Website aims to hatch venture ideas in Pittsburgh

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If your can't-miss restaurant venture is flagging because of the lack of financing, the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corp. soon may have just the tonic.

No, not money, but perhaps a vehicle to raise some funds.

The Downtown CDC is preparing to launch Hatch, a new website through which restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, artists and others will be able to solicit investment for their projects.

"As government funding shrinks, we have to be creative in ways to find not only funding but investment," said John Valentine, executive director of the development group.

The CDC hopes to have the new website up and running in about three weeks. It will be similar to other crowdfunding websites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter but with a Pittsburgh centric twist -- it will be devoted exclusively to projects within the city.

With Hatch, anyone interested in having a venture funded will be able to submit the project to the website, create account and contribution information, and set starting and ending dates for the campaign.

Fundraising periods generally run one to three months.

A CDC staffer will review the information and determine whether to approve the project. In some cases, the development group may ask for revisions before posting the campaign.

Hadley Pratt, the CDC's communications coordinator, said projects geared strictly for individual benefit, such as raising money for a vacation, will not be approved. Nor will political campaigns or projects.

All ventures, Ms. Pratt explained, must have a "community benefit," meaning those "that help contribute to the community's vibrancy as well as to its well-being."

Once a project is approved for posting, its creator will be responsible for promoting it. Visitors to the Hatch site will be able to click on the project to find out information about it and to make a contribution -- or "investment."

In addition, the contributor will be able to select a "return" on the investment. For a new restaurant, for example, the return might be a free meal or series of meals depending on the level of investment. For a theatrical or musical performance, it might be free tickets or backstage passes.

The goal, Ms. Pratt said, is to give something back that is of equal or near equal value to the amount put in.

If a project doesn't reach its fundraising goal within the specified time period, all money is to be returned to contributors.

The CDC will take 5 percent from the projects that are fully funded to cover administrative costs. If a venture does not hit its goal, the development group won't take any money.

Mr. Valentine said the CDC already has roughly 10 projects ready to go for the website's launch next month.

The CDC itself may create a campaign to raise money for musicians' fees, promotion and space rental fees associated with a new monthly concert series it is considering for Downtown.

In addition, Josh Gokalp, owner of the Istanbul Grille, is hoping to raise money through Hatch to cover moving expenses and the purchase of new equipment once he finds a new location for his Downtown restaurant, according to the CDC. In exchange, he plans to reward investors with meal vouchers.

Mr. Valentine said the CDC also is interested in working with neighborhood community-based organizations in the city to maximize Hatch's potential.

Anyone interested in submitting a project to Hatch can call the Downtown CDC at 412-235-7263. The web address is not available just yet.

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Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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