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Wall Street Protesters Turn to Start-ups for Fundraising

They're protesting big banks and corporations, so which start-ups are Occupy Wall Street looking to for collecting donations and financing a new media endeavor?
OWSJ First issue funded through Kickstarter.
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The Occupy Wall Street protesters who have been camping out in Lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park since September 17 may be rallying against big-bank policies, but they've simultaneously needed an efficient method to fund their own efforts. To that end, they've turned away from large companies, instead working with start-ups in the online-payment and crowdfunding space.

The primary method employed by the protesters to collect donations has been through an account with WePay, an online payment-collection service start-up. Based in Palo Alto, California, WePay was founded in 2008 by Rich Aberman, a dissatisfied law student, and Bill Clerico, a disgruntled investment banker. The company's site bills itself as "taking the pain out of payments," and the site also allows donation-collection from the masses. Hero Vincent, a facilitator and informal PR representative for Occupy Wall Street, says that the group's online coffers have received a steady flow of donations from both domestic and international supporters through the site.

"We've had so much donated to the cause that we don't know what to do with it," Vincent said. "We've had donations for generators, we've had donations for food."

The loose group of activists who helped plan the beginning of the protest, which started at Bowling Green at the southern tip of Manhattan on September 17, made a WePay account back in the summer to raise $30,000 for the event. That's when WePay first heard of the protest plan, weeks before it had any on-ground presence or national-media attention, said Julia Kung, WePay's director of marketing.

That first effort at fundraising collected $29,724.73, just short of the protesters' goal. But subsequent efforts through WePay have surpassed goals. One campaign to raise money for a generator set a goal of $1,760 and raised $1,990. Another fund drive for "tickets back to Occupy Wall Street," aimed to raise $650.00. The stranded protesters, who raised almost double that amount in only a few hours, promised to use the rest of the money to buy supplies for the crowd in Zuccotti Park.

Kung stressed that WePay is apolitical. "However," she said, "we do understand the frustration with large corporations and big banks. It's why WePay was created."

Another online fundraising start-up is helping enable efforts of the protesters. Kickstarter, the Web-based crowd-funding platform, is a favorite of musicians, filmmakers, and artists looking to launch a one-time project. But it's also been used by designers and other start-ups to get an initial—informal—round of funding that resembles a "friends and family" round.

When groups of Occupy Wall Street protesters grew frustrated with what they felt was their lack of control over the way their message was presented in print, they began printing a publication of their own, the impishly named Occupy Wall Street Journal. The newspaper debuted this past Saturday with an initial run of 50,000 copies, which were distributed from the protester's base in Zuccotti Park.

The publishers turned to Kickstarter, which was founded in 2009, and claims to have since generated more than $75 million to fund several thousand projects. The Occupy Wall Street Journal's Kickstarter profile explained its objectives this way: "The idea is to explain what the protest is about and profile different people who have joined and why they joined. We will explain the issues involved and how the general assembly process operates at Liberty Plaza. It will also offer resources and ways to join. The emphasis will be on quality content, design, photography, and artwork that uses incisive humor to make it a lively read."

When a project goes up on Kickstarter, organizers can initiate a ticking clock, counting down to donation goal. The Occcupy Wall Street Journal was looking for $12,000 by October 9 to publish another issue of the paper. As of midday Friday, 1244 backers had contributed nearly $55,000. 

Last updated: Oct 10, 2011




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