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The Torch wireless router was designed to offer greater control to parents over the children's Internet access. A Kickstarter to fund the device raised $162,000 last October — the most of any campaign in Chattanooga — and it was named a Project We Love by Kickstarter.

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Chattanooga leads Southeast in innovative crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter

Most simply, a Project We Love badge is a show of respect and enthusiasm from us at Kickstarter. Take a look at some existing Projects We Love, and youll see wellcrafted videos, striking images, a clear plan, an excited community, and a lot of creativity.
 

Chattanooga's most-funded Kickstarters

1. "Torch. A simple router for digital parenting." — $162,401 of $150,000 goal

2. "Unicorn Institute: Courses to shape the future of UX design" — $133,767 of $21,700 goal

3. "NODE: a modular, handheld powerhouse of sensors" — $76,340 of $50,000 goal

4. "Retro Game Crunch - Six Games in Six Months" — $66,694 of $60,000 goal

5. "NODE Chroma, a wireless color scanner for iOS and computers" — $39,473 of $15,000 goal

6. "Velo Coffee Roasters" — $37,260 of $35,000 goal

7. "Retronix Guitar Project — by J. Backlund Design Guitars" — $34,500 of $15,000 goal

8. "The Treehouse Project" — $34,045 of $33,333 goal

9. "LibraryBox 2.0" — $33,119 of $3,000 goal

10. "NODE CO2 Sensor: Measure Air Quality Anywhere - Anytime" — $26,046 of $25,000 goal

By the numbers

* 2009: Year Kickstarter was founded

* 295,000: Projects launched on Kickstarter

* 11 million: People who have backed a Kickstarter campaign

* $2.3 billion: Amount pledged by backers to all Kickstarter campaigns

* 104,000: Projects that have been successfully funded

* 36 percent: Success rate of Kickstarter campaigns

* 166: Kickstarter campaigns that have raised more than $1 million

* 287: Kickstarter campaigns created by Chattanoogans

* 108: Number of Chattanooga campaigns successfully funded

* 29: Chattanooga campaigns designated as “Projects We Love” by Kickstarter

* $643,645: Money pledged to Chattanooga’s 10 most-funded Kickstarters

 

In 2011, Matt Rogers, Tiffany Rogers and Shawn Clouse had a fizzy dream.

Disappointed at the glut of mass-market sodas laced with chemical additives, they began thinking of ways to satisfy people's love of carbonated beverages while keeping the ingredients as natural as possible.

When Pure Sodaworks was founded that July, the three co-founders initially sold their organic concoctions as fountain drinks at events around Chattanooga. The response from the public was overwhelmingly positive, and it wasn't long before people began clamoring to have the bubbly in bottles.

The only problem, Matt Rogers says, is that a bottling operation can be expensive, especially for an independent startup. And with little advertising or sales outside Chattanooga, their chances at attracting investors seemed limited.

So in March 2012, Pure Sodaworks' founders decided to try to raise the $20,000 they needed for a custom bottling machine through Kickstarter, a website built around "crowdfunding," a method in which large groups (hopefully) of people pledge small amounts of money to pay for entrepreneurial projects they want to see come to fruition.

"At that point, back in late 2011, nobody had really heard of Kickstarter. It was still very new," Rogers says. "[But] for us at the time, it seemed like the most feasible way to get funding because we would have been laughed out of the bank if we'd said, 'We want to start a soda company.'"

Despite having to spend nearly as much time educating the public about Kickstarter as their soda ambitions, Pure Sodaworks reached its funding goal three days shy of their campaign's end date; if they hadn't, they would have received no money per Kickstarter rules. A few months later, they were busily bottling in a North Shore facility.

Since its launch in 2009, the Kickstarter crowd-funding platform has funneled billions of dollars to the visions of entrepreneurs like Rogers and his co-founders. And the key to a successful Kickstarter campaign, according to Rogers and other Chattanoogans who have used it, is as much about coming up with a good idea as crafting an engaging campaign to show it off.

