In the summer of 2012, some 281 Canadian athletes represented their country at the Olympic Games in London. Despite this, the nation won only 18 medals — just one of which was gold, its lowest count since 1976.
Julia Rivard is one of the co-founders of Pursu.it — a crowdfunding platform that aims to provide the financial support so desperately needed by Canada’s up-and-coming athletes — and she believes the problem is that potential future sports stars aren’t being nurtured. “Although there is funding through federal athlete assistance, it has not increased since 2004 and only offers CAD 350 a week to those who qualify,” she explains. “In addition to the costs of living, the costs of training and competition can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, making the athlete’s pursuit to reach their goals oftentimes unattainable.”
Pursu.it itself was recently featured on an episode of CBC’s The National, which discussed this issue of government funding — or the lack of it. One of the young athletes featured was alpine skier Larisa Yurkiw, who injured her left knee in training two months before she was due to appear at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. Teaming up with Pursu.it, Yurkiw was able to successfully raise more than CAD 20,000, alleviating some of the pain of missing out on the Games and contributing towards necessary extra training.
When it launched in 2012, Pursu.it began with just five athletes on its books, including Yurkiw. It has since been home to campaigns by 36 young sportspeople, ranging from track cyclists and boxers to snowboarders and beach volleyball players. Having celebrated its first anniversary in September, the site has racked up 105,791 users pledging a collective CAD 240,820, CAD 60,000 of which was donated in the last month alone.
However, financial help isn’t the only benefit for athletes. Rivard says that “an additional outcome has been their connection to a base of fans who want to cheer them on. The emotional benefit of knowing they are supported has been a great boost to many of the athletes.” Pursu.it opens up a two-way communication between sportspeople and their fans, and much like platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, backers get exclusive perks such as Skype chats, signed sports equipment and even socks knitted by the athlete’s mom.
With those popular crowdfunding sites catering more towards creative or tech projects, Pursu.it joins platforms such as Sportfunder and RallyMe in catering specifically for sports. However, Pursu.it sets itself apart thanks to its ambition. Its selection process is discerning and curated — no part-timers, and no established pros. According to Rivard, “only amateur athletes in Canada that show passion and dedication to their sport” are featured on the site. “These are the athletes that need it most, but also have the opportunity to inspire a nation and our youth.”
Encouraging donations through national pride is great, but it’s the athlete’s personal commitment to their userbase that really drives pledges. “We have also learned the value of great content. We made a commitment to only allow campaigns from athletes that met a certain standard screened by our Pursu.it team. Visitors to the site value this focus on good content and come back again because their experience was good.”
The Pursu.it team is accordingly working on improving the platform, adding facilities for mobile donations, blog-style project updates, and email campaigns that are set to be rolled out this month to further engage sports fans. The ‘My Money’s On Dreams’ campaign has already hit social media sites to raise awareness of the site and its aims, while offline the startup has launched the FANfit challenge, a five-stage fitness event in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that will raise money for Pursu.it athletes.
Finally, the site is set to be launched outside of Canada for burgeoning US and UK Olympians, all in time for Sochi 2014. With the help of Pursu.it, perhaps Canadians will soon see a few more gold medals heading their way.