When it comes to financing innovative technology, sometimes you have to think outside of the box; and sometimes, that box doesn’t even exist and needs to be invented. The story of Dr. Martin Couney, a physician and neonatology pioneer, is a fantastic lesson in how to find alternative financing for ground-breaking technology.
In the early 20th century, premature births were one of the leading causes of infant mortality. Dr. Martin Couney (1870–1950), who invented the modern baby incubator, began placing premature babies in his incubators, providing the preemies with the life-saving infrastructure they needed in order to continue to develop.
But the cost of the incubators and care of the preemies was high and he couldn't convince hospitals to pay for them, which was why Couney decided to put the preemies in their incubators on display as part of Coney Island's famous sideshows. Couney charged visitors money (25 cents) to view the “baby sideshow”, which enabled him to fund the incubator technology and save the parents from having to pay the babies’ medical care.
Funding innovative technology isn’t always about persuading investors
When I first read about Couney's solution, I thought it was kind of creepy. Putting tiny babies on display in order to finance technology – I’m not sure this type of fundraising would pass muster under today's rules on medical ethics. But what is certain is that Couney, by creating a display of the babies he was saving, was able to continue to finance the development of his innovative technology and the nursery, which ultimately saved thousands of babies' lives.
While the medical establishment rejected his incubators, Couney was unwilling to abandon his ideas. Each summer for 40 years, he funded his work by displaying the babies at Luna Park. Courney’s technology was eventually embraced by the medical establishment, and incubators were finally included in hospital care shortly before the doctor's death in 1950.
Couney remained a controversial figure in the history of neonatology and his decision to exhibit and care for premature infants at world fairs, expositions, and amusement parks until the 1940s kept him outside of mainstream of neonatal medicine until his death.
Modern options for alternative financing
Today's technology startups may not have to resort to Couney's methods, but they should learn from his tenacity and from his ability to think differently about how to finance innovation. Couney's brand of out-of-the-box thinking is critical for startups that are seeking to finance their innovative technology but that cannot necessarily get Venture Capitalists interested in their ventures.
Rather than relying on funding coming from VCs or even Angel investors, startups need to think about alternative financing methods, such as crowdfunding, which is what the companies you can find on Zirra are doing. This type of thinking is evident in startups that go on shows like SharkTank and pitch their ideas, or companies that start out small on platforms like Indiegogo or Crowdfunder or non-profits on GlobalGiving.
What kinds of innovative thinking would you employ to finance technology?