advice, and feedback that helped shape the trajectory of the site.

electric222 karma

This is certainly a high risk platform for a University. What if an OP doesn't deliver??

Mercer_Allison2 karma

There are no guarantees in life. However, we do everything we can to ensure that OP can deliver.

FedoraPAC3 karma

Just wondering what your process is for attracting experts to conduct the peer review in very obscure niches

Mercer_Allison3 karma

Our process is to seek them out through our existing networks. For existing projects, we were able to locate faculty members at Georgia Tech that fit the bill. When a conflict of interest arises, we will have to leverage our colleagues at other universities, some of which have already shown interest in the site.

verik2 karma

No love for CoM?

edit: guess it's called Scheller CoB now. Been a while since I was back.

Mercer_Allison3 karma

We have mad love for CoM/Scheller CoB! The site is geared toward science, but if ya'll have a great idea for a project, we'd love to see it!

verik2 karma

haha, I was just giving you guys a hard time :P. I've been out/gone for a few years and in NYC now so not really connected to the faculty anymore. I'm sure the brains in the QCF program could come up with some solid ideas though.

Regardless, love to see the GT taking this kind of initiative. Best of luck.

Mercer_Allison2 karma

Thanks for the support, verik!

electric222 karma

How did you get this past the development office?

Mercer_Allison2 karma

The development office loved this idea!

stephenbollinger2 karma

Often, with sites like Kickstarter, your pledge also insures that you will be among the first to receive the benefits, typically of a product of some kind, derived from funding a start-up. Do you envision a place for this sort of quid pro quo on TechStarter?

Mercer_Allison3 karma

Certainly. Because most of the products of research come in the form of a scientific result, this is a little bit harder to do when crowdfunding science project. However, we encourage our Project Creators to come up with creative intangible rewards, like naming bacterial strains after donors, weaving donors names and logos into open source software, or giving greater access to project results.

Mercer_Allison2 karma

Tangible results, or things that have monetary value, are difficult to have while also allowing receipts for tax deductions. To maintain our tax-free status, and not complicate the accounting too much, we have to shy away from tangible rewards.

However, intangible rewards are some of the best rewards!

electric222 karma

Have you thought about interacting with children at local schools?

e_m_smith1 karma

Kids are the future!

I’d love to see Georgia Tech Starter used as an educational tool in K-12 classrooms as well. Imagine a science class donating to a project, and in return the class receives closer access to the researcher. For the minimum pledge of $5, they can follow the progress of the project throughout the year. I can’t imagine a better real-world method for learning about how the scientific process really works. It could also inspire a young person to pursue a career in science or engineering. It could also facilitate scientists’ ability to tap the creativity and ideas of the public.

newsouthlance2 karma

Who did your video?

Mercer_Allison3 karma

The Georgia Tech Communications Office did, and a smashing job they did, indeed!

marrone121 karma

Doesn't Petri Dish do a very similar thing? What makes you guys first?

Mercer_Allison2 karma

There are a couple sites in addition to Petri Dish that crowdfund science. We are unique, in that we are the first to do so that is:

*Peer reviewed

sadman811 karma

How much money are ppl usually asking for?

Mercer_Allison1 karma

The amount is highly variable. You can check out the current project amounts at https://starter.gatech.edu

latticusnon0 karma

How did you decide which buzzwords to use? Did you have more buzzwords that you decided to not include because it was getting ridiculous?

Mercer_Allison2 karma

Funny you should say "buzz"words, because everything here at GT revolves around our mascot's name Buzz. So, we chose not to include that...

Do you have any suggestions?

MAINO-4 karma

This is not a good idea.. I mean how does a crowd of people on internet know whether a research on D2 receptors binding affinity on basal ganglia should be funded?

Mercer_Allison4 karma

A crowd of people aren't deciding, the researchers and students that are doing the projects are, as well as experts at Georgia Tech. The scientists that propose the project think it's a terrific idea!

...and their peers agree!

Edit: words