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Crowdfunding partnership backs student enterprises

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 11, 2012

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A crowd-funding venture similar to schemes which have generated multi-million-dollar success in the United States has begun a partnership with Plymouth University.

Peoplefund.it is an online platform that offers funding to new businesses by connecting them to would be investors in the local community. People can invest as little as a pound in exchange for rewards.

The initiative was established by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and associates Rob Love and Nick Underhill, directors of KEOdigital, the media company behind hit series Hugh's Fish Fight and River Cottage.

Rewards are usually products or services rather than cash or shares and are given once the business has successfully opened. Local people with suitable experience can also offer their services to help budding enterprises.

The system may seem a bit alien to people used to an equity-based structure, but it has clear benefits, especially for start up businesses.

"It can prevent budding entrepreneurs from being put off by the prospect of losing a stake in their project at the outset," said the initiative's spokesperson, Dawn Bebe.

"It's a great way of marketing as well as gaining funding. It can put your idea in the local community and due to the rewards system your investors will also be your first clients.

"If people really like your idea they can offer their expertise as well as funding in exchange for the rewards."

The idea is all about engaging the community in local projects and Peoplefund.it soon recognised the mutually beneficial opportunity offered by a partnership with Plymouth University.

"We realised there was a massive opportunity for Peoplefund.it to forge a partnership with Plymouth University."

"It will encourage entrepreneurial behaviours in students, which with Plymouth being the University of enterprise makes a lot of sense."

"The platform is great for people with good ideas that don't have access to funds. It will encourage grassroots entrepreneurialism."

The relationship with Plymouth University, an institution widely renowned for its business credentials, is highly proactive.

The partnership is already searching for project directors and interns to take things to the next level. Additional methods are being employed to maximise the potential of Plymouth students.

"We are actively looking for Plymouth postgrads for placements and we are going to be launching an initiative in fresher's week where we are going to be offering incentives for students who offer projects to Peoplefund."

Keen to continue building the program into the medium term Peoplefund.it is also planning to introduce a new course in digital marketing and communication at the University.

The initiative seems especially suited to thrive in an economy laid low by five years of economic turmoil. With many people losing faith in the cutthroat nature of traditional business, crowd funding offers a community based approach to enterprise.

It involves a large number of people in the community and the rewards for investment scheme actively promotes an attitude of involvement quite different to typical models.

"We want to encourage engagement and community entrepreneurial behaviour," Ms Bebe said.

Many people, she says, need a vehicle to request funding and many investors are willing to invest if only people will ask. Previous experience has shown that a simple request can even gain full funding from a single individual.

The crowd funding model has already been used successfully for arts projects and political campaigns in the US, with Barack Obama swept into office in 2008 by a tide of financial support from donors, many of whom made pledges of less than $250.

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