Nonstarters: this week's worst kickstarter video

"Mongolian beef".

San Francisco band "The Khans" made the offending video.

Kickstarter acts as a giant, low-risk dragon's den: a virtual boardroom where anyone can honk their ideas into the dark and see if they come back with money on them. Unlike the Den, however, there are no bollockings from Bannatyne, no garbled flipchart nighmares, and no brutal profitability criteria to satisfy - just the potential investor's sense of whimsy.

Some ideas turn out to be masterpieces that would otherwise have evaporated in a risk-averse economy. Others are creative endeavours that entice swarms of impulsive backers into territory no sane public or private body would consider.

Needless to say, these success stories are the tip of a decidedly iffy iceberg. Every plucky win wafts the smell of freshly baked money further into the internet, prompting a gold rush of would-be superstars, frustrated writers and post-pub entrepreneurs to try their luck. 

To rifle through this bag of offal with me, I invite you to switch on something I call "Failure Vision": activate the site’s "ending soon" filter, and cast your eye down the page looking for the most desperately stunted green progress bars. What emerges is a torrent of hopeless daydreams; mangled barks for charity growing faint and hoarse as they drift off the site with just a few dollars to their name.

Some, such as this man’s dream to publish a quarterly magazine containing only photographs of clouds taken in Southern Idaho, are thoroughly charming in their overestimation of the public appetite for the mundane.

Others, such as this frankly terrifying plea to fund a book detailing one woman’s obsession with the band Green Day (and, it transpires, accusing them of stealing her ideas along the way), are pitched with the sincere and unwavering belief that the world is waiting to share the author’s monomania.

Nevertheless, out of the mire of mediocrity, terrible judgement and marital aids made from human hair, some concepts rise gloriously and soar out of the failuresphere on wings of sheer Chutzpah; pitches so brazenly crap as to endear anyone with a few bucks to spare.

Meet the Khans, a band from San Francisco whose roaring, exclamatory passion for horde-era Mongolia was strong enough to blow away the funding target for their 7-inch vinyl without recourse to such dull tactics as comprehensible prose.

“ORDER UP A SMELLY Preview of THE KHANS Hit MONGOLIAN BEEF Now!!!!” howled their pitch. “Hunt with an Eagle!!! (not included)”, it promised, “Learn how THE KHANS strategize!”

Better yet is the accompanying video, (see above) in which someone who sounds like an out-of-work trailer voiceover artist after two bottles of scotch slurs menacingly over stock photos of Mongol horsemen, ordering the viewer to donate generously so the Khans can “put their musical captured treasures on round plastic discs”.

“A little horse milk money from your yurt won’t hurt…” concludes the voice, and neatly summarises exactly why Kickstarter works so well. Who wouldn’t spare a dollar for these people?

But this look into crowdfunding represents merely a cheap plastic net dipped into the stream of America’s subconscious. The Khans, Cloud Man and even Green Day’s Biggest Fan look like reasonable people with reasonable ideas compared to some of what lurks in the site’s depths.  

Next week, we’ll be going deeper. Bring your wallet.

Each week Fred Crawley will blunder through the underbelly of Kickstarter.com in search of the world’s most tragic, spectacular and incomprehensible online pleas for money. 

A still from San Francisco band "The Khans"'s kickstarter video. Source: kickstarter.com

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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An unmatched font of knowledge

Edinburgh’s global reputation as a knowledge economy is rooted in the performance and international outlook of its four universities.

As sociologist-turned US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan recognised when asked how to create a world-class city, a strong academic offering is pivotal to any forward-looking, ambitious city. “Build a university,” he said, “and wait 200 years.” He recognised the long-term return such an investment can deliver; how a renowned academic institution can help attract the world. However, in today’s increasingly globalised higher education sector, world-class universities no longer rely on the world coming to come to them – their outlook is increasingly international.

Boasting four world-class universities, Edinburgh not only attracts and retains students from around the world, but also increasingly exports its own distinctively Scottish brand of academic excellence. In fact, 53.9% of the city’s working age population is educated to degree level.

In the most recent QS World University Rankings, the University of Edinburgh was named as the 21st best university in the world, reflecting its reputation for research and teaching. It’s a fact reflected in the latest UK Research Exercise Framework (REF), conducted in 2014, which judged 96% of its academic departments to be producing world-leading research.

