Mercyhurst Magazine Summer 2015

Ridge School Dean Dr. Jim Breckenridge representing Mercyhurst at the IgniteErie press conference at Penn State Behrend on April 1, 2015.

Wheaton is all-in. A little over two years ago, Wheaton decided to go the route of Kickstarter, the world’s most popular crowdfunding engine, to fnance production of a game he had invented called “Widget.” He had 30 days to reach his goal of $4,000 or, according to Kickstarter terms, forfeit it all. He raised $6,575 from 193 backers, raising 164 percent of his goal. “Cthulhu vs. The Vikings” was the next game he sought production funds for via Kickstarter. Seeking $9,500, he once again surpassed his goal, raising $12,877 from 185 backers. He seemed to be on to something. So, he ventured forth again, this time to raise money for three of Mercyhurst’s liturgical dancers to travel to Jerusalem to perform. He mentored a team of Mercyhurst students with skills in intelligence studies, graphic design, writing and social media to do much of the work. To Wheaton’s delight, they, too, met with success. “Yes, I want to help Erie; yes, I want to support entrepreneurship; but I am equally if not more focused on getting our students real experience doing the things they came to Mercyhurst to learn to do,” he said.

Most people make rookie mistakes, he said. They include videos that are too long or unprofessional, copy that isn't clever and rewards that don’t incentivize. Wheaton’s formula for success had bypassed those mistakes and added a Facebook campaign before each project launch to create awareness and build a following of backers that would later translate into dollars on Kickstarter. Wheaton called his strategy “Quickstarter.” To date, grants from Mercyhurst University and Ben Franklin Technology Partners have supported Wheaton’s Quickstarter initiative. The new ECGRA collaborative will build on that momentum, and will engage students from other universities in the process. For Wheaton, it’s not only about creating fnancial opportunities for Erie people and keeping the money in Erie, it’s about changing the mindset of the entire region. “All of a sudden people start to notice and Erie becomes the place to come with your idea,” he said. If anybody can be this kind of change-agent, it’s Kris Wheaton, adds colleague Brad Gleason, director of the Center for Intelligence Research Analysis and Training at Mercyhurst. “He’s able to stir passion and inspire it,” Gleason said. “If something interests him, he’ll roll up his sleeves and jump in - 100 percent committed. Truth be told, I don’t think he sleeps.”

On deck were local residents Liz and Michael Augustine with an ambitious project. They wanted help from Wheaton to open their own restaurant, Like My Thai, in downtown Erie. In just 15 days on Kickstarter, the Augustines raised nearly $14,000, surpassing their modest $4,000 goal by $10,000. The restaurant is now doing business at 827 State St. “When Kris speaks, you listen very, very carefully. You don’t want to miss a thing,” said Michael Augustine. “His advice is invaluable. I don’t think I would have done this without him.” Wheaton and his students also completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to help fund a local cofee business called Roast Assured, which received a coveted “Staf Pick” award from Kickstarter. Only 5 percent of all Kickstarter projects are chosen as staf picks, Wheaton said. He credited students Hannah Corton for her management of the campaign and Brent Clapper for the promotional video he produced. Oddly enough, Wheaton saw his success wasn’t being replicated Erie-wide. In fact, compared to other cities of its size, Erie had a disproportionately low success rate of 33 percent on Kickstarter. Perplexed, he did what any good intelligence analyst would do: he analyzed. He studied Kickstarter projects, particularly the failures, and saw a pattern.

Michael & Elisabeth Augustine


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