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WSU Fencing launches fundraiser with help from Blackstone LaunchPad

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April 8, 2013

Pictured: (l to r)  Fencing Team Members Merlin Chappius and Adam Accica (Team Captain)

WSU Fencing launches fundraiser with help from Blackstone LaunchPad

The men and women of the WSU fencing team spend a lot of time getting jabbed with blades, so it’s not surprising they want great protective gear. The fencers recently decided to raise money for new equipment, and for help they turned to the university’s student-centered venture resource: Blackstone LaunchPad.

The business laboratory, which is funded out of New York City by The Blackstone Group’s Blackstone Charitable Foundation, introduced captains Adam Accica and Brianne Hefner to the idea of crowdfunding, which involves soliciting contributions from a large group of people through online communities and other established networks. Blackstone LaunchPad then put the athletes in touch with Patronicity, a Detroit-based crowdfunding platform, and the result was a simple but sleek campaign to raise $3,000 by April 12.

The initiative, which can be viewed at under “projects,” will help the fencing teams take advantage of a fund-matching arrangement extended by the WSU Athletic Department. Teams that raise $3,000 by May 1 will receive an additional $5,000 from the department for acquisitions and enhancements. It’s an all-or-nothing deal, noted Accica, meaning the fencing team will get nothing unless it raises the entire $3,000.

The engine of the team’s crowdsourcing pitch is a two-and-a-half minute, student-produced video on Patronicity’s website explaining the needs of the NCAA champions.

“Wayne State University is a highly competitive NCAA varsity team that needs your help,” notes one of the fencers. “Although the athletic department provides awesome support for the team, we still lack funding to cover expenses for new equipment. Your support will help us continue a tradition of excellence as being the most successful athletic program at Wayne State University.”

WSU Fencing, one of only nine schools in the nation to appear at the NCAA championships every year since 1990, puts significant wear and tear on its uniforms, which include protective jackets and an electric lamé to register hits. The team wears the same uniforms for practice and for competition, noted Accica, “and after six months of sweating they get worn out.” Moreover, he said, by season’s end the team runs uncomfortably low on blades, which routinely break in play. Accica said the team will use the money it raises to buy additional uniforms, blades, body and floor cords, and scoring machines.

The video includes interviews with the fencers, close-ups of the equipment and actual competition, whetting viewers’ appetites for the incentives the team is offering donors. Contributors of $5 and $10 will receive playful photos of their heads superimposed on a fencer’s body; donors giving $35 will get a WSU Fencing t-shirt; and those giving $50 can participate in a group fencing class taught by team members. Donations of $75 are rewarded with a piece of art in the form of a saber blade cut down and welded into a Warrior “W,” while a contribution of $100 gets the donor a one-on-one fencing lesson from one of the team’s coaches or elite fencers. For $500, donors can have the fencing team stage a live fencing match at an event or party, and for $1,000, donors can sponsor one of six strips at the annual Danosi Open Tournament at Wayne State University.

Accica said the fencing team had the will to raise money, but not the way. “Fencing Frenzy,” a fundraiser the athletes staged in December at the Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center, raised only $1,200.

“It was a great idea, but we didn’t market well,” Accica said. While the event offered varied enticements – fencing instruction, refreshments, music, games and prizes – it didn’t draw a good crowd.

Crowdsourcing proved to be the best fit for what the fencing team wanted to accomplish, while Patronicity proved to be the best community partner for the task. Blackstone Launchpad’s strength, said Accica, comes from knowing the various available strategies for launching an enterprise and having a broad network of experts that are willing to collaborate.

“It’s an awesome resource,” Accica said. “If students have an idea and want help with it, they should go see the staff. They’re really nice, and will help you out with anything.”

Cynthia Finger-Hoffman, program coordinator for Blackstone LaunchPad, said that while the laboratory is best known for helping student entrepreneurs develop business plans and court investors, its ability to guide smaller-scale projects and make introductions between students and Detroit-area mentors is just as important.

“We are educators, first and foremost,” Finger-Hoffman said of Blackstone LaunchPad’s staff. “While successful, scalable products and services often result from the projects we guide, the training and strategies we give students for planning and executing ventures is the primary objective of our efforts. We showed the fencing team how to assess its needs and identify the right partners for their initiative, which is a skill these men and women will use over and over again. We encourage any student group to let us help them with their projects and learn about business in the process.”


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