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WeSearch was founded by Chris Rovin and Guillaume Curaudeau. Both Chris and Guillaume hold degrees from the University of Michigan and both have spent time in brain tumor research labs.
We-search.org is a crowd funding site for biomedical research projects. They empower donors by connecting them with labs in need of funding. Donors can contribute to projects and follow their progress. This helps donors, and especially patients, feel more in control of their situations and better understand the research process.
MO: Can you talk about what motivated you to start We-search.org?
Chris: Guillaume and I both worked with the Upper Michigan Brain Tumor Center. We got to see first-hand how important the lab-patient relationship was. This was most apparent at the yearly fundraising event. You could see how empowering it was for patients and their loved ones to see researchers actively raising money to do more research. Patients are usually very detached from the research process, so this personal connection was really special.
The idea for the site came about a bit later. I was helping the UMBTC make an e-commerce site. And they had nothing to sell. I knew a few orange wristbands and hats were not making a dent in the cost of their research. I asked myself one night if there was anything of real value they could use to make money. I realized the research itself had enormous value, especially to patients and their loved ones. I asked myself if there was a way to let patients “invest” in research, so to speak. I emailed Guillaume the next day. We didn’t know exactly how we would do it, but we knew we were on to something.
MO: What influenced your decision to use a crowd-funding platform for the site?
Chris: Around the time we started working on we-search.org, news stories started coming out about major charities using donations irresponsibly. The overwhelming problems were poor fundraising efficiency and poor transparency. We knew our future organization had to address both of these. Crowd-funding platforms were just emerging in their respective markets as transparent and efficient alternatives to existing organizations. We thought this platform would be a perfect way to show complete transparency while letting us be extremely efficient in our fundraising.
Another problem crowd funding allows us to address is the disconnection between labs and the patients and donors the research will benefit. This separation exists in part because finding and understanding medical research requires significant knowledge of medical jargon. This became very apparent to us when a friend of ours, Michael, was diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma. Being involved in research, we thought we would donate directly to a project that could someday benefit those with Mantle Cell. To our amazement, we could not find any labs doing Mantle Cell research. Maybe we could have done a better job Googling, but we thought finding and learning about research projects should be easier. Crowd funding lets interested donors quickly find projects, learn about these projects, and donate directly to them.
As a side note, Michael’s cancer went into remission and he’s now the Treasurer of our Board of Directors. And he whooped my marathon time this year, but that’s another story!
MO: How does We-search.org work?
Chris: We find labs in need of funding, or labs find us, and apply through the site. We verify their identity and their project(s) so we know each donation is going to a real lab with a real project. The lab fills out their basic information as well as project information, and then we make their profile.
Once the project is up, donors can search for it on our site. They can browse all of our projects, filter by illness category, or search for a specific type of project. On the project page, donors learn more about the research and the people conducting it. This is where the personal connection starts. Donors can learn why a researcher is motivated to find answers every day.
After a patient or donor learns about a project and how it may help, he or she can make a donation. We send the donation directly to the project, less the transaction fee. In return for the contribution, donors have the option to follow research updates. Seeing that research is constantly being done, and significant goals are being met regularly, can provide a lot of hope to someone suffering. This is another way we build personal connections between labs and donors.
MO: Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit? Who or what have been your inspirations or influences so far?
Chris: I think so. I remember sitting in grade school econ class and learning about entrepreneurship. I knew right away that that’s what I wanted to do. It sounded exciting and rewarding. Later, I realized that I really wanted to help those in need. I guess we-search.org let me satisfy both of those desires!
I think my biggest inspirations have been crowd-funding sites like Kiva.org and DonorsChoose.org, and the StartingBloc Fellowship. Kiva and DonorsChoose showed me how powerful crowd funding can be. Uniting donors around a common cause can be an incredibly powerful force. If you give donors a tool to connect and make a real difference, the results can be fantastic.
I just got back from the StartingBloc Institute for Social Change. Talk about inspiring! Spending five days surrounded by other young, enthusiastic social entrepreneurs really put my efforts into overdrive. For any young person considering a future in social entrepreneurship, I highly recommend the StartingBloc Fellowship.
MO: If I could grant you one business related wish right now, what would you ask for?
Chris: More donors visiting the site! We have several great projects up and they need funding! For example, we recently added two really promising brain tumor research projects. Each project can be completely funded for $5000 or less. As soon as these projects get funded, the research will begin. Every dollar donated goes directly toward finding answers.
MO: What is one mistake you’ve made that our readers can learn from?
Chris: We wasted a lot of time finding someone to make our website. Guillaume and I had little web design experience, so the idea of making this site was very daunting. After getting several professional quotes in the $20,000 plus range, Guillaume convinced me that we should make the site ourselves. We got WordPress and that let us get a completely functional site up for next to nothing. I urge anyone considering a web-based business to try making his or her own site first. Not only does it save money, but also it provides a cheaper way to test a new business concept or idea without investing in a major site. And in this day and age, learning about web design and development is very important!
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