Jim Duffy: crowdfunding opens up innovation opportunities for us all

George Galloway. Picture: PA
George Galloway. Picture: PA
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Innovation is important to us all as it opens up new frontiers and new ways of doing things.

A year or so back, I gave a TEDx talk in Bristol on the subject of innovation and how despite many seeing innovation as the stereotypical white-coated scientist discovering stuff in a lab, it is in fact a lot simpler and open to anyone to have a go at. I’m a big fan of “open to all” anti-elitism. Essentially, innovation is just doing something a different way that others see value in and, potentially, adopt. Innovation surrounds us at the moment: from cars to smartphones, from food production to construction. But one form of innovation that is really making an impact is that innovation called crowdfunding.

It’s pretty clear that crowdfunding is now widely accepted as a form of injecting cash into a project to nudge it along or even accelerate it quicker. This form of finance is gaining huge popularity on a number of platforms globally. As you may already know, crowdfunding comes in many genres, allowing those seeking funding to create some special stuff in fields such as art, architecture, business and film.

Within entrepreneurship, crowdfunding is a powerful tool. It creates a space that did not exist before, where entrepreneurs can attract finance into their business either on an equity or rewards basis. This cash is then used, in most cases, to drive the business forward. One example of this that I noted recently was the massive uptake on the rewards-based crowdfund undertaken by Uuni, an Edinburgh based outdoor pizza oven innovator. Uuni, which is part of the Entrepreneurial Spark programme raised more than $735,000 (£573,000) on the Indie­gogo rewards-based crowdfunding platform. This is quite remarkable and shows how innovation, when targeted at the right folks, can reap rewards and a big old crowd weighing in to get access to it. But, this week I was even more surprised.

As I perused my Netflix list of recommendations for a Saturday afternoon, up popped something called The Killing$ Of Tony Blair. I was intrigued, so I hit the play button. The film turned out to be a documentary presented and narrated by Tony Blair’s arch-nemesis, the former Labour and Respect MP, George Galloway. Now, both these individuals will conjure up various feelings for you. I’m interested in them both, so I dug a bit deeper. I was astonished to discover that a big part of the movie was crowdfunded. Wow! I’m about to watch a George Galloway documentary on the subject of Tony Blair that has been funded by more than 5,000 people … and it was featuring on Netflix. Innovation was abound and plenteous in my living room as I settled in for 90 minutes of fun.

Galloway is an interesting character. Mind you, so is Blair. I was once asked that old chestnut question for an awards ceremony video, which three people would you invite to dinner? That’s easy, I replied, George Galloway, Tony Blair and that other firebrand, Russell Brand. Now, would that not make a great evening folks!? In fact, I might just try and crowdfund that one and bring in CNN to film it. I’m not sure what you think of George Galloway, but he kinda reminds me of the late Tony Benn, who was also a great orator and not willing to shut up just to get to power. My vivid memory of George Galloway, apart from the old Saddam “indefatigable” utterance, was when he was summoned over to the States to face the US Senate.

To be honest, if that was me I’d have sh*t myself. Having to go and face one of the most powerful institutions in the world in open forum, knowing they were seeking blood and to make a spectacle of me. Just think of the hundreds of researchers those senators had, unearthing all sorts of stuff, and the legal advisors prompting tough positions that the senators could put to him.

Not so George! Mr Galloway showed he had balls of steel and an intellect to match that of Einstein. He was quite simply stunning and if you get the chance to watch the edited 45 minutes on YouTube, it’s a lesson on not being intimidated and David taking on Goliath. He earned my respect that day as he demonstrated the “schoolboy howler” efforts of the committee.

So, seeing George Galloway’s name on this movie and, of course, Tony Blair as the subject was always going to make interesting viewing. Galloway is a master of investigation. He, of course, does not shrink from the job of taking Tony Blair to task. The documentary is accusatorial, filled with geo-political nodal links and nuances and, at the same time, entertaining and thought-provoking. But, that’s enough about The Killing$ of Tony Blair – I’d urge you to watch it on Netflix and make your own mind up.

I’m more fascinated that Galloway raised more than £165,000 on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform. It certainly was not enough to fund the whole project, which is reported to be around £600,000. Galloway had to sell his house to fund the film and now allegedly lives in rented accommodation. But, in the list of credits at the end of the film, each contributor to the crowdfund is named in alphabetical order. It is quite powerful to view.

Innovation comes in many shapes and sizes. Netflix is innovation personified. But, crowdfunding a movie that gets onto Netflix is pretty awesome. Thanks to innovation and the crowd, I was left speechless and educated at the same time.