Venture for America Announces Fellow Innovation Fund to Support Projects in Detroit, New Orleans, and Other Cities

Fellows gain access to American Express OPEN Forum’s Network of Entrepreneurs and RocketHub’s Crowdfunding Platform to fund their ideas. New York, NY — Venture for America, a fellowship program that helps recent grads become entrepreneurs, announced today that it will be offering its Venture Fellows the opportunity to use RocketHub, a crowdfunding platform, giving them the chance to compete for $25,000 in funding for their projects and ideas. For the first time ever, this “Innovation Fund” will offer the opportunity for these young entrepreneurs to access money available only to Venture for America Fellows. Additionally, American Express OPEN Forum, a sponsor of the Venture for America since 2012, will provide support for VFA Fellows with access to its advice-sharing platform, featuring powerful expert insights and a community of entrepreneurs. VFA Fellows will be able to leverage OPEN Forum’s network of entrepreneurs to exchange advice and make informed decisions related to a variety of business topics. “We are thrilled to give our Fellows the opportunity through the Innovation Fund to begin launching their projects and ideas,” said Andrew Yang, Founder and CEO of Venture for America. “This is really the first step toward giving our Fellows the opportunity to one day launch their own businesses and create jobs.” The projects competing in the challenge include a non-profit that teaches entrepreneurship in middle schools in New Orleans and Detroit, a networking app based in Providence, RI, and a sandwich shop in the up-and-coming “Over the Rhine” neighborhood in Cincinnati, OH. The Fellow that raises the most money through RocketHub between now and July 8th will receive $10,000 from the Innovation Fund, with other prizes for second and third place. To learn more about their projects and contribute to their ideas, you can visit VFA.RocketHub.com. “RocketHub is excited to partner with Venture For America to support their initiative of revitalizing American cities through entrepreneurship,” said RocketHub CEO, Brian Meece. “Crowdfunding now plays an important role in bringing innovation, jobs, and opportunities to communities across the nation.” Venture for America’s Fellows are recent college graduates chosen through a rigorous, multi-stage application and selection process. By giving these aspiring entrepreneurs a pathway to join startups and providing them with training and mentorship, Venture for America hopes to mobilize these young people as entrepreneurs moving forward. Fellow Innovation Fund Projects can be viewed at VFA.RocketHub.com. About American Express OPEN Forum: American Express OPEN Forum is an advice sharing platform featuring powerful expert insights and a community of entrepreneurs. Our focus is on unlocking the collective knowledge of entrepreneurs and growth-minded business owners by creating a community where they can come together and share their experiences. To learn more visit OPENForum.com. About RocketHub: RocketHub is an international, pioneering, open community that has helped thousands of entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, and social leaders raise millions of dollars. Part of RocketHub’s mission is to educate the public on the power of the crowdfunding model. As a result, the founders have lectured on crowdfunding at top schools and conferences around the globe, and have even testified in the U.S. Congress on the power of online fundraising.

