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4444 Second Avenue
Detroit, Michigan 48201

Chris Blauvelt

By Dan Fenster
May 9, 2014

From a small desk inside the Green Garage in Midtown, Chris Blauvelt is building out a new, civic-minded model of online fundraising. Where other popular crowdfunding platforms focus on arts and creative projects nationally or globally, Patronicity—launched last spring—tailors its platform to local and civic-minded endeavors.

It's difficult to talk about crowdfunding without making mention of Kickstarter, the Brooklyn-based site that helped popularize the model, and Blauvelt readily admits the role the site played in his early work with crowdfunding.

"I was one of those people, part of the whole brain-drain thing," says Blauvelt, who left the state after earning an engineering degree from the University of Michigan. He returned a few years later, when film incentives were strong, this time as the business partner of a filmmaker friend from college. "I had never heard of Kickstarter at the time," he says, but eventually found and turned to it when the state reduced film incentives and the two sought funds for their project. "I had the good fortune of being the first of my network of people to run a Kickstarter campaign; after that, any time a friend wanted to use Kickstarter, they tended to come to me."

"Being in Detroit," he says, "I noticed there was a lot of civic activism." He began thinking about ways to apply the crowdfunding model to local, civically-engaged projects. Thus the birth of Patronicity.

Take De-tread, for instance. Founder and CEO Audra Carson started De-tread as a means of ridding the Osborn neighborhood of the rubber tires people had been using the neighborhood as a dump site for. Partnering with the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, De-tread raised money through Patronicity to collect and recycle discarded tires in the neighborhood. Patronicity then reached out to the Skillman Foundation, which matched contributions dollar-for-dollar. With the $3,500 raised through Patronicity and the $3,500 matched by Skillman, De-tread made it to 70 percent of their fundraising goals—and while Kickstarter operates on an all-or-nothing basis, Patronicity has the flexibility for partially funding projects.

"Some projects are suited to partial funding by their nature," says Blauvelt. “With De-tread, every five dollars meant another tire off the street. So they were able to clean about seventy percent of the neighborhood with that $7,000.”

Other projects are inherently all-or-nothing. The Edible Hut is a community gathering space also in the Osborn neighborhood. A pavillion-like structure in Calimera Park, the hut has a “living, edible roof and (an) oculus to the sky,” where herbs like thyme, oregano, and sage are grown for the community. It is also a gathering space where community events are held. When the group came to Patronicity, says Blauvelt, they were not much engaged in Facebook or social media.

“It’s hard to crowdfund without a crowd,” he says. “In crowdfunding, the crowd comes before the funding.” They did have an appetite for success though, and hustled for funding once Blauvelt helped them build an online following. “The number one factor in determining how successful crowdfunding will be,” Blauvelt says, “is how hungry the people running the project are.” When the Edible Hut fell short of their goal, Patronicity was able to extend the campaign by a week. “We control the platform,” says Blauvelt, “so, again, we have the flexibility to do that.” That week the $7,500 goal was hit and the hut was built.

Angelique Robinson turned to Patronicity to raise $2,000 for her small business. For years Robinson has run her baking business, Treats by Angelique, out of her home. She wakes at 5 a.m. every morning, says Blauvelt, bakes her confections, then delivers them to coffee shops in the city. She had been running the operation wholly on her smartphone. “To a lot of people $2,000 for a computer and a printer may not seem like a whole lot,” he says, “but it totally transformed her business, her packaging, invoicing—all of that.”

Large foundations, with their bureaucracies and hierarchies, can sometimes take a long time to push money out to the people doing the work, but, says Blauvelt, “the great thing about [our] crowdfunding is that the day we end a campaign we can cut a check. Groups can get to work the next day.”

Still, it is hard to run a company on five percent made on a $2,000 project. Patronicity is working on creating more permanent relationships with some larger agencies to sponsor and match funding for projects—which is another reason to tailor projects towards the civic-minded. “The future of Patronicity is going to involve projects like these [De-tread and the Edible Hut],” he says, “spaces and projects that a whole community can benefit from.”

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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  • Osborn Neighborhood Alliance
    The Osborn Neighborhood Alliance works as a partner with the community to make sure kids are safe, healthy, well-educated and prepared for adulthood.
  • De-Tread
    De-Tread provides solutions to tire blight with the result being clean, healthy and safe neighborhoods.

Related Resources

  • The Skillman Foundation
    The Skillman Foundation is committed to providing resources to improve the lives of children in Metropolitan Detroit by improving their homes, schools and neighborhoods.