The easy way to raise money for good causes: graduates of Bremen’s Jacobs University launch a social crowdfunding Internet platform. The aim of their business concept is to exploit the opportunities offered by digitalization to enable initiatives and individuals to collect money for good causes in a very simple way. The first project was extremely promising and generated awareness for their concept on an international scale. Rowing brings people together. Ahmed Kebdani, Maarten Piso, and Mathew Hunter know this from their own experience. They came together on the rowing team of Jacobs University and went on to become friends and the cofounders of their own enterprise.
As luck would have it, their first success as a startup team had something to do with rowing: on November 14 of last year, they launched the fundraising campaign “Row 2 Syria.” The target of the trio and other volunteers was to clock up a distance of 3,078 kilometers on rowing machines in less than 24 hours – a distance equivalent to that of Bremen to Damascus. Mathew explains, “This was our way of expressing our solidarity with the refugees who struggle against overwhelming difficulties and extreme dangers on their route to freedom and safety. At the same time, it was also important to us to provide concrete aid to those in need. This is why we combined the event with a call for donations for a refugee center in Bremen.”
On Fundouts.com, their recently launched social crowdfunding platform, visitors could follow the ambitious fundraising project on live stream and cheer on the rowers with their comments, which were presented on screen at the event venue. The event was a resounding success in more ways than one: a team of around 50 volunteers achieved the target of 3,078 kilometers in a time of just 22 hours and 15 minutes. In an act of international solidarity, teams in Bulgaria, France, the United Kingdom, and Spain rowed together with the German team. At the end of the event, the platform had collected a total of more than 7,000 euros for the campaign – significantly more than the target figure of 5,000 euros. The money will be donated to help the “Blaue Dorf,” a refugee village in Bremen-Grohn. “This campaign has shown us how a Web-based platform can motivate and inspire people to support a good cause, quite regardless of national borders,” says Maarten. The Fundouts team is international, too: Maarten (27) from the Netherlands and Ahmed (23) from Spain both studied computer sciences, and Mathew (33), from Canada, is a neuroscientist.
In view of the success of the “Row 2 Syria” project, the three cofounders now want to persuade other initiatives to use the platform for their own fundraising efforts. Currently, the association dedicated to the preservation of the sail training vessel “Schulschiff Deutschland” is canvassing for funding for the purchase of a new emergency generator set. An animal welfare organization is also calling for donations on the platform for the purchase of a remote-controlled hexacopter equipped with a thermal imaging camera. This is needed as an aid for the location and rescue of fawns that face the risk of being killed by mowing or harvesting equipment when hiding in fields. The campaigns are explained in short videos shot by the founders of the platform.
They organized the “Row 2 Syria” campaign on an honorary basis and take a profit share of five percent of the funds raised for other campaigns. The platform is currently still in the development phase. “We have already found out that it takes time and patience to motivate initiatives to use our platform for generating awareness of their campaigns,” says Mathew. Nevertheless, he and his two fellow campaigners are confident that the platform will be a success. “The advantage of our concept is that smaller initiatives and individuals can use it for online fundraising without all the overheads of a complex organization,” adds Ahmed. “When people generate awareness of their campaigns in social media, it is particularly useful to be able to offer a link to a site on which potential supporters can find more information and donate in a simple and secure way – for example, with an instant payment service or by credit card.” The platform also constantly updates and shows the amount of money still required to meet the funding target.
Fundouts.com can also be used by individuals for private funding campaigns in their circle of friends. “In the USA, crowdfunding platforms are already much more widespread than in Germany,” explains Mathew. “They are often used when someone in a circle of friends is seriously ill and can’t afford the high costs of treatment. Thanks to the well-developed health-care system in Germany, this is fortunately rarely the case.” Instead, in a marketing video for their platform, the founders of Fundouts show fictitious newlyweds with limited finances who can look forward to a honeymoon paid for with money collected by friends on Fundouts.com.
At present, the platform has not yet reached the break-even point. “Our lucky break was finding an investor here in Bremen who believed in our business idea,” says Mathew. With his help, they were able to start up their limited liability company by the name of Ben David GmbH and are planning other projects alongside Fundouts.com. “Our investor is also looking for other potential startups for which we would act as a point of contact and source of help for their founders in getting them rolling.”
That current and former students of Jacobs University are frequently actively involved in social and community projects is by no means a coincidence, says René Wells, who, as Head of Campus Life, is the first port of call for anyone planning extracurricular activities. “In our selection process, we do not limit ourselves to considering grades, we also check out whether someone is truly committed to achieving something. Voluntary engagement parallel to courses is an important factor in this.” Jacobs University is actively involved in around 30 partnerships with associations, cultural institutions, and social organizations. For instance, students teach English to children at day-care centers, help young people from socially disadvantaged families, and give piano concerts in homes for senior citizens.
So it’s no wonder that Ahmed, Maarten, and Mathew were able to rely on the dedicated support of Jacobs University for their “Row 2 Syria” campaign. In fact, this also gave them a kick start for the realization of their startup idea. A favorable tailwind, so to speak. Not only a great help when rowing.
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