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  • June 5, 2013

Social Palates - Crowdfunding a Local Artistic Business

I am a chef by trade and a photographer by passion. I have always had a desire to be a strong supporter of my community no matter what professional hat I have worn. About a year and a half ago I finally decided that my body and mind had had enough of the unforgiving, often unrewarding restaurant industry. I initially began as a Social Media marketing agency (consisted of me, myself, and I) and found that so many places/people/organizations did not have the media or photos to create an exciting vibrant engaging Social Media presence. My version of Social Photography was born. I spent almost one year covering (photographing, blogging, sharing) anything I could possibly could from city events and politicians to non profits to giant festivals to local small businesses, 95% of which I did for free. I live in the Halloween capitol of the world, it is also the home of historic spice routes and a vibrant community of forward thinking people that creates a constantly active and changing facade that provides more fodder than one man can handle! There are at least a dozen events every week in Salem alone. I have accomplished my mission of creating a reputation and almost mystique about my photography. I have been described as the best street photographer in the city and a city’s best friend by the city’s tourism specialists. Just recently I have begun to get paying gigs and figuring out an active business model. An opportunity presented itself to get one of the city run artistic incubator spots and I thought “This is my chance to break out and create something fantastic and new.” Social Photography, in my humble opinion is any photography that evokes that same feeling you get when you are out and experiencing things live and then on the flip side you want to tell everyone about it (That is where my social media background and proficiency really helps). I have created a business model that is a combination of Photographer, Social Media Marketer, PR, Artist and small business friendly entity. The spot that I am trying to create will hopefully be the hub of am extremely active, yet disjointed artist community. Having this location in the middle of the city is kinda the logical next step and makes total sense since I have immersed myself in the fabric of the community in such a way. Now I will have a home to make it even more personable and I really hope, profitable. Financially I chose to crowd fund because of all the work that I have done in the past year and the amount of people that I have turned down hand outs from or those that say “I owe you.” Crowdfunding allowed me to still give something back and have those same people invest in artwork or services ahead of time giving me the funds to open a storefront / Studio location and finally purchase my camera equipment (I have been renting at almost $300 a week for a little over a year now, really giving me nothing left to work with at this point). The other reason I thought crowdfunding would work was it was a visual opportunity to show people from outside my circles that I am an up and coming force in the photography world. I used RocketHub specifically after doing a ton of research because I really liked how small business friendly you were. The support has been tremendous…From my circles, I have not figured out how to get other people invested in this project. There is some pretty fantastic and unique artwork up for grabs (I love the goods model as opposed to me just having a fundraiser or trying for a loan that will crush me with interests rates and such). People are invested in me and what I do and that is such a fantastic feeling and another reason I love the crowd funding model. They are not just supporting me, they know that I will in turn support the community and so it is a fantastic trade off. The cool part for the local people that are supporting me is they have been able to watch my progress (I had actually considered cashing out of the fundraiser because I have 7 days to open the shop and 30 something days left on the campaign, someone didn’t calculate properly haha). But I am trying my best to scrounge up what I can at least for the soft opening  and hopefully hit the goal or at least a larger number sooner rather than later. Honestly the only negativity I have received is people that are frustrated they didn’t try it first or that they don’t understand why they are going to help me raise money for my business and completely are overlooking the goods model (Again its a misunderstanding more than a lack of wanting to contribute). One of the biggest challenges was the marathon tragedy that happened not 20 minutes from where I am and one week after I launched my campaign. I honestly stopped all promotion and took awhile (And it never has been back in full swing) to start the promotion back up. I can’t and don’t want to try and compete with that. I was on quite a role and then it kinda went stagnant with little pops here an there. For success, have an active network. It is advice I give to clients as well. If you are not active and engaged in the community then you can not expect people to all of a sudden pay attention to what you are doing. Also, know the proper channels to reach your potential supporters, the back end (i.e.. The share button that pops up the widget) is fantastic if people even know how to use all those things..I almost would tell anyone going forward with a campaign to spend a couple months networking and spending many sleepless nights and countless hours networking and being an active online member of society before even considering going live. I use a combination of Facebook, Twitter, Buffer, Linked In, Pinterest, the HTML code on my site, newsletters, old school hand outs with QR codes, posters and more. I pulled in favors from blogger friends to write about me and more…I am pretty aggressive when things are full steam ahead. - John Andrews, Chef, Photographer, Marketer, Entrepreneur, Community Leader, Crowdfunding Pioneer

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  • May 29, 2013

Studying How Bats Speak and Crowdfunding Science

I’ve always had an interest in bat ecology, as well as a strong interest in communication and animal behavior. We as humans have always assumed a level of simplicity in the communication signals of animals, and more and more research is proving how wrong we are: animal communication, especially vocal, is so much more complicated than we originally thought. Bats are especially interesting because they can vocalize over a wide range of frequencies, up to 10x human’s ability to create or hear sound. Recent research has shown bats can recognize individuals by their echolocation calls, and I am interested in how this recognition and vocal signatures plays into the larger ecological picture.  Many of my contributors are family and friends and it’s great knowing I have their support for my studies. My mother is a teaching aid at an elementary school and has been able to get some of her students interested in the project and bat conservation, which is especially rewarding. Animals like bats tend to have bad reputations with the general public, so it’s great to get these kids interested in bat conservation so young. I’ve also reached out to some list-servs and group of bat researchers from North America and around the world and received some interesting and helpful advice and thoughts from people around the world, which is amazing.  For success, make sure you can communicate your project in a way that invests the audience; make them care about your cause. Be prepared; I didn’t upload a personal video or include more information about my project till later, I think that it has affected my success. Try to have a plan together before you officially launch your project.  Don’t be afraid to promote it, but don’t overdo it. Share it with your friends and family, encouraging sharing with their friends and families. - Alyson Brokaw, Biology Graduate Student at Humboldt State University, Bat Ecology Expert, Science Crowdfunding Pioneer

