Can crowdfunding provide new opportunities for research?

Crowdfunding is a relatively new concept in Finland and abroad. In summer 2016, the Finnish service organised a campaign to crowdfund science, with support from the Kone Foundation. Dr Anna Hielm-Björkman’s research group from the University of Helsinki was a pilot participant in the campaign and the first University research group to seek funding through the service.

– Traditionally, it has been difficult to obtain research funding for clinical canine research, although data from Statistics Finland show that there are currently as many as 800,000 dogs in Finland. The number of disease cases in dogs is increasing, and dogs and humans share some diseases, such as diabetes and cancer. We decided to try crowdfunding as a new means of obtaining funding for our research, Hielm-Björkman explains.

– The crowdfunding campaign was a real adventure for our research group. The process of learning about the concept and running the campaign was intensive and taught us a great deal, for example, about how to create content and illustrations and how to use social media at a whole new level. Unfortunately, our efforts did not provide the kind of results that could significantly promote our research. We have already used all the funds obtained for salaries and analyses.

Complex legislation

– The University’s Research Services was involved in the pilot project because we wished to learn more about the services researchers need for a successful campaign, says Project Manager Pasi Sihvonen.

– Support for multi-channel communications and visibility in social media are crucial for a project’s success. Although campaigns do not necessarily bring in a substantial amount of funds, they provide visibility, which research projects otherwise struggle to garner, Sihvonen points out.

The pilot campaign also uncovered legislative and administrative problems related to the crowdfunding of science, which will be addressed in winter 2016.

– The University has examined issues such as the value-added tax and income tax associated with crowdfunding, the need for a fundraising permit, the boundary between donations and small-scale compensation, the University’s monetary transactions and account activities, as well as the significance of legislation on crowdfunding, describes Matias Partanen, a legal counsel at the University.

The University will continue to chart the future of crowdfunding in spring 2017. It will also explore the creation of its own crowdfunding platform as well as opportunities for external collaboration.

– Because these issues have not yet been resolved, the University does not currently support crowdfunding campaigns, Partanen notes.

Why does it cost so much to investigate canine diseases?

Hielm-Björkman’s Dogrisk research project aims to establish links between canine diseases and the food and living environment of dogs. The group has collected data on more than 10,000 dogs for risk analyses and other purposes.

– By conducting feeding experiments on pet dogs, we can test connections between food and disease. The new knowledge can increase the welfare of dogs, and in the long term, the results can also promote human health because dogs serve as models for many human diseases. RNA, nutrient, intestinal microbiota and metabolomics analyses on the initial and final samples of just one dog may cost up to 4,000 euros, Hielm-Björkman states.

– After our experience of the pilot campaign, we have not abandoned the idea of continuing to fund our research through crowdfunding, Hielm-Björkman concludes.

Crowdfunding is a practice of obtaining funding in which a large number of people raise monetary contributions for a venture, such as a service, community, company, piece of work or product development project. (Source: Wikipedia and