David Zoltan wants to build a bar in Lakeview just for geeks. Yolanda Lobley wants to offer the Austin neighborhood healthier, affordable versions of traditional food from a food truck. Today, they join a group of 15 small businesses and community organizations hoping to bring their creative projects to life by participating in Mayor Rahm Emanuel's Seed Chicago, a collaboration between the city's economic development arm World Business Chicago (WBC) and Kickstarter.
Kickstarter's crowdfunding platform unites project creators with potential funders, allowing anyone to pledge support online for their favorite projects, most often related to fine arts, technology or entertainment. Rather than invest for financial return, backers pledge money in exchange for value created by the entrepreneur and are rewarded with the entrepreneur's product, such as an independent movie, a new gadget or a music album.
The goal of Seed Chicago is to harness the power of Kickstarter to support projects that will specifically create economic opportunity and jobs, or contribute to community development, in local neighborhoods.
In April, WBC, alongside Accion Chicago and LISC Chicago, launched the first round of Seed Chicago to test crowdfunding as a capital-raising medium for economic development. Together, they helped 11 organizations launch their own Seed Chicago 30-day Kickstarter campaigns, resulting in five fully-backed projects. Over $50,000 was pledged to the successful projects from nearly 900 contributors, including $20,000 raised by Growing Home, an urban farm in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood that will use the money for a new hoophouse, allowing them to increase their job training to 50 people annually. Also in Englewood, Englewood Codes raised $10,000 to run a 10-week coding academy teaching software programming and coding to the southwest side neighborhood's youth.
Today, WBC launched the second set of projects to be featured as part of Seed Chicago and this time around, they have attracted the backing of a major private sector partner. Chicago-based MillerCoors has pledged $50,000 to match successful Seed Chicago projects dollar-for-dollar, up to $5,000 per project.
In addition to the geek bar and the Austin food truck, projects in this next round include an athletic apparel company, a neighborhood festival and a public art incubator. To aid their effectiveness, Seed Chicago projects are given access to campaign management tools provided by WBC, and all projects benefit from the aggregated exposure they receive as part of a curated page.
Spurring economic development in Chicago's neighborhoods is a pillar of the Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs, created by WBC at Mayor Emanuel's request. Seed Chicago is one of several initiatives underway to drive growth and create jobs. WBC will continue to refine the use of crowdfunding and other alternative financing tools to help community organizations and small businesses get access to the capital they need to thrive.