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  • May 23, 2013

In Plain View - The Art of Crowdfunding a Web-Series

The inspiration for the story was the brutal execution murder of a Boston Police detective many years ago. The brutality of the murder, he was shot five times in the face in the sign of the cross, compelled me to write the story. As it turned out, telling the true story would prove incredibly difficult and costly, so over the years I decided to write an “inspired by true events” version. I took from many other “real world” events and characters, highly embellished them, then wrote my final script in a full-length feature structure. The digital age is an enigma, it comes fraught with much hype and clutter, and expectations that are often “stretched.” With that said, once you do your homework and research through the hyperbole, you see a world the real world that offers great opportunity to a content maker, especially those on a modest budget. The bottom-line is simple, although the “New World” of digital distribution offers unlimited possibility, like anything it requires a solid plan, from creating the art to marketing what you create. This crowdfunding project is showing me that even with a great a project and great cast, an incredibly focused and well executed campaign is required. It is not an “if you build it they will come” scenario by any stretch. Your advocates must be aggressive in campaigning for you, the email list is crucial, but it is the constant reminding, without being annoying, that makes or breaks a project like this. It’s amazing how many crowdfunding projects people are receiving on any given day. You have to have something that stands out, if not a brand already, then something incredibly exciting and different, whether a film or a gadget. Then you have to a great way to market that excitement to potential donors. It’s not easy if done correctly. With that said, we are doing well, I asked for a lot-$50,000- and I started my campaign on the same day as the bombing tragedy here in Boston. That obviously had an effect, but I’m seeing the crowdfunding power of small donors vs, the heavy hitters. Those smaller donations add up and it’s incredibly exciting when you check your email (like an addict) and see a donation email from RocketHub. The fact that I can call Jed Cohen with questions and for help is an added plus with RocketHub, I don’t believe I could do something like that with any other crowd-funding platform. Key lesson, most potential supporters must be groomed in a very respectful way and your advocates must do that, if you have weaker advocates, you’re in trouble: And be ruthlessly realistic in what a project not already branded can raise. You really need to eventually get very deep into each circle of influence, stretch it to its max, to be successful. And lastly, it is a very fatiguing process, you will be “on” 24/7 thinking about what you’re missing. It’s a time-locked battle, so have a really trustworthy small team. And remember not everyone will jump at the first chance to give you money: isn’t that surprising? Even some of those close to you. They have busy schedules and must be reminded, or even with some, nicely cajoled into donating. Some advocates will do better than others, so DO NOT get mad at anyone who may not be that aggressive, not everyone is a salesperson. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this isn’t life-threatening. - Joe Conforti, Filmmaker, Screenwriter, Producer, Crowdfunding Innovator

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  • May 21, 2013

From Canada with Love - Crowdfunding Strategies from Brian Meece

Our friends at MaRS invited us to lead a crowdfunding workshop and discussion in Toronto, Canada. Here’s the great content that come out of it: MaRS is an incredible organization in Toronto and beyond. “MaRS is where science, technology and social entrepreneurs get the help they need. Where all kinds of people meet to spark new ideas. And where a global reputation for innovation is being earned, one success story at a time.” So if you’re looking for support and a great community, check them out. - The RocketHub Team

