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Quickstarter launches campaign to fund gardener's dream

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The reward of living in a climate with four distinct seasons is that if you tire of one, there’s always another right around the corner. Perhaps the most anticipated is spring, especially after a cold, snowy winter.

That’s what local resident Bob Saxton is counting on as he starts a Kickstarter campaign Feb. 3 to raise funds for his new enterprise, Bob’s Square Foot Garden Planting Guides. It also helps that he has a Mercyhurst University faculty-student team helping him sow the seeds of success.

Intelligence studies associate professor Kristan Wheaton has had his share of wins with crowd-funding, achieving an enviable track record, both with personal and Mercyhurst-driven projects. That led to a public initiative he calls “Quickstarter.” Quickstarter is Wheaton’s strategic plan for helping others achieve their dreams through crowd-funding. He recently netted a $10,000 grant from Ben Franklin Technology Partners to support his regional entrepreneurial efforts. This marks his second public venture with Quickstarter and he has seven more local projects waiting in the wings.

“Quickstarter is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs in the Erie region who need funds to launch their ideas and potentially turn those ideas into businesses,” Wheaton said. “The more successes we can generate through Quickstarter – large and small – the better opportunity we have to produce a culture change for Erie as an idea hub.”

Just recently, Wheaton helped Liz and Michael Augustine raise nearly $14,000 in 15 days to start their own restaurant, Like My Thai, in downtown Erie. The Augustines were able to surpass their modest $4,000 goal by $10,000.

Saxton’s goal is not nearly as grand. He is seeking $1,500 in 15 days, which will provide him the funds to design and produce an inventory of gardening templates that he intends to sell online.

"I've considered doing this project for many years, but until I connected with Professor Wheaton and his team, I didn't have the guidance I needed to accomplish it,” Saxton said. “I'm very pleased with the professional quality of the work  by the team members."

While Mercyhurst is delivering the know-how, Saxton’s wife Mary is providing the inspiration. She’s an avid gardener whose passion he would like to share with others by making the planting of square foot gardens and raised beds easy and efficient. His original template was constructed of plywood with strategically placed holes for depositing seeds. Today’s prototype is made of a flexible plastic that makes it simple for beginning gardeners to use.

Thanks to his Mercyhurst student team, headed by project manager Emily Francis, Saxton is well on his way. The project’s social media manager, Amanda Marley, created a Facebook page – Bob’s Square Foot Garden Planting Guides – that generated 1,000 likes in two weeks. At last count, the page was up to 1,428 followers.

“Amanda did an amazing job of building awareness on Facebook,” said Francis, a senior intelligence studies/public health major. “A Kickstarter campaign can only be successful if you have a following at the start. You want to get a buzz going so as soon as you hit launch, people will start backing the project.”

Francis said the Kickstarter campaign will run 15 days, from Feb. 3 to 18. While campaigns can last as long as 30 days, there is typically a lull period in the middle. Francis said the shorter time period tends to keep people energized.

As for her personal involvement in Quickstarter, Francis admits it is a commitment that requires strict adherence to time management skills and coordinating “a lot of moving pieces” – all of which she expects to serve her well as she moves toward a career in public health and community development. She added that it’s a great resume builder for everyone on the team, which also includes Alison Hosko, content writer; Karah Hollis, promotional video; McKenzie Rowland, graphic design (who also worked with Saxton on designing his templates); and photographer Mike Murphy.

Beginning Feb. 3, you can back the project by visiting kickstarter.com and searching for Bob’s Square Foot Garden Planting Guides.