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ChangeWorks: Crowdfunding social enterprise in New Orleans

Molly Hegarty and her Media Strategist Sarah Roger at Kickstarter CREATE's initial workshop at the Propeller Incubator

Molly Hegarty and her Media Strategist Sarah Roger at Kickstarter CREATE's initial workshop at the Propeller Incubator.

Community engagement around creative expression: it sounds as much like a description of the culture of New Orleans as it does a summary of Kickstarter’s mission.

If you haven’t heard of it, Kickstarter is among the biggest names in crowdfunding, a new way to fund any and every kind of project by harnessing the web’s innate power to bridge geographic, cultural, and other boundaries to connect people with ideas with people who want to support them.

Kickstarter helps fund creative projects, 78,000 to be exact, but talk to anyone who has been involved with a project, and they’ll tell you: Kickstarter isn’t about funding; it’s about connection.

It’s is a platform by nature predisposed to being social in both senses of the word. It facilitates interaction, lending itself easily to entrepreneurs–or creators, as Kickstarter calls them–with missions that aspire to solve social, environmental, and economics problems they around them. Social entrepreneurs bring solutions to a community, so it makes sense to launch on a platform that lets them get support and early feedback from those same people they will serve.

“I think it’s so important to get community buy in on new ideas,” said creator and New Orleans social entrepreneur Molly Hegarty. “It really gives people the opportunity to create the future that they want, whether it’s a product or something in the community...By donating a small amount, you can leverage an entire community to get something that benefits everybody, which is really powerful.”

Molly is launching her project, a nutrition app focused on mindfulness and behavior change, through Kickstarter CREATE, a program designed to get New Orleans creative entrepreneurs fundraising and connecting through Kickstarter, guiding them through the process of refining their ideas, designing projects, and launching them out into the world.

Kickstarter is by no means new to New Orleans. In fact, the idea behind Kickstarter was born here when founder Perry Chen found himself lacking the funding he needed to bring some of his favorite DJs to Jazz Fest in 2002. Since then, Kickstarter has given back to its birthplace by making possible projects like Swoon’s musical architecture, Dancing Grounds’ state-of-the-art space, and the web series Sunken City. Even more surprising

What is new is the program, launched in partnership with local incubators Propeller, the Idea Village, 4.0 Schools, and Launchpad in an effort to tap into the local entrepreneurial community, and the mentorship it’s bringing to people like Molly.

Molly is one of 13 in the program with projects including a local skate park, a textile and handicrafts producer training female victims of domestic violence (featured in a past ChangeWorks article here), a zombie-themed adult adventure camp, and the Indywood Movie Theater.

For Molly, the program is an opportunity to give the people who will benefit from her mindful, healthy lifestyle app a chance to test the product and influence its evolution. “We’re focusing on what people are saying they want,” said Molly. “We’re really running the Kickstarter campaign to get early user feedback.”

Kickstarter encourages this feedback, through storytelling, a key component of any campaign. The program coaches participants on how to translate their projects into stories in a way that backers can relate to. Creators pour their ideas into videos and written narrative, giving potential supporters a sense of personal investment to drive their financial one.

Another key tool is the Kickstarter rewards system, a set of items or experiences the creator provides backers to thank them for their support. Rewards are tailored specifically to the project itself. Indywood is offering free tickets and popcorn, while Molly is exploring the idea of a mindfulness based dinner party.

Through rewards, feedback, and other forms of communication around the platform’s projects, Kickstarter has the capacity to tighten existing networks, while broadening them to include the much larger online community.

“I think the funny thing is that people down here are more community-minded than other places,” Molly reflected. “I think it’s our responsibility to educate people about the online communities like Kickstarter and how we can use those to benefit the real community. People are oriented to help each other, so I think the trick for New Orleans is getting it into that online sphere.”

Crowdfunding may be just taking root in New Orleans, but we have the building blocks for connection that are harder to fabricate.

“Places like New York, Boston, Silicon Valley, they understand the online platform better than the in person community, and here we have the in person community. We just need to get online.”

Molly Hegarty’s project and others from Kickstarter CREATE are set to go live in the weeks surrounding New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (March 20 – 27) and Launch Fest (April 27 – May 1). To learn more about Molly’s new app, sign up for her newsletter at her website for her first product RD Note at rdnoteapp.com.