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Sunday October 2 2011 / Science & Technology - Art & Design - Entrepreneurs

Alex Andon wants everyone to have their own pet jellyfish. Fair enough, he’s a Biology and Environmental Science graduate and is somewhat of a marine life nut.

What’s more, Alex appreciates these free-swimming creatures’ aesthetic qualities and reckons their “mesmerizing forms and soothing movement” create living works of art.

The thing is, until recently there was no economically viable method of keeping a jellyfish in your own home because of their inability to live in a regular fish tank where they would get sucked into the filtration system.

But when Andon was laid off from a biotech company in 2008, the San Franciscan decided to start his own business by making a tank that allows you to keep a couple of Medusas floating in your living room or, even better, on your desk.

After successfully retrofitting existing tanks to make them suitable for jellyfish, Andon, set up through which people could buy these first-edition aquariums.

Despite their popularity, Andon desperately wanted a tank design he could control from the bottom up, without the need to tinker with existing models.

And so after spending a year developing prototypes, he came up with the Desktop Jellyfish Tank, the first affordable aquarium designed specifically for jellyfish, fitted with remote-controlled, colour-changing LEDs and as easy to maintain as a regular fish tank.

Great, right? Well, yes, however it’s one thing coming up with a prototype, but something really quite different taking that template into mass-production to make it available for purchase.

Andon was finding that to secure a factory run of his design, some were asking for orders costing at least $50,000 – money he simply didn’t have.

Rather than go to the loan officer, Alex found a more novel method to raise the cash:

Kickstarter is an American online threshold pledge system that helps to raise capital for projects by harnessing the power of “crowd funding”. It has generated the funds for a variety of endeavours – from indie film and music to journalism, solar energy technology and food-related projects.

You and I could go to the website, browse the projects and pledge money to help the various project creators achieve their target.

And the return on your investment? Well, Kickstarter is not so much about an investment or lending.

As a one of the financers, you don’t get a stake in the project – in fact, the project creators retain 100 per cent ownership and control over their work.

Instead, the creators offer products and/or experiences that are unique to each project as an incentive to invest in it, based on the belief that many of us enjoy limited editions, one-of-a-kinds and uniquely fun experiences.

In the case of the Andon’s Desktop Jellyfish Tank, he was looking to raise $3,000 to get production up and running, a target that he successfully reached – and then some. So far 515 backers have mustered almost $163,000 dollars. Impressive!

And they were drawn to this fishy project by the following bait (pun intended): Backers who pledged $50 got a limited-edition jellyfishart t-shirt. For a pledge of $200 you got the t-shirt and a limited-edition hoodie. And a pledge of $350 got you the guarantee, through a certificate, that you’ll be the first to get your hands on one of the new tanks once the initial batch has been manufactured.

“If you took Kickstarter out of the equation, we’d be very low on cash, and I’d be very stressed out and worried the tank wouldn’t sell,
” says Andon.

Safe to say how he hasn’t got that worry now and plans to “go all in” with a mass production. Good luck to him – and time to start clearing a tank-sized space on your desk… .

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Suggested by
Maximilian Büsser