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Open-source financing gaining ground

06 Dec 2013  | Barry Sullivan

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Open-source anything fascinates me. The notion that strangers drawn together by a common interest can create and sustain something useful in this fashion bolsters my optimism about human nature. I realise contributing to an open-source project is not totally altruistic, but the success of these efforts rests on the support of a community willing to share without a guarantee of remuneration.

Successful open-source projects are a manifestation of crowdsourcing, which depends on contributions from many people to cobble together a desired service or thing. Open-source software is now well established and open-source hardware is becoming more familiar every day. Lately, I have been thinking about the financing arm of the open-source movement.

The old adage, "build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door," is not the best advice for someone trying to bring a new idea to the marketplace. There is a vast, pathless wilderness where great mousetraps wither and die for lack of sufficient funds.

Crowdsourcing funding sites such as Kickstarter have appeared on the horizon and rescued some worthy inventions from this wilderness. A recent pictorial of examples from Kickstarter illustrates this, culminating in a robotic bartender. As much as I like the idea of a machine capable of mixing a perfect martini every time, what caught my attention was the Raspberry Pi serving as its brain, neatly illustrating how crowdsourcing can contribute both the technical and financial means to take an idea from concept to reality.

I have even seen evidence of the open-source spirit in financing academic research. The MCubed programme at the University of Michigan offers a creative approach to finding seed funds for university-based research. It provides access to university talent to anyone with a problem to solve for a relatively modest financial commitment.

It may be inevitable that the sufficient conditions for open-source software and hardware to thrive would also produce analogous mechanisms for financial support. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all, and funding is a necessary condition for developing any technology, open source or not.

Every year, DesignCon demonstrates the power of community for addressing challenging issues in electronic design. We live in the Age of Networking, where groups of strangers with common interests can collaborate virtually as well. There is no guarantee that the product of every crowdsourcing activity will help make a better world. However, I do believe the combination of open-source technology and financing will be the kindle to the innovative spark for many deserving and beneficial ideas that otherwise would have flickered out.

What's your favourite open source financing project?

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