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  • May 17, 2013

Astronaut Abby Takes Flight with Crowdfunding

When I got invited to view a Russian Soyuz launch I was ecstatic! The Soyuz is the only spacecraft currently capable of transporting humans to space and as an aspiring astronaut it would be an out of this world experience to see it blast off! For the past few years, I have been blogging and talking about my journey to becoming the first astronaut on Mars. I wanted to use this blog as a platform to inspire kids and adults alike to get excited about space exploration and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). While blogging and social media is an excellent platform to spread the word, for this once-in-a-lifetime experience I felt like I needed more to extend my reach beyond my online community. Hence the #SoyuzAdventure was born. The #SoyuzAdventure started with me brainstorming with supporters about ways to expand my reach to inspire people not only in my core community – but also around the world. I finally decided on crowdsourcing, and, I developed a six-month outreach project, which includes: Speaking to classrooms both in person and through Skype Speaking at conferences and events Writing for several mainstream publications both for kids and adults Hosting a fun email pen pal program. And much, much more! The positive support I received from my community proved to me that this was a worthwhile project to embark on. I honestly didn’t realize I was a pioneer with this project. I’m just a 15-year-old with a huge dream - and an amazing community of supporters. Using crowdfunding as a way to help me increase my outreach efforts and make a positive impact on the world has been an incredible experience. The response from my online and offline community has been phenomenal! From the beginning, I have had support from people around the world both with funding as they join my #SoyuzAdventure crew on RocketHub as well as helping me spread the word. My community motivates me everyday to believe that I will be successful with both my fundraising and outreach efforts now, but also in my ultimate quest to get to Mars. It will take a collaboration of nations and many people around the world to make my Mars dreams a reality and the support from this campaign shows me there is a desire to make it happen. My advice for others looking to crowd fund a similar project would be to start with building a strong community both online and offline. I was online for several years, participating in the space and STEM community, before launching this project. My core community has been so important to helping me spread the word and I could not have done it without them. I believe to run a successful crowdfunding campaign you also need a great project that your community can believe in. It’s important that you are absolutely passionate about your project and that you are able to articulate that in writing as well as through images and video. Crowdfunding can be incredibly time consuming and if you are not passionate about your project it will be hard to keep the momentum going throughout the campaign. Don’t be afraid to talk to people in your community and ask for advice in creating the project. These advisers will become your advocates and ambassadors when you run your campaign. Finally, you have to be determined and realize that there are many ups and downs during a campaign. A successful campaign means you are living and breathing it all day, everyday while it is running. I was surprised at how all encompassing this campaign has been. At some point during your campaigning it may seem l like your goal is not attainable, but you have to keep working toward it and know in your heart you will make it to the finish line. If you believe in yourself other people will believe in you too! - Abigail Harrison a.k.a. Astronaut Abby, Aspiring First Astronaut to Mars, Teen Crowdfunding Pioneer

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  • May 15, 2013

Ali Dreams Big and Crowdfunds Independent Music

Nowadays making an EP independently, and doing all the other things that go along with it, can be really expensive. I decided I wanted to try RocketHub to see if I could get some help from my supporters around the world because I’m SO excited to get my original music out there! So far it’s been really great. I’m totally amazed at how quickly my fans responded and wanted to help me in making my debut EP a reality.  I definitely recommend crowdfunding, especially for people who are doing this on their own without any label supporting them. It’s a really great way to reach your goal while still offering some really cool prizes to thank your supporters for being so incredible. - Ali Brustofski, Singer/Songwriter, Rising Music Star, Successful Crowdfunder

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  • May 13, 2013

The Asoka - Empowering Major Music without a Major Label!

I feel that RocketHub is revolutionizing not only crowdfunding but the creative arts as well. So I wanted to be a part of that movement that brings the power into the hands of the people! And I’m so glad I did. It’s been very exciting! The contribution from my supporters has been very touching. I’ll share a story with you. Within the first couple of weeks. I had somebody donate $500 to my cause. They sent me a note along with their contribution. It said, “I believe in you and I’m supporting your project. The only thing I ask for in return is that down the line, when you are established in your career, that you donate $500 to charity in a third world country that helps children, either medically or with education.” And within that instant my RocketHub campaign became so much more than just funding an album. It became something so beautiful and personal. For success, I would say awareness is key. Make sure you communicate personally with your peers and your supporters. I made it a point to talk to everybody about my campaign directly and personally. Then I followed up with everyone via emails. It’s a beautiful feeling when you see people supporting you. I’d definitely encourage anyone thinking about launching a campaign to do it. It’s been an incredible journey thus far and look forward to completing it! - Asoka, International Hip Hop Phenom, Crowdfunding Pioneer

