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Philly's real voice gets heard through Kickstarter

Kickstarter is a simple concept -- a website platform for groups with a specific project who need help fundraising. But in Philly, it’s been a huge booster for small business and unique projects.

Pizza Brain in Fishtown, where a Kickstarter campaign helped raise the funds to pay for the ceilings, floors, and fixtures. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro Pizza Brain in Fishtown, where a Kickstarter campaign helped raise the funds to pay for the ceilings, floors, and fixtures. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro

Kickstarter is a simple concept -- a website platform for groups with a specific project who need help fundraising. But in Philly, it’s been a huge booster for small businesses and unique projects.

“Kickstarter was absolutely essential in the story of Pizza Brain getting known outside of Philadelphia,” said Brian Dwyer, founder of the famous neighborhood pizzeria and pizza museum in Fishtown.

“It was the beginning of the whole domino effect of getting national attention,” Dwyer said. “We’ve had people from Tokyo to Germany to Downingtown come through our doors and say they read about us somewhere or heard about us somewhere.”

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With their Kickstarter campaign, which ended in April 2012, Pizza Brain successfully raised from the public $16,000 to put the finishing touches on their shop – floors, ceilings, and fixtures.

“When they walk in from the neighborhood, they have the pride in knowing this was something they did with us,” Dwyer said. “I don’t think Pizza Brain would look the same magical way if we hadn’t done that.”

Next door, Little Baby’s Ice Cream ran a smaller Kickstarter campaign but also got a higher profile thanks to the website. They raised about $6,000 to get reusable cups to serve their pints in, instead of disposable paper cups.

“Presently, we do use the exact same packaging that we purchased with these funds,” said Pete Angevine, co-owner and co-founder of the ice cream shop.

In the process of setting up the campaign, Little Baby’s also created a Youtube video that now has 4 million views.

“It really made our business visible to a pretty large population,” Angezine said. “We were getting inquiries and orders for t-shirts from Australia, from Sweden, from Texas.”

There have been 1,901 Kickstarter projects in Philadelphia since the site launched in April 2009, according to Julie Wood of Kickstarter, and 42 of those projects are currently live right now. Approximately $8.8 million has been raised for Philadelphia area projects to date. Altogether, more than $1 billion has been crowd-funded on Kickstarter.

Currently using Kickstarter for Philly projects are many small businesses and creative types – such as Gerald Lawson, of Dhengi Brand clothing.

“My brand is for everybody -- even aliens,” Lawson says of his Brewerytown-grown style.

Lawson is currently raising fundsto launch Dhengi Brand’s new fashion line. Since the death of his business partner last year, he’s redoubling efforts to raise the profile of Dhengi (pronounced like “dingy”).

“I’m definitely trying to go to a new level,” Lawson said. “Before he passed, we would always talk about the brand moving forward, across the U.S.”

Lawson’s got 45 days to raise about $6,500 for his project. It’s his first attempt with Kickstarter, which he heard about after Spike Lee famously funded a project on the site.

Philadelphia’s Data Garden, a trans-digital conservatory,is on Kickstarter to help get their “MIDI Sprout” biodata sonification device – which converts plant biorhythms into audible tones – developed as a real instrument that can be distributed.

“We’ve been using this technology ourselves for two years,” said co-founder Joe Patitucci. “In that time, people just kept asking us, ‘How can they do it themselves?’ We decided we want to make it really easy for other people to make music with plants and get this technology out there.”

The Curio Theatre is on Kickstarter seeking help to put their controversial lesbian production of Romeo and Juliet on DVD.

"Since there was a lot of cyber-bullying going on, we felt people would want to see this independently," said Harry Slack, the theatre's director of education. "It's for people who didn't get a chance to see it."

Another local Kickstarter campaign is KNO Clothing, a T-shirt company that is working to source all of their manufacturing within the U.S.

"We have never used Kickstarter or any other crowd-funding platform in the past," said co-founder Stephen Caldwell. "We wanted to come up with the right kind of campaign and the right kind of project to crowdfund."

Caldwell said the Kickstarter model appeals to him because it offers people who aren't necessarily very wealthy a chance to get involved more closely with companies that they support.

"You're not breaking the bank, you're getting a reward, and your helping a business in your local community," Caldwell said.

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