Mercyhurst Professor Helps Would-Be Entrepreneurs Crowdfund

By Erica Erwin
Erie Times-News, Pa.

A Mercyhurst University professor is helping more would-be entrepreneurs find the crowds and the funding in crowdfunding.

Kristan Wheaton, an associate professor of intelligence studies, worked with the owners of Like My Thai, a new vegetarian and vegan restaurant on State Street in downtown Erie, to raise funds for the restaurant through Quickstarter.

Conceived by Wheaton, Quickstarter works to pair hopeful entrepreneurs with skilled local college students to help them effectively raise funds through crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter.

The aim of the effort is to increase the number of entrepreneurs in the Erie region and give students real hands-on experience in a variety of fields: videography, social media, and intelligence analysis.

“We’re not taking advantage of crowdfunding as a way to help our young entrepreneurs,” said Wheaton, who has successfully funded two of his own projects through Kickstarter, the world’s largest crowdfunding platform. “When people were using crowdfunding, they were doing it very poorly. And the kind of mistakes they were making were beginners’ mistakes, like a video that was way too long.

“The other half of the equation is we’ve got lots and lots of college students in this area, and these college students are desperate for real world experience within their disciplines.
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Wheaton recently received a $10,000 grant from Ben Franklin Technology Partners to expand the Quickstarter effort. Between now and the end of June, he hopes to help get 11 more projects off the ground.

First up: Bob’s Square Foot Garden Planting Guides, a product designed by Bob Saxton that aims to make the planting of square foot gardens and raised beds easy and efficient. In advance of a Kickstarter campaign kickoff Tuesday — Saxton is trying to raise $1,500 in 15 days — Mercyhurst students helped Saxton design his templates and created a Facebook page for the product.

“All of those things would have been very difficult to do on my own,” Saxton said.

Quickstarter could be transformative, Wheaton said.

“If we can do this enough, we are in a position to start to change the way we think about ourselves in this community,” Wheaton said. “We are not a community that’s sort of the Rust Belt, snow belt, dreary Erie. We’re an innovation community.”

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