Knowledge Xchange is a content hub and community of like-minded individuals that brings together scientists and researchers to discuss the latest advancements in science, technology, and medicine, and to highlight featured iAMscientist projects.

How much faster could research go if we didn’t have to run around in circles?
In 2010, 20% of all NIH dollars went to <2% of the PIs. The top 15% shared roughly 50% of the funding. Translation: Unless you happen to be among the chosen few, your odds of getting an R01 aren’t much better than winning the lottery.

There’s no question that this sad state of affairs is taking its toll on our future. Without a hope of funding for the projects they aremost passionate about, many of our talented young investigators are opting out of academia—or being forced out. Worse, an untold wealth of brilliant, potentially transformative research never even makes it to the starting line.

Isn’t it time we got out of our own way?
The problem isn’t that there’s not enough money. It’s that we keep looking for it in the same old places. At iAMscientist, we’re putting research on fast-forward by opening up an entirely new funding channel. It’s called “crowdfunding” and works on the principle that peer review and financial collaboration can occur within the scientific community on a micro level tosupport well-defined research opportunities, especially at the smaller scale that’s typically well under the radar at NIH.

Here’s how it works:

1.   Share your research
Let’s say your research has led you in a promising new direction and to get your study to the next level you need to run a small next gen sequencing project, with an estimated cost of $10,000. Rather than jumping through the hoops needed to apply for a grant from the usual sources—and putting your project on hold until you hear about funding—you simply use the unique resources of iAMscientist to let other researchers in the community know what you’d like to do.

This is where a bit of salesmanship comes in. You need to clearly describe your project, define the boundaries of your study and what you are hoping to accomplish, and post it on iAMscientist.com, where others can review the proposal, comment on it—and if they choose, invest in it.

2.   Engage a community
With crowdfunding, you’re not looking for large amounts from one or two sources; you’re looking for small contributions from lots of donors. So you need to spread the word as broadly as possible to those who are most likely to lendtheir support to your project.

Start with your own network of colleagues, friends and family. Then expand that exponentially through available social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

With a searchable database of more than 15 million scientists, iAMscientist can help you exactly target fellow researchers in your particular area of investigation—possibly hundreds of thousands of them, all around the world.

Depending on the project, you might even be able to draw on an even bigger general audience via the web and public media channels.

3.   Raise funds
With iAMscientist crowdfunding, you can potentially get the money you need in 90days, rather than 18 months. Every donation pledged—from both peer-to-peer and corporate sponsors— goes toward your funding target. If the goal is achieved within the pre-set time window, you receive the funding; if the goal isn’t met, your donors are under no obligation. Of course, you can always regroup and give it another try.

There are no “membership requirements” and no minimum amount of funding. Funding (or not) is a personal decision made by each iAs community member as an expression of support for a colleague’s research. Donors are encouraged with “rewards,” which might include everything from personal lab tours to t-shirts. But formost, the reward is the work itself, and knowing that the pledge is being used for a purpose shared for personal or professional reasons.

Does this really work?
To be sure, this is a whole new way of looking at the funding process. But it’s not without precedent. In a recent guest blog on the Scientific American™ site, Jai Ranganathan offered some startling numbers: “Crowdfunding has grown explosively over the past few years as a source of funding in many fields (like arts and technology), with $1.5 billion raised by this method in 2011 alone. The arts-based Kickstarter expects to disburse $150 million this year, more than the National Endowment for the Arts.” And, it’s growing.

So, yes, crowdfunding does work. Moreover, the potential to extend the concept to science is enormous. Today’s new media have given us the tools to get research on a faster track, and to make the funding process itself simpler and more transparent.

Crowdfunding effectively puts control of the grant process in the hands of researchers, not bureaucracies. As long as the research is connected with a recognized academic institution, pledges are tax-deductible. So rather handing over that money in the form of tax dollars for distribution as the government sees fit, an individual can directly participate in the funding of specific projects, and even remain directly and intimately involved in the research if he or she chooses.

Is there a catch?
Yes and no. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that for crowdfunding to be successful, two things are needed:

1.   The crowd

2.   The funding

Without both, the train doesn’t leave the station.

We’ve taken care of the first element by assembling the world’s largest searchable online database of scientists, engineers and physicians. This database—which is getting bigger and more comprehensive every day—includes virtually every researcher, physician or engineer who has published a paper within the past 15 or so years. Want to get in touch withother scientists who share your goals, your vision or your passion? Consider it done.

Now about the funding. Getting people to part with money is never easy. But fortunately, with the immense size of our “crowd,” the amount of participation required from any given individual is practically negligible. Consider this: if one and a half million of us (roughly 1% of the scientific research community) each contribute only $100 per year to fund our colleagues’ research, we will advance science by $150 million. Those dollars can fuel an enormous amount of grass roots discovery—and who knows how many amazing surprises?

If there is a catch, it is this: We are all going to have to change the way we think about funding. We’ll have to shed the old model of waiting for someone do it for us, and embrace this opportunity to chart our own course towards a more innovative and more peer-driven scientific future.

Is that promise worth $100? We think so.

We’re only missing one thing: You.
At iAMscientist we are currently considering dozens ofprojects from top institutions, and invite you to join your colleagues and submit a project proposal for funding. Creating a project proposal is straightforward, and funding can occur as quickly as 30-45 days. There is no cost to you to post a project on iAMscientist or to become a member.

You can learn more about us and start the process of proposing a project at www.iamscientist.com.

We hope you’ll choose to become a member of our growing community of academic researchers, and that you’ll consider giving crowdfunding a try—both as an investigator and as a sponsor. We look forward to working with you.