Courtesy of Sam Wegner

Greenfundr's website features its current campaigns and an application link for potential partners.

November 15, 2020

Cornell Alum Creates Crowdfunding Platform for Environmentally Sustainable Businesses

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When Sam Wenger ’20 first came to Cornell, he did not expect that, within four years, he would graduate and start a crowdfunding platform dedicated to helping sustainable businesses. 

“I did engineering classes for four years, learned a lot about math and was an operations research major. So, zero of my core courses were dedicated to sustainability or the environment,” Wenger said. 

But after deciding to enroll in EAS 1540: Introductory Oceanography, Wenger discovered his passion for the environment. Last summer, he interned at a green business accelerator, which laid the groundwork for his own venture — a GoFundMe-like service focused only on environmental ventures.  

“After my internship, I learned that there are so many early stage green companies that are too young or too small for venture capital firms to invest in, but if they had access to capital, that would really help them grow,” Wenger said. “I feel pretty strongly that with a climate crisis this dire, it’s really important to accelerate the next generation of sustainable companies.” 

After graduating, Wenger went to brainstorm ways he could help early stage green companies gain funding without forfeiting equity. He looked towards crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo for inspiration, but found that these platforms did not show a clear dedication to sustainability; many had just one category dedicated to the environmental sector buried in their expansive websites. 

And so Wenger ultimately landed on the idea of founding his own online platform that works exclusively with sustainability-focused companies. 

“With Greenfundr, I took that environmental sector, broke it up into a bunch of different categories, like sustainable fashion, clean energy and sustainable agriculture, and built a platform that’s completely dedicated to green projects.”

Greenfundr receives applications from different organizations, and conducts a thorough interview process to ensure that each company chosen for the website is qualified and committed to helping the environment.

The chosen campaigns are then posted to Greenfundr’s website and highlighted on its social media platforms. In exchange for each contribution, donors are rewarded with one tree planting from One Tree Planted

Wenger first created the website in August 2020, and then partnered with a former classmate to help gain a strong social media following. 

“Social media has been super beneficial for us, in terms of giving us some legitimacy [in] showing that there are people who are actually interested in Greenfundr,” Wenger said. “It’s also been a really great platform for us to recruit projects. So pretty immediately after creating a minimum viable product with the Greenfundr website, we were able to start reaching out and receiving applications.”

Greenfundr is currently in its first month of crowdfunding and has received over 20 applications. Wenger chose three companies for the website’s launch — so far, it has received over $12,300 in donations to date and has funded the planting of 400 trees. 

“I felt that on most of the mainstream crowdfunding sites, there are thousands of projects competing for space on the website. I didn’t want any lower quality projects to detract from the high quality ones,” Wenger said. “Greenfundr’s focus has been to have the best sustainable projects on our site: to choose quality over quantity.” 

Over the next several months, Wenger plans to slowly expand Greenfundr’s projects while maintaining a thorough recruitment process. Greenfundr aims to provide funding for as many quality sustainable projects as possible, in order to foster a stronger dedication to helping the planet. 

In the future, Wenger hopes to also offer regulation crowdfunding, where green companies can offer stock shares in exchange for a donation. This would allow Greenfundr to partner with larger companies that are raising more substantial amounts of money, in order to produce a wider impact. 

Wenger discovered his passion for the planet and ultimately launched Greenfundr after taking classes outside of his operations research major. For Cornell students, Wenger strongly recommended taking advantage of Cornell’s vast course catalog and venturing outside of your normal coursework. 

“It was really only by taking Introductory Oceanography that I learned something completely new to me, and found myself inspired,” Wenger said. “And so my advice is, take classes outside of what you normally would, and talk with your professors.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Wenger hoped to offer rewards-based crowdfunding in the future. This has since been corrected to regulation crowdfunding.