IfundIT Cookbook

Your guide to ifundIT at IBM

What is IBM ifundIT?

IBM ifundIT is recognized as a successful, community-driven enterprise crowdfunding program that relies on individuals self-starting projects, working together, and making investment decisions. It shifts the decision making power from the top down to the employees themselves - at all levels.

Enterprise Crowdfunding: An Overview

Crowdfunding is growing fast - but can it be used inside to drive innovation in a Fortune 500 company? Can it replace traditional top-down decision-making with a grassroots movement that allows employees to collaborate on funding breakthrough ideas? The answer is yes, it can!

In general, traditional public crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are based on a simplified version of venture capital: individuals submit their ideas in the form of project pages on a website, offering a cohesive picture of what they want to create, and ask for funding to build it into reality. Other users can then back projects with their own money, with the expectation that they will receive rewards if the project is funded and developed.

Enterprise crowdfunding takes this model and combines it with the funding power of a large corporation. In enterprise crowdfunding, ideas are submitted in much the same way - but rather than private individuals investing their own money, employees are granted a portion of the enterprise's capital to pledge towards projects they feel will have an impact. When a project gets enough funding, the innovator doesn't have to go it alone: they can count on their organization to support them as they make their idea a reality. In essence, everyone benefits - innovators get to see their ideas come to life, investors get to make business-critical decisions that will impact the way they work, and the enterprise comes away with meaningful solutions and engaged employees.

Enterprise Crowdfunding at IBM

Before ifundIT, the CIO organization held 2-3 campaigns for its Innovation Fund each year. Employees voted on projects proposed by their colleagues, and a select board of technical leaders evaluated each submission, voted, and chose which projects to fund. 28 projects were funded using this top-down method that had little social influence.

In 2013, CIO worked with IBM Research to trial a new way to make decisions for its Innovation Fund and adapted their "1x5" project on internal crowd funding. Rebranded as IBM ifundIT, CIO embraced the concept of an open, social fundraising model to spark innovation and collaboration by employees. Based on the success of the trials, ifundIT was expanded throughout IBM over the following years, iterating on and refining the platform as time went on.

Mobile Campaign

IBM's first company-wide ifundIT campaign took place in 2014, simply termed the "Mobile Campaign." It was composed of two phases, both of which were focused on increasing innovation within IBM for mobile platforms, as part of the company's "MobileFirst" initiative. Over 20,000 IBMers participated between both phases, with over 1500 ideas submitted. This campaign was the closest to the traditional model used in public crowdfunding, and the first and second phases were similar from a campaign perspective. Most of the changes that occurred focused on the user experience, as a number of improvements were made to the workflow and new features added to the tool. 

The key elements of this campaign were:

  • Theme: all submitted projects had to be mobile applications
  • Innovators set their own funding goals, between $10,000-$250,000
  • Projects were submitted throughout the campaign, and had 30 days to raise funds
  • There were 2000 investors, with $2000 awarded per investor
  • Each investor could contribute a maximum of $1000, or half their allowance, to a single project
  • "Active" investors received $1000 of "bonus funds"

Key takeaways: 

  • Focusing the campaign on a theme helped us get project ideas that were feasible
  • Investor allowance of $2000 seemed to be the appropriate amount per person
  • Guidelines helped innovators make educated guesses for funding targets

Spring into Bluemix

The second IBM-wide ifundIT campaign took place during the spring of 2015, and focused on increasing the awareness and adoption of IBM Bluemix, IBM's cloud-based development platform. It was appropriately called "Spring into Bluemix." Due to its narrower focus, this campaign was smaller than the Mobile campaign, with 2700 IBMers submitting over 500 ideas. Spring into Bluemix iterated on the model used during the Mobile campaign, with one of the biggest changes being a shift to a fixed funding goal for all projects.

The key elements of this campaign were:

  • Theme: all submitted projects had to run on IBM Bluemix, whether on mobile or desktop
  • Each project had the same fixed funding goal - everyone needed to raise $30,000
  • Projects were submitted throughout the campaign, and had 30 days to raise funds
  • There were 2000 investors, with $2000 awarded per investor
  • Each investor could contribute a maximum of $500, or a quarter of their allowance, to a single project
  • Bonus funds were not offered due to a large investor waiting list

Key takeaways:

  • The pre-determined funding goal helped innovators scope and size an achievable project idea, making project proposals easier to review for feasibility, and funded projects were quick to get off the ground
  • Projects needing a minimum of 60 investors to get fully funded meant the "crowd" really needed to support an idea
  • The more Agile campaign configuration let the IBM team manage projects more effectively, and better regulate the workload

Cognitive Build

The third IBM-wide ifundIT campaign took place as part of IBM Cognitive Build in the first quarter of 2016. This was our largest and most successful campaign to date, engaging more than 275,000 IBMers worldwide - over 8,600 teams came up with cognitive solution ideas, and 224,423 employees invested in 2,600+ of those ideas. As ifundIT continues to evolve and explore new aspects of enterprise crowdfunding, the campaign archetype changed once again during Cognitive Build, with the removal of funding goals in favor of ranking projects in order of most to least funded.

The key elements of this campaign were:

  • Theme: all submitted projects had to have a focus on cognitive apps or functionality
  • Projects were ranked against each other in order of funding received, and the top 40 most funded were judged before a panel of executives for a chance to get funding for development
  • Investing took place over 10 days, and opened for all projects at the same time
  • There was an unlimited amount of investors, with $2000 awarded per investor
  • Each investor could contribute a maximum of $1000, or half of their allowance, to a single project

Key takeaways:

  • Since the campaign was TopX, there were no constraints around project submission numbers and costs, investor numbers, and investor fund allocations - the campaign had an unlimited number of participants
  • Encouraging videos to be part of project submissions made project pages more robust and helped teams pitch their ideas verbally/visually to the crowd

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