I was sitting in my car at a stoplight on a busy corner in South Minneapolis mindlessly listening to music and watching wisp-like snowflakes dance lazily in the breeze when something caught my eye. A large white sign was stretched across the front window of a squat, red-painted, brick building that had been vacant long enough that I couldn’t remember what type of business last called it home. The sign itself was nothing extraordinary; it was a simple white banner with black lettering. But the text was what intrigued me. It said, “What should move in here?”
Looking closer I saw a web address was printed in orange lettering beneath that:
Hoodstarter? While the name was certainly memorable, I couldn’t begin to imagine what kind of business “Hoodstarter” might be. Later that evening I found myself thinking about the sign again and decided to check it out online. Some quick research showed me Hoodstarter is a new crowdfunding website designed specifically around the idea of filling vacant retail space. The site helps entrepreneurs tell their stories to prospective donors and make pitches for funding. There’s nothing new there – Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been doing something similar for years. The interesting part is that it also allows local residents to post pictures of vacant buildings in their neighborhoods and then the community is invited to post ideas about what should go into the space and vote for the ideas they like best.
This mash-up of small business meets the democratization of philanthropy is a great use of crowdsourcing. One of the things I always want to see more of in philanthropy is communication.
Whether there’s room for yet another crowdsourcing platform in the already crowded field is yet to be seen. Hoodstarter is user-friendly and is bringing some new ideas to the table. Using technology to increase communication and hear the needs and wants of a neighborhood is wonderful. But is there enough real value in this model to sustain the go-between business? And will donors continue to find appeal in donating to for-profit businesses? Time will tell.