Innovation engine

Measured across the UK, annual Gross Value Added (GVA) by University of Edinburgh start-ups contributes more than £164m to the UK economy. In fact, of 262 companies to emerge from the university since the 1960s, 81% remain active today, employing more than 2,700 staff globally. That performance places the University of Edinburgh ahead of institutions such as MIT in terms of the number of start-ups it generates; an innovation hothouse that underlines why one in four graduates remain in Edinburgh and why blue chip brands such as Amazon, IBM and Microsoft all have R&D facilities in the city.

One such spin out making its mark is PureLiFi, founded by Professor Harald Haas to commercialise his groundbreaking research on data transmission using the visible light spectrum. With data transfer speeds 10,000 times faster than radio waves, LiFi not only enables bandwidths of 1 Gigabit/sec but is also far more secure.

Edinburgh’s universities play a pivotal role in the local economy. Through its core operations, knowledge transfer activities and world-class research the University generated £4.9bn in GVA and 44,500 jobs globally, when accounting for international alumni.

With £1.4bn earmarked for estate development over the next 10 years, the University of Edinburgh remains the city’s largest property developer. Its extensive programme of investment includes the soon-to-open Higgs Centre for Innovation. A partnership with the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, the new centre will open next year and will supply business incubation support for potential big data and space technology applications, enabling start-ups to realise the commercial potential of applied research in subjects such as particle physics.

It’s a story of innovation that is mirrored across Edinburgh’s academic landscape. Each university has carved its own areas of academic excellence and research expertise, such as the University of Edinburgh’s renowned School of Informatics, ranked among the world’s elite institutions for Computer Science. 

The future of energy

Research conducted into the economic impact of Heriot-Watt University demonstrated that it generates £278m in annual GVA for the Scottish economy and directly supports more than 6,000 jobs.

Set in 380-acres of picturesque parkland, Heriot-Watt University incorporates the Edinburgh Research Park, the first science park of its kind in the UK and now home to more than 40 companies.

Consistently ranked in the top 25% of UK universities, Heriot-Watt University enjoys an increasingly international reputation underpinned by a strong track record in research. 82% of the institution’s research is considered world-class (REF) – a fact reflected in a record breaking year for the university, attracting £40.6m in research funding in 2015. With an expanding campus in Dubai and last year’s opening of a £35m campus in Malaysia, Heriot-Watt is now among the UK’s top five universities in terms of international presence and numbers of international students.

"In 2015, Heriot-Watt University was ranked 34th overall in the QS ‘Top 50 under 50’ world rankings." 

Its established strengths in industry-related research will be further boosted with the imminent opening of the £20m Lyell Centre. It will become the Scottish headquarters of the British Geological Survey, and research will focus on global issues such as energy supply, environmental impact and climate change. As well as providing laboratory facilities, the new centre will feature a 50,000 litre climate change research aquarium, the UK Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Oil and Gas, and the Shell Centre for Exploration Geoscience.

International appeal

An increasingly global outlook, supported by a bold international strategy, is helping to drive Edinburgh Napier University’s growth. The university now has more than 4,500 students studying its overseas programmes, through partnerships with institutions in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Sri Lanka and India.

Edinburgh Napier has been present in Hong Kong for more than 20 years and its impact grows year-on-year. Already the UK’s largest higher education provider in the territory, more than 1,500 students graduated in 2015 alone.

In terms of world-leading research, Edinburgh Napier continues to make its mark, with the REF judging 54% of its research to be either world-class or internationally excellent in 2014. The assessment singled out particular strengths in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences, where it was rated the top UK modern university for research impact. Taking into account research, knowledge exchange, as well as student and staff spending, Edinburgh Napier University generates in excess of £201.9m GVA and supports 2,897 jobs in the city economy.

On the south-east side of Edinburgh, Queen Margaret University is Scotland’s first university to have an on-campus Business Gateway, highlighting the emphasis placed on business creation and innovation.

QMU moved up 49 places overall in the 2014 REF, taking it to 80th place in The Times’ rankings for research excellence in the UK. The Framework scored 58% of Queen Margaret’s research as either world-leading or internationally excellent, especially in relation to Speech and Language Sciences, where the University is ranked 2nd in the UK.

In terms of its international appeal, one in five of Queen Margaret’s students now comes from outside the EU, and it is also expanding its overseas programme offer, which already sees courses delivered in Greece, India, Nepal, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

With 820 years of collective academic excellence to export to the world, Edinburgh enjoys a truly privileged position in the evolving story of academic globalisation and the commercialisation of world-class research and innovation. If he were still around today, Senator Moynihan would no doubt agree – a world-class city indeed.

For further information www.investinedinburgh.com