Design, Interviews
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Kickstarter and Sprout Pencils

Kickstarter would have be one of the greatest online ideas to happen in a while, wouldn’t you agree?

Run by 46 people out of a tenement building in New York City’s Lower East Side, Kickstarter was started in 2009 as a funding platform for any sort of creative project and now, according to their website [in 2012], more than $US 450 million has been pledged by more than 3 million people, funding more than 35,000 creative projects!

One of their more recent successful enterprises is from the three guys at Democratech who launched their Sprout Pencils on the site towards the end of 2012. Conceived during their studies, the Sprout pencil has a water-activated seed capsule inside its tip and can be planted when you’ve finished using it. The pencil is made from cedar and the seed comes in a variety of different herbs. It is the ultimate in re-use and an ingenious eco-friendly idea.

Sprout Basil sprouting basil

Sprout Basil sprouting basil

The Boston-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained engineers wanted to create a high quality sustainable product and asked themselves, what if pencils could grow? They then asked themselves, would anyone care if they did? The answer, as it turned out, is plenty.

In the middle of their fundraising period, a backer posted their project on their Tumblr blog and hey, presto, they got more than 200 new backer emails overnight, and over the next two days raised almost $US 10,000 from new supporters.

I asked one of Sprout’s creators, Mario Bollini, a little bit more about how Sprout came about and their Kickstarter experience.

Green pepper Sprout Pencil

Green pepper Sprout Pencil

Tell us about yourselves?
Most of the Sprout team are graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in the department of mechanical engineering. I graduated in June [2012] and work for a social enterprise in Boston (

Where and when did the idea to start Democratech come from and why the Sprout pencil?
We started off as a student group in the MIT class 2.744: Product Design. It is a graduate level product design course and we were prompted with designing a product for the “eco-friendly office of the future” over the semester. We came up with Sprout and spent the semester developing the idea and testing prototypes. At the end of the semester we thought that the idea had a lot of potential and decided to do a Kickstarter campaign to launch it. We created Democratech to handle the business of selling Sprout.

Coloured Sprout Pencils

Draw, Plant, Eat with the Coloured Sprout Pencils

How long was Sprout in the making? It was in the making for one semester (3 months).

It sounds as if, from reading your blog, you had no idea Sprout would be so well received nor that social media could have such power either. Would you have done anything different now that you know more and what tips do you have for others embarking on Kickstarter?
Sprout was our first Kickstarter project and we learned a lot from the process. Some things we did right, some things could have gone more smoothly.

To summarise, the things that worked well:
– Doing thorough research into previous Kickstarter projects
– Choosing a U.S manufacturer versus outsourcing
– Having a diverse range of backer levels
– Keeping track of all of the costs and pricing
– Doing a video and messaging.

Things that could have gone better:
– We should have had fewer varieties of seed type (they started with 26)
– Having a cohesive (social + regular) media strategy
– Having samples to send to reporters or bloggers
– Having a strategy in place to maintain the momentum of the Kickstarter campaign
– Being more proactive about asking backers to fill out the “Backer Survey”.

Sprout pencils in pot

Who or what motivates you?
We are motivated by getting products that we design out into the world. The fact that Sprout has a positive impact is also very important to us.

What’s been a career highlight to date?
We’re all pretty early in our careers, with most of us still in graduate school, so it’s hard to say. Making Sprout happen has been great.

Do you have light bulb moments or do ideas form over time?
Light bulb moments.

Do you have new designs in the pipeline and/or can you discuss future projects?
We have a lot of ideas that we’re tinkering with but we have to keep focused on Sprout for now. It’s a lot of work and we want to make sure we execute correctly.

If you want to read more about how Kickstarter worked for them – and I recommend you do if you’ve got a project you’d like kickstarted – visit Democratech’s Tumblr blog.

And if you wondered what happens if you chew the end of the pencil? Well, it’s not a great idea but it won’t kill you! The seed is likely to activate and dissolve in your mouth. But it’s totally non-toxic so you won’t get sick and a plant won’t grow in your tummy!

Sprout pencil video

Click here to watch a video of Sprout

Sprout Pencils are now part of Sprout World that specialise in green and sustainable consumer products and Who’d Have Thought is the Australasian distributor.

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