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University of Utah Embraces “Crowdfunding” to Develop Technologies

Students on the University of Utah campus.

Dec. 20, 2012 — The University of Utah wants to be on the cutting edge of the “crowdfunding” trend and is starting an effort to bring this new funding source to the world of academic research and technology commercialization.

The University of Utah’s Technology Commercialization Office (TCO) kicked off the effort today by launching four campaigns on a new website portal designed specifically to attract donations for new university technologies. TCO created the portal – called University Tech Vault – through an exclusive partnership with RocketHub, one of the leading crowdfunding platforms.

“We believe crowdfunding has huge potential to help aggregate a few resources from many people to help us move technologies from faculty labs into the world where they will have a real impact,” says Bryan Ritchie, the director of TCO. “We are making a big commitment to get out in front of the crowdfunding wave we feel is coming, and we are very hopeful about the potential to generate funding and move technologies forward.”

People who support crowdfunding efforts can donate large or small amounts of money, and it can add up if the campaign reaches enough people. In short, crowdfunding provides an exciting and innovative way to connect ideas with the initial funding needed to develop them.

“It’s a mechanism that allows people to turn social capital into real capital,” says Alon Hillel-Tuch, RocketHub’s co-founder and chief financial officer. “This has never been possible until very recently, and we are proud to be one of the leaders. RocketHub is one of the world’s largest crowdfunding platforms and the biggest in science and entrepreneurship.”

Hillel-Tuch expects big things from the collaboration with the University of Utah. “This partnership will further drive crowdfunding innovation,” he says. “For the first time ever there will be a comprehensive, established and accessible solution for universities to start crowdfunding their research and entrepreneurship endeavors.”

The University of Utah is the first, but certainly not the last, to post campaigns to University Tech Vault, which is part of RocketHub. Any university is invited to work with TCO to post campaigns on University Tech Vault, and there are already at least 10 other universities interested in participating.

Utah’s TCO is starting its crowdfunding effort with four promising technologies. Managers hope they will prove the potential of the new strategy so they can expand it to the many other technologies and research projects that need funding and awareness.

Here are the four crowdfunding campaigns:

  • Axon Optics, a startup company developing an improved version of its eyeglass lens coating that can reduce the occurrence of migraines. The company wants to raise $10,000. The team is led by University of Utah researchers Brad Katz, of the Moran Eye Center, and Steve Blair, of the Department of Electrical Engineering. Learn about the crowdfunding campaign at
  • iStar, an educational program dedicated to teaching kids with autism spectrum disorders how to use computers for 3D modeling. People with autism often have strong visual skills, and iStar is promoting that through their innovative program. The program wants to raise $25,000 to add staff and expand. The team is led by University of Utah researchers Cheryl Wright, of the Department of Family and Consumer Studies, and Scott Wright, of the Gerontology Program at the College of Nursing. Learn more about the crowdfunding campaign at
  • Roll Control, a startup company with a product that allows disabled people to operate an electric wheelchair using large muscle groups (like the shoulder) instead of small groups (like fingers). The team wants to raise $10,000 to develop a second-generation prototype. The company is led by Jerica Johnson and Jessica Mayer, of the School of Medicine. Learn more about the crowdfunding campaign at
  • Active Desk, is a startup company with a desk fitted with a stationary recumbent bicycle. The bike allows the user to pedal their way to better health without breaking a sweat or interfering with their work. The company wants $10,000 to develop software and other improvements. The team is led by researcher Jim Martin, of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science. Learn more about the crowdfunding campaign at

Many crowdfunding campaigns, including those at the University of Utah, provide incentives to contributors. For example, Axon Optics will provide lenses to top donors, while iStar is offering to fly anywhere on the planet to provide a workshop. In addition, supporters receive regular updates about the campaign

“Crowdfunding allows us to engage supporters in a way never possible before,” Ritchie says. “We hope the people who will directly benefit from these inventions help make them possible by donating directly to the inventor. This new way to get funding circumvents traditional ways to raise capital, which can be slow and difficult. For certain kinds of technologies, crowdfunding will prove to be a game changer. The University of Utah is the right place and RocketHub is the right partner for us to be a world leader.”

Crowdfunding is part of the recently-passed Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which includes a provision that will allow the general public – unaccredited investors – to receive security interests in exchange for their contributions. In other words, it will allow people to invest in campaigns, instead of just donating. That portion of the law is expected to go into effect in 2013 and could boost crowdfunding activities by giving supporters an even greater incentive to participate.

“We expect big things on the horizon,” Ritchie says. “We encourage everyone to participate and help make the world a better place.”

Learn more about University Tech Vault and browse current campaigns at, or call the University of Utah’s Technology Commercialization Office at 801-581-7792. Visit RocketHub at