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  • May 10, 2013

Facing Life’s Decisions: The Search for Truth in Alternative Medicine

After learning of my mother’s cancer diagnosis in January, I went into panic mode. Pretty normal, right? As an only-child living in a foreign country thousands of miles away, I felt immediately helpless. To top it off, my mother was adamant about pursuing alternative therapy. She didn’t want any chemo or radiation. That was her final decision. Period.  I found myself suddenly facing a big fat moral dilemma: Do I support what my mother wants simply because that’s what she wants or do I convince her to go with what science says is most effective? Moreover, what is the worth of overall happiness when facing possible death? And what is my responsibility as a daughter? Do I even have a say? Another issue, will insurance cover the alternative therapies my mother wants to pursue? And how much will this all cost? Frankly, my head was spinning! Out of this confusion however arose the need to understand how we humans deal with decisions under extreme pressure. More importantly, I became interested in my role as ‘family member’ during this process. I believe that many people can relate to this exact problem, and so I decided to open myself up to the world and to publicly meditate on this universal dilemma through the medium of film. I am hoping for my story to be a source of help for others when dealing with stressful, scary life-threatening situations. Tackling the world of alternative medicine is a very hairy business. There are a lot of theories out there – most of which are based on one individual’s experience. The majority of Americans want facts and figures – scientific proof that something works, a golden seal of approval if you will. Considering this fact, I was quite nervous when I began my campaign. Opening up to my network however has surprisingly given me enormous strength! The support from my friends and colleagues is humbling and powerful. I am thankful that my experience thus far has been so positive. Starting a crowdfunding campaign was possibly the best decision I could have made considering my current position. Within the last few weeks I have talked with hundreds of people and no matter what their stance is on alternative cancer treatment, there has been a general consensus: patients should have the right to choose how they want to be treated, and this decision needs to be supported and respected by our healthcare providers. I believe that because my film’s investigation is about decision-making rather than proving what is ‘better,’ I have been able to remain in a middle-of-the-road position, which has the power to persuade even strict believers of traditional therapy into supporting my project. For success, don’t go out there prophesizing what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Passion is essential don’t get me wrong, but tact is also a major key to gaining support! Find an angle which hasn’t been tackled before, and get your supporters excited enough about your project so that they want to start telling others about it. Fighting for something as taboo as alternative cancer treatment can be alienating to many. I was weary when I first decided to stand by my mother’s decision, but since then I have become a real believer in the power that nutrition and detox have in helping a body heal. I am open about this fact when I am campaigning and my honesty has won me the support of many non-alternative believers. Like I already mentioned, this campaign has given me a lot of strength as well as wisdom. Even my mother has been reaping the benefits of this campaign. She is in high spirits and ready to beat this thing! And I will be there to document her journey. - Sarah Volage Bellin, Director, Filmmaker, International Crowdfunder

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  • May 7, 2013

Successful Return to RocketHub - 2nd Line & Crowdfunding Music History

RocketHub is a fantastic advocate for creative expression. In my experience, they have gone out of their way to support and promote the work I do, and help me find the market of people who would also be interested in supporting it. On top of that, I was really interested in their new association with A&E. The idea that, as you are crowdfunding, your work could get noticed, supported, and promoted by a big network, is invaluable. “2nd Line” comments on the indisputable power of music as told through the context of Charles Neville’s experiences. The way we structured production of “2nd Line” had a profound effect on the way we viewed our goals of the film. In doing Charles’ interview before traveling to New Orleans and experiencing the music scene, we could only begin to imagine its powerful effects. Though after living and breathing New Orleans music, both in clubs and on the streets, we walked away completely mesmerized by its influence; Charles Neville’s stories suddenly clicked. We want to deliver a film that will guide an audience through an emotional transformation similar to the one we made on our trip. I think the biggest mistake we made the first time around (and admittedly still a bit the second time) was not properly identifying our demographic group. Trying to run a crowdfunding campaign that appeals to all kinds of supporters is incredibly difficult. Think about the types of audiences your film will attract, and reach out to them. For us, both friends and family, but also Charles Neville and jazz enthusiasts, were our biggest contributors. Narrow down your market as much as possible; you will never be able to make a film that pleases all! - Charles Frank & Jake Oleson, Co-Directors, Filmmakers, Crowdfunding Pioneers

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  • May 2, 2013