Crowdfunding site Pursu.it gives Olympic hopefuls chance to realize dreams

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The Financial Post | Quentin Casey | Dec 31, 2012 9:43 AM ET

Pursu.it

Julia Rivard didn’t win a medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Still, her performance was impressive.

Ms. Rivard, along with her three teammates, finished in ninth place in the women’s 500-metre four-person kayak event. For Ms. Rivard, who started paddling only four years before the Sydney Olympics, that result displayed promise.

When the games ended, she faced two choices: train hard and aim for a podium finish in 2004 or pursue a traditional career path.

“I felt pressure to start bringing in some dough. So I hung up the paddle and retired,” she said. “I always had some regrets about that decision. With more time I really believe I could have gone to the top of the podium.”

That regret helped inspire Ms. Rivard’s most recent business project: Pursu.it, a crowdfunding website that allows Olympic hopefuls (and other athletes) to seek funding from fans, supporters and ordinary Canadians.

Launched in October, Pursu.it is part of a growing trend: crowdfunding websites that allow those in need of cash to raise small donations from a large pool of donors.
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As of April, there were 452 active crowdfunding platforms around the world. According to Crowdsourcing.org, that figure was expected to climb to 536 by the end of 2012.

The bulk of those platforms were located in North America and Western Europe, including 17 in Canada and nearly 200 in the United States. In 2011, crowdfunding platforms helped raise nearly US$1.5-billion for more than one million causes. Funding in 2012 was expected to hit US$2.8-billion, Crowdsourcing.org said.

Ms. Rivard launched her site with five Olympic hopefuls, including alpine skier Larisa Yurkiw. That name may sound familiar. Ms. Yurkiw was less than two months away from the Vancouver Olympics when she tore her left knee “into spaghetti” during a training run.

Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

Jonathan Hayward/Canadian PressLarisa Yurkiw at the Winterstart World Cup this year in Lake Louise, Alta. Raising more than $20,000 on Pursu.it has alleviated her financial worries.

The 24-year-old missed the Vancouver games and spent two years on rehabilitation, but is now back on the World Cup circuit, and appears poised to represent Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. She said Pursu.it, has alleviated many of her financial worries.

Ms. Yurkiw set a funding goal of $20,000, which she easily surpassed during her 60-day promotion period. “Whether it’s a small or big donation — they’re all helpful,” she said, noting that donations arrived from as far away as Nunavut and Switzerland.

“It’s all going toward making this dream come true — winning medals for Canada,” she said.

Not all of Pursu.it’s initial participants found success, however. Nathan Brannen, a middle-distance runner and two-time Olympian, raised less than $8,000 of the $20,000 he was seeking. As of December, Pursu.it athletes had raised more than $63,000 from 31,000 donors.

Pursu.it is a not-for-profit, although it does take 15% of every donation to cover credit card processing fees and site maintenance. Ms. Rivard developed the site with Leah Skerry, with whom she runs a Halifax-based web-development firm.

The women have no interest in profiting from Pursu.it and hope to form an alliance with a large telecommunications company or bank — in other words, an organization with a well-funded marketing wing.

“We’re not looking to make millions off this,” Ms. Rivard said. “The goal is to get as many of these dollars into the pockets of the athletes, so they can continue with their dreams.”

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