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Northland businesses make their case on fundraising website

David Glenn of Two Harbors stands with the shelves in the area he is using to grow oyster mushrooms to sell locally. Glenn posted his project on Kickstarter.com, a fundraising platform to raise money for projects. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)1 / 2
David Glenn of Two Harbors photographed these oyster mushrooms growing inside jars.2 / 2

David Glenn grows oyster mushrooms in sterilized straw on his property in Two Harbors.

With his current method, Glenn is able to produce about three pounds a week -- enough to sell at the farmers market, but not nearly enough to provide locally grown mushrooms to regional restaurants or the Whole Foods Co-Op, which is his dream.

A friend in the food business suggested he post his project on Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform that hundreds of thousands of artists, creators and inventors have used when their ideas exceed their bank accounts.

"I'd never heard of it before," Glenn said. "I'd heard of other fundraising websites, but it was mostly just begging for money."

Kickstarter is a little like busking online -- if keeping the coins that were dropped into a guitar case came with stipulations.

People soliciting donations must create a detailed plan of how much money they hope to raise and whether they need 30, 60 or 90 days to hit the goal. They must include incentives for donors. If the project meets Kickstarter's guidelines -- and not all of them do -- it is posted on the website within two days. If the target amount of money is raised in the amount of time allotted, the person soliciting the funds gets the cash. If not, donors aren't charged the amount they pledged. Kickstarter gets 5 percent of the money if the project meets its goal, nothing if it doesn't.

Justin Kazmark, who works in communications for Kickstarter, said they accept about 60 percent of the 250 proposals submitted daily. About 9,500 projects -- 45 percent of those submitted -- have successfully reached goals since the website launched in 2009. There are more than 3,000 projects live right now.

Once a project has reached its goal, it is up to the creators to make sure it is completed.

"Because projects are primarily funded by the friends, fans and communities around its creator, there are powerful social forces that keep creators accountable," Kazmark said in an e-mail. "Creators are also encouraged to post regular updates about the progress of their project post-funding."

Kickstarter hosts only creative projects in fields such as art, comics, dance, design, fashion, film, food, games, music, photography, publishing, technology and theater.

Locally grown mushrooms: Yes. Pay an artist's film school tuition: No.

Glenn is looking for at least $7,225 and has until Aug. 9 to raise it. He is offering up original mushroom recipes by his friend Mitch Omer and autographed copies of the Hell's Kitchen owner and operator's book "Damn Good Food" depending on how much money a donor pledges.

The website features a range of projects: Developing a game for smart phones starring a hungry cat ball, a floating pool that would be placed on New York City rivers to make swimming possible and a board game that combines Risk and chess.

Projects in Northern Minnesota include Glenn's gourmet mushrooms, a band that wants to travel to Kansas City to make a CD at the end of the summer and a solo artist with similar plans.

Sound Unseen International Duluth, a film and music festival held in early June, recently raised the $3,000 they needed for airplane tickets for visiting filmmakers.

"There is an urgency that comes with Kickstarter," said Rick Hansen, Sound Unseen festival director. "A lot of people have found that when there is an urgency -- if you don't reach your goal you don't get your money -- it makes donors more enthusiastic."

Sound Unseen made its appeal to Facebook fans, and 19 backers contributed enough to surpass the goal.

Phil Jents is a local singer who wants to make his debut album. Jents was looking for $1,000, and with the help of 25 donors has topped that goal with more than a week left on his Kickstarter clock.

There are other ways to raise money for projects, including other crowd-source funding sites or putting a link to a PayPal account on an individual website.

"(Kickstarter) is the one that is most acknowledged right now," said Hansen.

Local band The People Say Fox is looking to raise $1,000 to supplement the cost of traveling to Kansas City to record its second album later this summer.

Bass player Mike Billig said it is a little weird to stick his hand out in this way.

"We're just kind of desperate right now," he said. "I never want to ask people for money. None of us are rich, but we're also middle class white kids in Duluth, Minnesota. I don't want to be like, 'This is the most important thing that needs money.' We just really want to do the CD."

Making the CD will cost more than what the band is asking fans to contribute.

"We set it at $1,000 because it's not that unrealistic," Billig said. "It's a large enough amount of money that it would make a difference."

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