New crowdfunding platform focuses on student projects

01/16/2014 | By Callum Borchers / Globe Staff

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Move over, Kickstarter. Look out, Indiegogo. There’s a new crowdfunding platform in town.
Sponsr.Us launched Wednesday with a goal to become the go-to place for high school and college students to raise money for their projects and connect with mentors in their field. Other sites are open to students too, of course, but “it’s easy to get drowned out by professionals,” said Sponsr.Us cofounder Eric Ouyang.The new site is a student project, itself, founded by four friends who met at Phillips Academy in Andover and one who attends nearby Phillips Exeter. Two of these guys are now in college, and the other three are still in high school.

They’re young, but have the maturity to match their ambition.

“We all went to really awesome high schools and had access to amazing resources,” Ouyang, a Harvard freshman, told me. “So we wanted to create an organization to supply a similar experience to people who don’t have the same opportunities.”

For instance, Ouyang played the violin in high school. But students at Prospect Hill Academy Charter School in Cambridge and Somerville don’t have the same chance because the school does not have an orchestra.

So one of the first projects listed on Sponsr.Us is an effort by Prospect Hill sophomores Rachel Nere and Daryl Cabrol to start an orchestra program. They’re hoping to raise $1,400 — enough money to rent violins, violas and cellos for about 15 students during the remainder of the school year. If they succeed, physics teacher Michael Lavelle, who has taught private violin lessons, will try his hand at conducting.

“We feel everyone should have the chance to not give up their dream of music,” Nere said.

Two other student projects are part of the Sponsr.Us launch — an antibullying campaign in New Jersey and a research journal in California.

Sponsr.Us follows some basic crowdfunding conventions. People soliciting funds post videos making pitches, and must raise their entire stated goals or receive no money at all.

But unlike most other crowdfunding platforms, Sponsr.Us is a nonprofit and will not take a slice of funds raised. The plan is to attract sponsors who will underwrite overhead costs so that students can keep every penny pledged to their projects.

The biggest differentiator, the founders hope, will be mentoring. They are asking supporters to pledge not only money but also advice, with plans to build a roster of experts in various fields who can be matched with young innovators.

“Money isn’t the only thing preventing students from taking really awesome ideas, and turning them into something real,” Ouyang said.

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