Crowdsourcing for Cleantech?

These days, everything is being crowdsourced…or is it just that the definition of crowdsourcing is expanding? Is there a way for you to contract out small jobs inexpensively? Is there a way for you to crowdsource fundraise for your project? Perhaps, but let’s take a look at what crowdsourcing really means, and where it might go for funding clean energy projects and products. says: “Crowdsourcing needs a standardized taxonomy,” and I couldn’t agree more. They even have a neat graphic to go along with it:



Microtasks are good if you can break down what you need to be done into very well defined portions and somehow make it seem like a game. is the best example here. Best for simple challenges that humans are good at, but computers are not good at (yet), like image recognition.

Macrotasks look a lot like existing grant opportunities. While the US Department of Defense claims to have “crowdsourced” the design of their latest vehicle, this really just seems like they opened up the bid a little broader than to the core defense contractors. InnoCentive is like a smaller more, flexible where anybody can post.

Contests also seem pretty familiar, but now have online marketplaces.

What’s missing? Well, there are places where crowd sell things as well—before they are sourced. These can be sites like Threadless, or even Etsy, that are really just mass market places for people to sell goods already in existence. I’m not sure what to call this last category, but it is interesting as a transition to “crowdfunding.”

Crowdfunding is really interesting because of the mix of a well-defined project or product, and the ability for many small financial contributors or recipients. It is many to many, whereas all of the task projects are a small group of task definers, to a larger group of task solvers.

The world of crowdfunding looks like it might be able to change too. Right now you can:

  • give away your money, at Charity Navigator or one of the many many others.
  • pre-order products, get movies, books, and other art made at Kickstarter, who kickstarted the movement (and format).
  • give away your money, and then get it back at Kiva, pioneer of online microlending.

But in order to invest for a return? That’s more difficult.

New Generation Energy offers Renewable Energy Investment Notes (REINs) that allow you to invest in community energy projects.

Soon we’ll see if the Entrepreneur Access to Capital Act lets everbody be their own angel and invest for equity.

Do you have ideas for how to apply crowdsourcing to clean energy projects and products? We’re interested in hearing your thoughts. Leave us a comment below.

Note: Fraunhofer CSE does not endorse any of the entities mentioned in this entry. They are referenced for illustrative purposes only.

About author
I'm the former manager of Fraunhofer CSE's TechBridge program, dedicated to supporting the commercialization of promising new cleantech innovations. All opinions expressed are my own, and don't represent an official endorsement from Fraunhofer CSE or the Fraunhofer Society.
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