Donors help kickstart Sonoma County ventures

  • Girl & Fig owner Sondra Burnstein goes over the plans she has for a triangle-shaped warehouse next to her catering kitchen in the industrial part of Sonoma. On the left is her assistant, Kimberly St. Clair Davis and on the right is canvas product supplier Jason Weaver. April 12, 2012.

Launching a new, high-end frozen food line brought chef Jen Johnson and partner Serafina Palandech to the point of needing to raise $3,497 in 19 hours.

Not from their bank accounts or from a traditional small business lender. The Sebastopol couple had to get the money from friends, supporters and anyone else who would make a financial pledge toward their project at the online crowdfunding site Kickstarter.com.

Johnson, the executive private chef for Ann and Gordon Getty in San Francisco, and Palandech already had received more than $21,500 in pledges on Kickstarter to help produce tasty chicken fingers, wings and meatballs from pasture-raised poultry. But their new company, Hip Chick Farms, wouldn't get a dime unless the pledges topped the announced goal of $25,000 by 6:54 a.m. Thursday.

"It's nerve-racking," Palandech said Wednesday morning.

By Wednesday evening the couple had hit the mark — aided by one final $3,000 pledge — and joined the growing ranks of Sonoma County business owners and artists who are using Kickstarter to help finance their dreams.

The 3-year-old website made news last month when 87,000 backers pledged $3.3 million for San Francisco's Double Fine Productions to launch a new video game.

The uninitiated might now be asking: Why in the world would people give money to a business?

The answer seems to be that pledgers back the projects and people they believe in. In so doing, they get to play a small role in helping bring forth new music, art, entertainment and food products.

And depending on the level of their pledges, backers can receive rewards ranging from T-shirts to albums to personal concerts or gatherings with artists.

"It's somewhere at the intersection of commerce and patronage," said Kickstarter spokesman Justin Kazmark. In the process, he said, artists and business people are brought closer to their audiences and customers.

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