Main Street Crowd Creates Local Economic Development

Marshall Neel of Main Street Crowd, left, and Nik Seet of LAVA. Courtesy photo

BUSINESS News:

In 2011, Marshall Neel and his partner Anthony Edwards were looking for a way to help businesses grow without relying on help from the government. After deciding to build a funding portal, like Kickstarter, they attended a crowdfunding conference in Los Angeles to learn everything about what worked and what didn’t work when raising money by asking for small donations from a lot of people.

Two takeaways they gathered at that crowdfunding conference were that there was “wisdom in the crowd”, and people invest in who they know and what they know. With those two things in mind, it was clear that they didn’t want to build another Kickstarter or Indiegogo. With www.mainstreetcrowd.com, they wanted to create something more, and provide a richer experience.

Throughout their careers they have been involved with small business development centers and were interested in community development at all levels. Was it possible to create a site that could combine crowdfunding with other community development tools and resources?

What does Main Street Crowd do?

“We wanted to do economic development at the community level,” Neel said. “Crowdfunding wasn’t doing that. You end up following the crowd. We decided to engineer something where communities can have everything they need. You can invest, raise capital, advertise, and find loans and corporate sponsors. We realized that if we’re a trusted local organization, it changes the dynamic, and makes it possible to do things locally that you can’t do on kickstarter.”

Any chamber of commerce or non-profit can create a clowd for free on Main Street Crowd. The term “clowd” means the crowd in the cloud (cloud-computing).

For example, MainStreetCrowd makes it possible to invest in a local business, run by a friend or neighbor, without having to worry about the awkwardness that may arise from lending money to a friend or neighbor. MainStreetCrowd provides the infrastructure to allow you to help your friend in a business-like way.

“We’re signing a contract with InvestNextDoor and will be bringing in their investment offerings to clowdz in the very near future, hopefully in a couple weeks,” Neel said. “So in a clowd, you’ll have projects, but you’ll also see crowd lending offerings where people can invest in businesses at attractive rates of return.”

Nine recent crowdfunding success stories in Los Alamos

The Main Street Crowd website is organized into geographic “clowdz”. The Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce has a clowd, at https://los-alamos-chamber.mainstreetcrowd.com. There you can find crowdfunding projects and resources specific to the Los Alamos area.

Already nine local entrepreneurs have raised enough money to make something happen for their business using Main Street Crowd. Last year the Los Alamos Beer Co-op and the Chamber of Commerce’s “iShop Los Almos” initiative raised a total of $5,388.24 using the platform.

In November, several local entrepreneurs joined Nik Seet’s Financing the Entrepreneurial Enterprise class where they raised startup capital using the Main Street Crowd platform (view local projects here). With a Los Alamos National Laboratory Community Programs Office matching grant, the class had an 80 percent success rate.

  • Jason Cox was the first person to reach his funding goal. His company, Boozhound Labs, makes do it yourself home audio kits and was fully funded in less than 24 hours. “His video just makes you smile,” said Neel. “You want to give him some money.”
  • Cyndi Wells raised enough money for the architect’s fees to transform some of her commercial space into a multisport training center. Her new company, Launch Endurance, was backed by her friends and by people who enjoy triathlon. She continues to get support even after her campaign is over. She said, “I had a few people contact me to say they wanted to give after my campaign was finished.”
  • Prisca Tiasse was able to quickly raise enough money on Main Street Crowd for her community lab, Biodidact, even after her Kickstarter campaign didn’t succeed. Having the local community support helped, especially since she was able to line up a matching corporate donor.
  • Gary Xie raised the money he needed to promote for his patented Daisy Chain USB cable.  His campaign was successful because he reached out to people he knew. “After I posted on a Keep it Local-Los Alamos and wrote personal emails, my campaign was over 100% within a half day.”
  • Barbara Kaldi received overwhelming support for her indoor playground, Los Alamos Atomic Play. Most of her donations came from parents with small children who look forward to being customers.
  • Anna Dillaine, raised money to bring her consignment store, Boomerang, to Los Alamos at 1247 Central Ave.

Why do people give to crowdfunding campaigns?

“People give for a lot of reasons,” Neel said. “The reasons are as varied as the project. People like to tell story of how they helped. Sometimes they get something in return, like a prize or a membership, but it’s important to give people compelling reason other than reward. They want to be a part of the project.”

According to Neel, 30-40 percent of money raised for crowdfunding campaigns is from friends and family. He said, “People want to support friends and family in any way.”

“I’m always surprised at who’s willing to do what for who and why,” Neel said. “Giving makes people feel good.”

Neel donated to the Legacy Now Lived project because he felt a personal connection to LeAnne Parsons, who is trying to create a video to raise awareness about adoption. He said, “LeAnne’s project touched me personally, because I adopted my son.”

Los Alamos benefits from having a collaborative place, so people in town can push traffic to one website. “Locally, you have a better chance,” Neel said, “because people in town care about you.”

For more information, visit https://los-alamos-chamber.mainstreetcrowd.com/projects/.

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