And folks in Chattanooga apparently do it very well. According to Kickstarter statistics, Chattanoogans have produced a higher percentage of acclaimed projects than almost every other Southeastern city.

Leading the pack

In February, Kickstarter launched Projects We Love, a program that promotes "best-in-class projects" as determined by the website's staff. On the Kickstarter site, such projects have a small blue heart branded to them when they appear in search results.

"Take a look at some existing Projects We Love and you'll see well-crafted videos, striking images, a clear plan, an excited community and a lot of creativity," reads the company's news release detailing the accolade.

In Chattanooga, 10.1 percent of the 287 Kickstarters created here — including Pure Sodaworks' — have been designated as Projects We Love. The Scenic City has a higher percentage of awarded projects than in most regional cities, including Nashville (7.7 percent), Birmingham, Ala. (7.2 percent), Atlanta (6.5 percent), Huntsville, Ala. (4.6 percent) and Knoxville (3.9 percent).

In the Southeast, only Asheville, N.C., has a higher percentage of honored Kickstarter projects than Chattanooga, with 11 percent of its 509 projects nominated by Kickstarter's staff.

The more than two dozen Chattanooga campaigns selected as Projects We Love by Kickstarter cover a wide range of ambitious visions, including the marathon development of six video games in six months, a guitarist and mandolinist's duo album and a children's book written for "zombies and their little undead."

Kickstarter staff didn't respond to a request for comment about what criteria its staff uses or why so many of Chattanooga's entrepreneurial projects were selected as Projects We Love, but the creators of the honored campaigns — many of which ended years ago — say they're pleased to know they're being held up as a model to inspire other creators.

"We still believe in what we're doing as far as giving people an alternative when they want something that's crisp and refreshing that's also natural," Pure Sodaworks' Rogers says. "In that regard, I'm very thankful and appreciative to Kickstarter for acknowledging that we're trying to do something different and trying to make a difference in our little corner of the world."

Comics and sensors

Local independent comic book artist Alex Ogle has used Kickstarter to fund his artwork on an annual basis for the last three years. All three of his projects were selected by Kickstarter's staff as Projects We Love, including his most recent campaign, a fundraiser for an art book compendium that successfully met its $4,800 goal on March 22.

Ogle's success is an anomaly on Kickstarter, whose statistics show that only 36 percent of the projects that launch are successfully funded. In all, Ogle's Kickstarters have generated more than $13,000, and he says he's already planning a campaign to fund his next project, a follow-up volume to "Infinity Pilot: The Rebel," a book he funded through his first Kickstarter in 2014.

For an independent artist, especially a comic book artist, turning to Kickstarter makes sense as a means of circumventing a production process that can be prohibitively expensive, he says.

"I think one of the most interesting things about Kickstarter is that they have a comics section," Ogle says. "Being one to one with people who want your work is really where the industry has gone, so when Kickstarter set up that category for comics, it's really helped the independent creator a lot. It's given us a platform that we didn't have before. It's really changed the industry."

George Yu is a former NASA contractor and engineer who founded Variable Inc., a Chattanooga-based tech startup. Variable is responsible for three of Chattanooga's most-funded Kickstarter campaigns, and the 2012 campaign seeking its flagship product, the NODE smartphone-based wireless sensor suite, was selected by Kickstarter as a Project We Love.

In a little over a month, the NODE campaign generated $76,000 — 50 percent more than its funding goal — but Yu says that amount represented only about one-quarter of what Variable ultimately spent to build the device. Instead, he says, the campaign served a much more important purpose by helping to test the public's interest in the device.

"It was a validation play," Yu says. "The Kickstarter was the first time the NODE concept was unveiled to the world. We got a lot of great feedback, and it generated enough demand for our investors to say, 'OK, let's jump in and give them some additional money and see what happens.'"

In the years since, Variable has launched two more campaigns to test the waters for add-on sensors for the NODE, both of which were successful. Yu says that, even though Variable's last two campaigns weren't selected as Projects We Love, having the first campaign nominated by Kickstarter's staff is continued validation of the company's efforts.

