Crowdfunding campaigns in Michigan offer (mostly) uplifting reports

Everyone has a great idea. Few, however, have the necessary funds to back an idea. That's why an increasing amount of creatives, entrepreneurs, and innovators are turning to crowdfunding campaigns to give their respective projects the boost needed to make a concept reality.

Kickstarter, perhaps the most well known of the crowdfunding organizations, has launched over 100,000 projects with a success rate of 44 percent. Success is determined by a project's ability to reach their self-determined fundraising goal by a deadline. If a project reaches the goal, the creator gets the money and any extra on top of the goal.

Chris VanSice of Bellaire and Melissa Hronkin of Mass City both separately turned to Kickstarter to pursue their dream of launching a micro bee meadery that produces wine made from honey and other similar beverages.

Hronkin's project, Algomah Acres Honey House Meadery, ran a 60-day campaign for startup funds.

"We had a building, honeybees, and mead making experience," says Hronkin, who along with her husband John, asked supporters for $9,300 in startup fees and licensing. "We were rather naïve about the whole process, but had the energy and the idea."

To plow through the finish line, Hronkin turned to Facebook to help spread the word, allowing her to reach friends and family across the country to support the project.

VanSice utilized Kickstarter when he and his partner and brother, Jeremy, hit an impasse when the two discovered they needed to install a new well they couldn't afford. Although they had already overcome hurdles over the years Jeremy spent working on the project, Chris saw an opportunity with Kickstarter, having followed other crowdfunded projects.

"After a while, I really began thinking that this was something we could use to help us," VanSice explains. "We took video three different times trying to find the right feel."

The extra time the brothers spent on getting their message right seems to have paid off, as their meadery project surpassed their $9,000 goal by more than $5,000.

"The feedback was incredible," recalls VanSice. "People were sending emails to their friends, and then they would send an email to their friends. It truly was viral."

For their trouble, contributors went away with a variety of prizes, including name recognition on their website, stickers, honey, and tee shirts as the amount donated increased.

Hronkin also offered honey and tee shirts to her contributors though she found success by attending local art and craft fairs with honey and hive products in hand.

"This gave us the chance to promote our project as we live in a very rural area that is rather economically depressed at the moment," Hronkin explains.

But as the Kickstarter numbers indicate, not every project is a success.

Danzell Calhoun, a producer at Saginaw-based Cinema Star Productions, says he didn't get a single donation in his Kickstarter campaign to fund a feature film project. He was seeking $10,000 for post-production costs.

"I gave my extensive background and experience in both film and theater," says Calhoun about his failed campaign. "I also noted my desire to make a change in my community, which is often publicized as being violent."

Despite what Calhoun refers to as a "full court press" through social media outlets, nobody contributed, and he doesn't understand why his community didn't support him.

"I offered donors a stake in the film, which was already slated for distribution," says Calhoun, listing off his Kickstarter incentives. "I offered free copies of the DVD, a ticket to the premiere, special thanks screen credit, producer screen credit, and an opportunity to meet and greet with the cast and crew of the film."

Although Calhoun can walk away from the unsuccessful campaign knowing his film will still be distributed worldwide through Maverick Entertainment, he still wishes his community had rallied around his project.

"I wish my local community would begin to stand behind positive projects that move our community forward, bringing a different perspective, painting a positive image of our community," Calhoun contends. "Because for an artist such as myself, it starts at home."

On the other hand, the VanSice brothers and Hronkin are moving along with their projects nicely.

VanSice says their water well situation is close to being resolved. Hronkin, meanwhile, received her license in the spring of 2012, issuing Algomah Acres' first sale in late June that year.

"It was very exciting," Hronkin recalls. "We sold over 500 bottles in our first six months, and this year we are off to a great start." And with new state legislation that will allow small wineries to taste and sell at famers' markets in Michigan. Hronkin predicts even better sales on the horizon.

"This will add a whole new venue for our mead sales."

Joe Baur is a freelance writer and filmmaker based in Cleveland. He's also the Sections Editor of hiVelocity. You can contact him at joebaur.com.
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