Author's Note: This post was originally written in response to Kickstarter's rejection of the Synergy project from inclusion on their site. Kickstarter has since reversed their decision, and as a result, the Synergy folks have raised nearly $100,000 in crowd-sourced funding. Way to go!
I was all set to be impressed by Kickstarter. I really was. If you haven’t heard, Kickstarter is a web-based crowd-sourced funding platform for creative projects. That means if you have an idea to develop some cool new product or work of art, but lack the capital to get started (or finished), Kickstarter can link you with individuals – regular folks, not VCs – who are willing to chip in a few bucks to get things moving along. It’s a brilliant concept that has already produced some cool new products that may not otherwise have seen the light of day. The Kickstarter model may just be the future of venture capital.
But then they rejected the Synergy Project.
I’ve written about the Synergy aircraft before, but the short version is that Synergy is one of the most daring general aviation projects in the works today, and may even turn out to be a revolution. Designer John McGinnis has merged several unique drag-reduction technologies into a single package, and he hopes that the result is a modern, roomy, fuel-efficient, affordable family aircraft that will help spur a new era of innovation in personal aviation.
Mr. McGinnis and his team have built and flown a quarter-scale model of the Synergy, which proves the design can stay aloft, but since the scale model doesn’t operate at the same Reynolds numbers as a full-scale prototype, it can’t be used to prove the aerodynamic claims the team is making. They need the real thing.
Photos on Synergy’s Facebook page show that the team is making great strides in completing the first full-scale prototype. Much of the primary structure is complete, and they’ve hung the DeltaHawk diesel engine. Synergy is clearly not vaporware; this team is building real hardware.
Mr. McGinnis announced on April 12 that Synergy would be launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund this important stage of development, but by April 23, Kickstarter had declined the project because, according to Synergy’s Facebook page, it wasn’t the “right fit” for them.
Kickstarter has published a list of project submission guidelines which stress that their service is designed for creative projects with a well-defined goal, “like making an album, a book, or a work of art.” Jumpstarting a fledgling business is not supported. Maybe this is why Synergy was rejected. Their funding goal of $65,000 would only have helped complete the flying prototype, not produced a consumer product. Maybe the body of aeronautical data obtained from Synergy’s flight test program doesn’t count as a project worthy of crowd-sourced funding. Buying your own island, however, apparently does.
All successful projects encounter and overcome setbacks, and Synergy is no different. The team has created the “Friends of Synergy” website, with a list of pledge tiers and their respective rewards, similar to that found on Kickstarter. If you wish to donate to the Synergy Project, you can do so from that page, or you can visit SynergyAircraft.com to learn more about the project and click their PayPal “Donate” button.
Synergy is an airplane. It’s not an iPhone dock. You can’t wear it on your wrist. It doesn’t make coffee. I get it. It’s not quite in line with the types of projects Kickstarter typically accepts. But it should be.
Because Synergy’s design is such a departure from the current state of the art, because the idea of one small team building this in a garage is so outlandish, because it’s such a huge investment risk, and because, frankly (and perhaps most importantly), Synergy actually might not work, this is exactly the type of project that is ripe for crowd-sourced funding.
If there are passionate individuals out there who are willing to chip in a hundred bucks or so in exchange for a cool t-shirt or their names on a plaque, just to see if a long shot like Synergy can make it, or at least push the edges of the design envelope a little bit, then Kickstarter should facilitate the process.
I think Kickstarter has a great deal of potential. And when they finally decide to accept projects of this magnitude, I’ll start to be impressed.