SBIR Phase I: Incubating A Fourth-Sector Ecosystem With A Scalable Educational Crowdfunding Platform

Award Information
Agency: National Science Foundation
Branch: N/A
Contract: 1842729
Agency Tracking Number: 1842729
Amount: $225,000.00
Phase: Phase I
Program: SBIR
Solicitation Topic Code: EA
Solicitation Number: N/A
Solicitation Year: 2018
Award Year: 2019
Award Start Date (Proposal Award Date): 2019-01-01
Award End Date (Contract End Date): 2019-12-31
Small Business Information
DUNS: 078585595
HUBZone Owned: Y
Woman Owned: Y
Socially and Economically Disadvantaged: N
Principal Investigator
 Diane Sontum
 (307) 760-7373
Business Contact
 Diane Sontum
Phone: (307) 760-7373
Research Institution
This SBIR Phase I project is focused on demonstrating the feasibility of an innovative crowdfunding process to effectively support and grow the fourth sector economy at the local community level. This fourth sector economy, a blend of three traditional economic sectors (public, private and nonprofit) is poised to solve many of the world's most difficult and complex social problems; however, this sector cannot work effectively without a supportive ecosystem that enables the creation, funding, and operation of organizations within it. This project proposes an innovative Fourth Sector Ecosystem incubator that brings a coordinated suite of services to local communities to engage them, educate them, and provide financial capital through a crowdfunding platform. This project will engage four communities in a pilot study designed to engage and educate key leaders, energize advocacy for fourth-sector growth, and catalyze fourth-sector social enterprises by offering capital access through crowdfunding. The validation of this grass-roots scalable educational and participatory incubator will enable communities to support local for-benefit businesses who will improve the quality of life in their communities, create jobs, and contribute to the economy, leading to expansion of this model across the nation and globally. The innovation inherent in this educational platform is the synergy between the components of its scalable, turnkey process to provide a catalyst for fourth-sector business growth. Innovative components include a robust, secure crowdfunding platform, educational training for community leaders and businesses in fourth-sector principles, assessment methods to evaluate/provide continuous improvement of the process, gamification that rewards fourth-sector-supporting behaviors; and network-building processes. The goals of this research are to determine the performance, design and educational training specifications that will address the needs of all stakeholders (e.g., entrepreneurs, community leaders, contributors), and demonstrate the feasibility of this platform through a pilot study in four communities. Methods will focus on continuous evaluation and feedback from stakeholders in the four communities to determine best methods to teach communities to manage their incubators, activate their communities to participate, achieve campaign success, demonstrate improved learning outcomes from the training, and increase the density and reciprocity of networks in the pilot communities. Surveys and data will be collected and analyzed to determine the effectiveness of each component in the process, from planning to implementation to assessment, as shown through survey results, expansion of networks, and funding raised by fourth sector enterprises using the crowdfunding tool. This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

* Information listed above is at the time of submission. *

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