Walacea – the future of scientific research?

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 20.01.46

Back science you believe in. Simple, to the point and the tagline for Walacea: the UK’s first science crowdfunding platform. Founded by Natalie Jonk, her hopes for Walacea are to leverage more money into scientific research and to help unleash the power of science.

The Walacea journey began just over 2 years ago after Natalie felt unfilled with her role working in the pharmaceutical industry. After 5 years of the corporate life (not to mention a bit of travel and a stint in a band), Natalie, feeling unfulfilled, took the leap that so many of us with big ideas fear: she left her job, moved back home and decided to really make a go of it.

Passionate for the environment (if in doubt, check out where the name Walacea comes from), Natalie originally envisioned a platform to match gap year students with academics so they could get a flavour for a life in scientific research. However, her quick realisation was that the demand and the desire is there, it’s the funding which is not.

“I knew that crowd funding was a growing area, and that funding in science is always a big issue, so I decided to start a crowd finding science platform! The general public can understand more about science and engage with scientists,” Natalie told Follow Innovation.

And it’s doing exactly that. After the Beckley Foundation launched their campaign for the world’s first imaging study of the brain on LSD, they had a goal of raising £25,000 however raised a huge £53,390 from 1628 backers. They also held a seminar on the topic attended by 300 people.

“Before it was just my vision, but at the seminar I could see it had become reality. The audience was engaged. It was an intelligent, young crowd, asking good questions. It was really opening up science” adds Natalie.

The site launched just over a year ago and Natalie did face initial challenges with finding scientists for the platform:

“Many scientists haven’t heard of crowdfunding. At the start, I attended an alumni evening at Bristol University to ask for help and support as to where I could identify potential options. I contacted around 14 scientists and around half of those were interested”.

However more recently, as the brand has grown, the scientists have been the ones contacting Natalie as they can see the potential that such a site can have for their research. Natalie also received funding last year from Bethan Green Ventures which she used on building and customising her site amongst other freelance work. So, what are the next steps for Natalie and Walacea?

“I’m now looking to build a team and I am currently in the process of interviewing. When the team is there, we can spend time contacting scientists and raising demand and profile and generally ramping up- I have a lot of ideas!”

Natalie would love to build a large community, an audience of people who want to back research across different themes, that they will engage with areas of science they had previously not thought of.

“It’s about understanding what’s out there. People may have an interest in green tech, or solar energy but they might not know any scientists who are working in those areas. This is a great way for people to connect with scientists and find research in their areas of interest”.

It goes without saying that science is for everyone. Here at Follow Innovation, we think that Walacea is an accessible and innovative way to prove this. Don’t believe us? Check it out for yourself – you never know what you might find!