Crowdfunding platforms are the latest round in a series of disrupters in product development, allowing nascent startups to challenge the legacy manufacturers that have traditionally been a primary source of research and development. And lighting isn’t sitting this one out. Instead, it’s joining sectors as diverse as software development and craft-beer brewing to seek grassroots support for new products and technology from lamps and controls to academic research.
The makers of the Nanoleaf LED lamps, for example, surpassed their $20,000 funding goal by raising $273, 278 on Kickstarter last year. The series includes a 100W-equivalent 3500K lamp that consumes 12W at 150 lumens per watt (below). Its circuit board is bent into an A19 form factor with an omnidirectional LED display on the surface.
Like a growing number of startups, the team behind Nanoleaf chose to use crowdfunding to raise the needed cash and to satisfy the needed order count to fulfill its first manufacturing run. “We didn’t have any products that were already on the market, and nobody knew of us,” says Gimmy Chu, Nanoleaf’s product development manager. “We were able to get enough funding to create a purchase order that was large enough to manufacture in bulk and actually drive down the manufacturing cost.”
Nanoleaf isn’t alone. In January, Nicolas Roope, co-founder of London design studio Hulger, told Architectural Lighting that his company chose to crowdfund the launch of its second-generation Plumen CFL lamp in order to rouse consumer interest. “We’re not a big business, so getting a reasonable threshold on the first order is really useful,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s all guesswork and focus groups,” he said. Crowdfunding “completely changes the game.”
Other companies have opted to crowdfund independent of Kickstarter and other public funding platforms. The Goldee Controller (left), a responsive and touch-free residential interior lighting system that adjusts color temperature and lumen output based on user settings via a dedicated app, launched a private campaign last fall to raise $100,000 by offering the product for a pre-order price of $249. The company said in a press release that it plans to deliver its first orders this summer.
Products aren’t the only way the lighting community is taking advantage of this new funding source. Walter Weare, an assistant professor of inorganic chemistry at North Carolina State University, used the research-focused crowdfunding platform Experiment to supplement the funding he received from the university to develop better-performing and eco-friendly OLEDs. Weare topped his $800 fundraising goal to raise more than $1,000 by the time the campaign closed in March.
Weare and his team of two graduate students are finalizing the research and are writing an academic paper on their initial findings, which could help garner industry attention. In the meantime, he says, the public interest generated by the campaign could be used to sway larger funding bodies in favor of his project. “This allows me to say, ‘Look, the public is interested in this, they’ve given me some seed money,” Weare says. “Hopefully … when we have success with crowdsourcing and with the science, [the federal agencies] will pick up the larger portion of the research dollars that are necessary to move this forward.”