"It certainly makes me very proud," he says. "I think we had a fantastic idea back then, and I'm proud to hear that other people agree with it. Kickstarter appears to agree with it."

'There's an energy to it'

The parent-friendly wireless router Torch became Chattanooga's most-funded Kickstarter to date when it raised $162,401 — $12,000 over its goal — during a 30-day campaign last October. During the course of the campaign, Torch was pegged by the site's staff as a "Kickstarter Staff Pick," an award that Projects We Love replaces, according to the crowd-funding platform's news release. Torch is now listed as a Projects We Love recipient.

As with Yu and the NODE, Torch's CEO Shelley Prevost says the funding generated by the campaign was a fraction of the ultimate cost of producing the router — they've since raised more than $3 million, she says — but the brand awareness generated by the campaign, and especially by the Staff Pick nomination, have proved invaluable.

"Being a Staff Pick and a Project We Love — that really lands [when pitching to investors]," Prevost says. "You cannot overestimate the weight that can carry with people who don't know you or know your brand. There's an energy to it. It validates what we're doing.

"I'm glad we did [the Kickstarter]. It's continuing to have a pay off for us. For that, it's been totally worth it."

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

 

Chattanooga’s Projects We Love honorees

(** indicates the project was also a Kickstarter Staff Pick)

› “The Open Press: Chattanooga’s Print and Book Arts Co-Op” (art)

› “Poorly Planned, Poorly Executed Stickers” (art - conceptual art) **

› “Conserve Thomas Allen’s dramatic painting, ‘Evening Market’” (art - painting)

› “The Bold Art Book – A Collection of Art by Alex Ogle” (comics)

› “The Changing Tales: Special Art Edition Comic Book” (comics) **

› “Infinity Pilot: The Rebel” (comics - comic books) **

› “The Treehouse Project” (design - architecture) **

› “Chatype: A Typeface for Chattanooga, Tennessee” (design - typography)

› “Dottie and the Liver” (film & video)

› “And The Iron Did Swim: A Documentary” (film & video - documentary)

› “Build Me A World: The Story of the Howard School” (film & video - documentary)

› “Black Friday” (film & video - documentary)

› “Harriet’s Secret” (film & video - documentary)

› “The Ramifications of an Exciting Spouse” (film & video- shorts)

› “Pure Sodaworks: Taking Our Sodas from Fountain to Bottle” (food)

› “Tennessee Moonshine Cookies” (food)

› “Velo Coffee Roasters” (food - small batch)

› “28mm Dark Hold Goblin Adventurers Miniatures” (games - tabletop games)

› “Retro Game Crunch • Six Games in Six Months” (games - video games)

› “David Benedict and Michael Moore Duo Project” (music)

› “Strung Like a Horse - New LP - Free” (music - country & folk)

› “Windhorse: Into the Now” (music)

› “soCro’s debut album ‘Eurotrash Meets Southern Class’” (music - hip-hop)

› “Tennessee River: Sparkling Gem of the South” (photography)

› “The Clothes Letters Wear” (publishing - children’s books)

› “A Brain Is For Eating” (publishing - fiction)

› “NODE: A modular, handheld powerhouse of sensors” (technology)

› “LibraryBox 2.0” (technology)

› “Torch. A Simple Router for Digital Parenting” (technology - hardware) **

Projects We Love

* Chattanooga: 29 of 287 projects (10.1 percent)

* Huntsville, Ala.: 9 of 195 projects (4.6 percent)

* Knoxville, Tenn.: 14 of 361 projects (3.9 percent)

* Greenville, S.C.: 12 of 353 projects (3.4 percent)

* Asheville, N.C.: 56 of 509 projects (11 percent)

* Lexington, Ky.: 27 of 323 projects (8.4 percent)

* Nashville, Tenn.: 225 of 2,898 projects (7.7 percent)

* Atlanta: 237 of 3,622 projects (6.5 percent)

* Birmingham: 25 of 349 projects (7.2 percent)

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